Associate Professor of Music Director of Band Activities Cynthia Hutton plays the French horn (by Rory N. Finney)
Over the past twenty years, Cynthia Hutton has conducted nearly thirty different music ensembles—from Boulder Concert Band and La Jolla Civic-University Orchestra to her current role as artistic director and conductor of the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon. Last spring alone, she served as guest conductor and clinician for South Ridge High School Wind Ensemble, Grants Pass High School Wind Ensemble, and Oregon State University Band Festival as well as clinician and adjudicator for Siskiyou County District Band Festival. She was the invited conductor during an invitational performance for the 31st Annual College Band Festival.
Hutton also knows what it’s like on the other side of the conducting baton. A performer in the Rogue Valley Symphony and Faculty Brass Quintet, Hutton has been playing the French horn since fourth grade. Among other orchestras, she has performed with Boulder Philarmonic, Colorado Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Symphony Orchestra, and San Diego Opera Orchestra.
The force behind SOU’s Middle School and High School Honor Bands, Hutton recently led her sixteenth annual Southern Oregon University Middle School Honor Band workshop/concert, and the SOU High School Honor Band concert takes place this week. In 2002, she received SOU’s Presidential Outstanding Service Award for her inspirational leadership of young musicians. Two years later, she was a finalist for the 2004 Oregon Symphony Patty Vemer Music Educator of the Year, and in 1993, she received the Alteria M. Bryant Award Recognizing Women in the Arts in Denver, Colorado. The Southern Oregon Arts Council has also named the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon an Outstanding Arts Education Organization.
Before receiving her doctor of musical arts in conducting from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Hutton earned a master of arts in French horn performance from the University of California, San Diego, where she also served as director of bands and horn instructor. Her bachelor of arts in music in education is from California State University.
Having earned the respect of her colleagues nationwide, Hutton was named president of the Northwest Division of College Band Director National Conference in 2005. Prior to that, she served as president elect and vice president. She was also collegiate chair of the Oregon Music Educators Association.
Hutton’s recent research focuses on women composers who wrote for band. She spent her sabbatical preparing works by women composers for performance by the SOU Symphonic Band and the Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon. Works by Augusta Read Thomas, Jennifer Higdon, and Fanny Mendelssohn will be performed during the coming season.
At the heart of her teaching, conducting, and performing is the driving conviction that “music is transformational—it has the power to move us beyond that which words can convey.” Indeed, Hutton’s students, musicians, and audiences come away from her work—and the example of her life—transformed.
E-interview conducted by Melissa L. Michaels in January 2011
CH: I don’t remember not having musical inclinations. I was born into a Lutheran household. At holidays, you sang the dinner prayer. In church, I was surrounded by people singing from a hymnbook in four-part harmony. It was wonderful. The first instrument I remember sitting in front of was the piano. My mother played a bit, and so it was always there. I was three or four when I began experimenting with sounds on the piano. I don’t remember learning to read music, though—it was too early on.
(clockwise from left to right) Leonard Bernstein, Johannes Brahms, and Glenn Gould (by Al Ravenna, courtesy of Wikipedia, and by Gordon W. Powley)
MM: Who inspired you as you were growing up and later as you were developing your craft?
CH: First, my twin brothers, who were very fine trumpet players and older than me. They set a terrific example of dedication and practice/work ethic. Next is my first band director, who taught beginning Instruments through junior high school band. He was a composer as well as a great teacher—Mr. Harry Weisgerber was his name. He had taught my three older brothers, who all player trumpet. My parents also understood that private lessons were essential to progress on an instrument.
There have been many points of inspiration in my life. Conductor Tom Knee at UCSD, who introduced contemporary orchestral repertoire and new chamber music repertoire to me, and Alan McMurray, my graduate conducting teacher, who has a remarkable approach to music and the musicians. Other inspirations include listening to and watching other great performers and conductors—Leonard Bernstein, Claudio Abbado, Glenn Gould, Verdi, Mozart, Brahms.
Closeup of the French horn (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: In addition to your doctor of musical arts in conducting, you also have a master of arts in French horn performance. How long have you been playing the French horn, and what is it that you especially love about that instrument? What other instruments do you play?
CH: I have been playing the horn for forty-five years. You would think I would have it down by now! I dabbled on my brother’s trumpets before that. My official start on the horn was in the fourth grade.
I especially love the sound of the horn—its tone color is in the tenor register, so it is deep, resonant, and brilliant in sound. Of course, I love orchestral music. Making music with other people is very fulfilling.
Conducting the Middle School Honors Band (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: You recently finished leading the sixteenth annual Middle School Honor Band workshop and concert at SOU. Tell me about that group and the guest conductor, Erik Morales, as well as the High School Honor Band you work with each year.
CH: The two honor bands we present at SOU enable us to brings roughly 275 middle school and high school students and their parents to our campus each year. The Middle School Honor Band in October is always a very special event. Each year, we bring to campus a successful, renowned composer/clinician to work with the students. The students have an opportunity to work and perform under the person who wrote the music. That is a unique perspective. The middle school band teachers love it.
(left to right) Conductor Erik Morales, Provost Jim Klein, and Instructor of Music Martin Behnke
This year, Erik Morales was our guest. He was great with the students—friendly yet very demanding. The kids focused in, and the concert was excellent. Our High School Honor Band is coming up next. This event allows the high school participants to stay overnight in our residential halls and to have a brief experience of campus life. We look at the event as a way for potential SOU students to get to know us a little better. I conduct the band with a guest—Provost Klein has been my guest in the past—and this year, it is our director of jazz band, Dr. Martin Behnke. This is a very large event and a chance for our music education majors to staff the event and gain some practical experience. Of course, building relationships with teachers and students through music is a pretty cool activity.
Outside the Music Building (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: During your sabbatical, you conducted a research project on ten women composers who wrote for band. Can you talk about some of the more salient examples and the most intriguing things you learned about them?
CH: Yes, I have a very exciting project I need to finish—thanks for reminding me about that! It was a pretty intense time deciding which women I should choose. I finally selected ten women who are actively writing and have written multiple works for band. The ten works I chose represent music appropriate for younger performers.
The music is of the highest quality and unique in some regards. For example, composer Jennifer Higdon is a Pulitzer Prize–winning composer. I chose her band work Rhythm Stand for ninth-grade band—it explores ways to improve the students’ rhythmic abilities while playing a fun piece of music. I wanted to provide a body of repertoire that could have influence on young boys and girls, especially to illustrate to girls that they certainly can compose music if they desire. Unfortunately, there are many great works by female composers and so few times those works are programmed. I hope this document will serve as an annotated bibliography of works for band that band directors can use for programming ideas.
Leafing through a Dvořák score (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: In studying women composers, have you noticed any interesting differences, patterns, or external factors that distinguish the experiences, approach, and work of female composers from male composers overall?
CH: I first began this research in 1980 while working on my master’s in horn at UCSD. My question, along with the popular one of the day was, “Does the female composer have a different compositional voice from the male composer?” “Is there any element of tender or more feminine quality to the composition by a women composer?” I believe the music written by women writing today suggests an answer of NO to that question. If you look at the history of female composers, that is a more complicated question, with perhaps a bit different answer. What mostly I have noticed is how infrequently the music by women composers gets performed. As a conductor and performer, I am as guilty as the rest of choosing almost entirely male composers to program.
MM: You’ve also been researching works by women composers such as Augusta Read Thomas, Fanny Mendelssohn, and Jenifer Higdon for performance by the SOU Symphonic Band and Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon during the upcoming season. Tell me about the works you’ve selected for performance and why you chose those particular pieces.
Blue Cathedral by Jennifer Higdon
CH: Yes, we are at this very time preparing the Fanny Mendelssohn Overture in C with the Youth Symphony. It is a delightful and beautiful piece. To think that Fanny wrote the composition in 1832 and it wasn’t published until 1986! Hard for us to believe, and thank goodness for the folks at Furore Edition in Germany for getting this published so we can perform it for the public. It is a work that illustrates her musical depth and soul and demonstrates that she was indeed an extremely talented composer. The other two works are still upcoming. The Higdon is going to be huge, a very contemporary piece with a large orchestration. The Youth Symphony will present that piece in the spring. I wanted to perform a work for orchestra with a fresh, vibrant color. The title is Blue Cathedral. It just grabbed me on first hearing. I know the orchestra will like it, and the audience will be captivated by it.
The Augusta Read Thomas piece is for band and right now is planned for spring. Its title is Magneticfireflies. It is electric, it moves quickly from sound event to sound event—again, a rather contemporary work. I chose this piece because it is an example of a type of musical impressionism for band music. The work evolves through changing sound events and instrumental colors rather than melody and accompaniment.
MM: Who are some of your favorite composers? Which pieces particularly speak to you, and why?
CH: Gustav Mahler, Bohemian Jew, late nineteenth century. I like his use of emotional intensity, orchestration and color choices, the use of the common tune and melodic design, the horn parts! All of Mahler’s nine—almost ten—symphonies are too precious to choose just one. If I had to put them in an order, I guess I would go: 5, 2, 4, 1, 9, 8, 3, 7, 6.
However, it is his orchestral songs that are intriguing to me right now. His Song of the Earth, Songs for Dead Children, Songs of a Wayfarer, Rückert Songs, The Youth’s Magic Horn, Seven Last Songs. These are amazing works. At times, Mahler’s songs surpass his purely symphonic writing in melodic design and harmonic creativity. There are too many other composers to mention. I must say that I am pretty limited to classical music. From Palestrina to Jennifer Higdon, there are so many great composers and works of musical art.
The Southern Oregon University Symphonic Band performing their winter 2010 concert (by Jeremy Speer)
MM: In addition to conducting SOU’s Symphonic Band, you also perform with SOU’s Faculty Brass Quintet and the Rogue Valley Symphony, among other ensembles. How does performing differ from the experience of conducting?
CH: Both are performance arts, so there are many commonalities. Having an instrument in your hand and being one of the soundmakers is like being the engine that runs the machine. My breath and playing is constantly active in the process of making and contributing to the overall sound. I can put my stamp on how my sound is going to be realized. In conducting, you have the sound in your head and hope through your nonverbal communication that you can affect and mold the sound the way you know it to be. Your instrument is the ensemble, and that is controlled by someone else. Your interaction with the sound is through another human being’s ability to convey on their instrument what you have in your head. In both cases, playing or conducting the goal is to unleash the art and allow the music to come alive.
Teaching a conducting class (by Rory N. Finney)
MM: When you’re teaching courses on conducting, what are some of the fundamental lessons you want your students to come away with? What distinguishes a great conductor from a mediocre one?
CH: Really know the score, feel the music, become one with the music. Hearing all parts in your head, examining all aspects of the piece. The second most important lesson is your relationship with your ensemble. Do you earn their respect? Do you engage with them in a positive, inspiring manner? Third, know what gestures will clearly elicit the sound you want. These qualities also distinguish conductors and their greatness. Bruno Walter was considered the ideal modern conductor because of his humane manner with the musicians and the music’s soul.
MM: Have you read Oliver Sacks’s Musicophilia? He talks about a range of patients with fascinating neurological conditions related to music—whether it be a non-musical surgeon getting struck by lightning and suddenly hearing ethereal compositions playing in his head, epileptic patients experiencing musical hallucinations, or people suffering from amusia (the inability to perceive melody). Music is part of our fundamental makeup and seems to strike at the deepest part of our soul as well as our brain—primarily the temporal lobe and basal ganglia. What is your take on the purpose and significance of music, whether it be from an evolutionary, philosophical, or personal perspective based on your observations of its influence on others?
CH: No, I haven’t read that book yet. I believe that music is basic to human existence. We were crying a lament before we were speaking a language. The earth rotates at a speed that produces a sounding pitch. Of course, I believe music is transformational—it has the power to move us beyond that which words can convey. Music’s place in Western medicine is in its infantile stage. No doubt there is great potential for medicine and music. I like to remind my students that there are few opportunities to encounter an aesthetic experience. Music can take us to that place.