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Conductor David Bloom on Music, Life Lessons & Wrangling Teen Orchestras


Conductor David Bloom share tips for wrangling teen orchestras, explains why learning music is the key to so many important life lessons, and reveals what it’s really like to work with Courtney Love.

If you’ve seen an amazing new music performance recently, there’s a pretty good chance that David Bloom was involved. A founding co-artistic director of the 21-member ensemble Contemporaneous, David has worked as guest conductor or music director with many of New York’s most exciting performers, including JACK Quartet, NOW Ensemble and David Byrne, and has made the rounds from Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center to Merkin Concert Hall and (le) poisson rouge. Passionate about music education as well as performance, he has taken on the challenge of conducting two of Kaufman Music Center’s large teen ensembles: Face the Music Philharmonic, which performs music by living composers including its own members, and the Special Music School High School Orchestra.

How do you approach your role as a conductor when you’re working with the kids at Kaufman Music Center?
I think of my role as a conductor/educator as more of a coach than a traditional conductor is in a professional setting. By that I mean that I want to encourage the kids to listen, to identify issues to correct themselves, and to develop a kind of independence even within a large ensemble setting wherein they can rely on their own intellect and their own ears and their own intuition in honing their performance. I could spend a lot of time lecturing and telling everybody exactly how to choreograph every note, but that doesn’t exactly do them any good as developing musicians. 

Why does learning music have to do with learning in other areas?
I believe that learning music is an amazing opportunity to learn life lessons. I want what I’m teaching to be broadly applicable to their lives not just in the narrow context of their instruments, but also in their interactions with one another, in their experience of the world and their engagement with art. Among the biggest lessons that can be learned in music are accountability to one another and to one’s own goals in addition to actually setting those goals for yourself. And having a really clear picture of where you are and where you want to be, which also involves self-assessing your progress towards those goals. Collaboration is essential. It’s totally crucial to develop a really close working relationship with others, often quite quickly. Also, really learning to support and encourage our colleagues and peers, be they at the same level of us, or younger or older is crucial. I think that if students feel validated by their peers and encouraged to excel, then their progress grows immensely as well as their potential.

What’s your favorite thing about working with teens?
In both Kaufman Music Center ensembles, Face the Music and Special Music School High School, there’s a really fresh energy that one doesn’t always find in professional settings, which is one thing that I really love about working with them. When the kids encounter new challenges and unusual techniques and new music, or just brand new ways of thinking and approaching music, they’re not daunted by it. They’re very open to trying new things because it doesn’t register to them as anything unusual – it’s something new and exciting.

What are your youth orchestra wrangling tips?
Here’s the best youth orchestra wrangling tip I have: Hire Ian Munro and Vasudevan Panicker. They are amazing just at every aspect of their work and extremely highly regarded by all the students and parents. There’s so much of course that goes into making those concerts happen. There’s a whole village that goes into getting the kids to rehearsals, from their families and teachers working with them outside of rehearsals on the music, much of which is very challenging, to the parent volunteers who make those concert days go smoothly. But of course really it comes down to the students themselves. The more passionate and driven they are about the project, the more we can achieve as a group. The energy of a successful concert makes it evident to them – oh wow, here’s what we can achieve as a group, let’s put everything we have towards our next project.

What is the new music scene in NY like now, and how do Face the Music and the SMS High School musicians fit into it?
The new music scene in NY is extremely diverse and varied in the best of possible senses. There is something for everyone. And of course audiences that are drawn to new music are often very excited to include new people in that scene, as well as performers of new music. They want to see the proliferation of this music and of performers who are passionate about making it come to life. Face the Music is received among my friends and colleagues in the new music community very positively and very highly. A whole new generation of kids who are lively and excited about this music is exactly what we need. It speaks volumes about Face the Music that so many ensembles and presenters have embraced then and collaborated with them and presented them on their series. And really trusted them with some daunting works and some challenging collaborative projects, and Face the Music rises to the occasion.

What are your goals for the orchestras that you’re conducting?
With Face the Music we’re looking towards an orchestra that is flexible, that can be shape-shifting and that always programs really exciting music, and that takes on challenging work that’s very exciting for the kids. Certainly the most important goal with both orchestras is to really dedicate ourselves to repertoire that’s going to help them grow as musicians and as young people. Often this involves Face the Music doing music by composers with close ties to the ensemble, who we can bring in to work with the kids. That collaborative element with composers is important. At Special Music High School we are looking to really build the orchestra into an ensemble that can perform at a very high level. It’s an amazing school with fantastic talent that deserves to have an orchestra that can take on some of the big war horses of the repertoire. And I think they’re very much up to the challenge. 

OK, we have to ask: What’s it like to work with Courtney Love?
I work pretty regularly with Courtney Love, who co-stars in a musical theater/opera work that I’m music director on by Todd Almond, Kansas City Choirboy. Courtney Love is fantastic to work with. She is so humble and down to earth and just an incredibly exciting performer. She’s very personable and really cares about her collaborators and brings so much life and ideas to the performance.

Find out more about Face the Music and Special Music School High School.