Conducting Symposiums: Which one is best for you?

Dr. Catherine Rand • April 2023Conducting • April 2, 2023

SBO+: Years ago Dr. Catherine Rand hired me to be a conducting coach at her summer conducting workshop. It was a fantastic event so I’ve asked her to give us all great advice on how to select the workshop that may be best for you.

At this time of year, we are thinking of our state festivals, school trips, and end-of-the-year concerts. But don’t forget about the professional development programs there for you.

During the spring and summer, instrumental conductors have several opportunities to refine their skills and network with other professionals in the field. One of those opportunities is to attend a conducting symposium. With many types and formats to choose from, which one is best for you?


To answer that question, you must determine what you are looking for. Are you interested in developing, refining, and honing your skills as a conductor? Or do you want to consider a program to improve your musicianship and score study process? Take a moment to determine your goals in attending a symposium. No matter which one you choose, all of them will have opportunities for networking and building your community of conductors.

There are several factors to consider in narrowing down the perfect symposium: attending as a participant or observer/auditor; skill and experience level; types of ensembles to conduct; types of repertoire; and opportunities for feedback.


Conducting symposiums offer two tracks: participant and observer/auditor.  Participants are given the opportunity to conduct in front of a live group while the observers can watch the process and listen to the feedback. In addition to the clinic, additional educational sessions may be offered.   

Symposiums are geared to three levels of participants and observers: current music educators, graduate students majoring in conducting, and undergraduate music education majors. Find the symposium that best suits your category level. 


Some programs offer the opportunity for participants to choose to conduct a large ensemble or a small chamber group. Others offer the opportunity to conduct both chamber and large ensembles. While on the podium, participants receive live feedback from the clinician. The podium sessions are usually recorded, and the participant can download and listen to suggestions from the clinician or commentary from a secondary person.


Most symposiums will rotate the participants on the podium with a standard time limit.  You can usually expect to be on the podium for at least two conducting rotations, and, depending on the amount of time for each participant, it could be up to four rotations or more.

Each symposium will have a required repertoire list for participants. The required repertoire list may be geared toward a specific ensemble level: young bands/orchestras, advanced high schools, or university-level programs. This list may help you decide which symposium fits your goals for personal growth.


Another essential factor to consider is the type of mentoring and coaching available. For directors considering entering graduate studies in wind conducting, a symposium with more podium time and a more challenging repertoire can help prepare you for auditions. Current music educators may want to attend one with more workshops and educational sessions. And graduate and undergraduate education majors might find the symposium geared more toward mentoring and coaching than feedback and critiques. 


If sessions and lectures are being offered, it is essential to consider the types and subject matter. Sessions and lectures may vary from choosing repertoire, score study, and rehearsal techniques to movement and score interpretation. Other conducting symposiums offer sessions on ensemble motivation, building relationships, and programming ideas. Most will offer the opportunity to have a question-and-answer session with the clinician(s) and hosts.


Be sure to have a good understanding of the application process. Most conducting symposiums will have a limit on the number of participants. The application process may include a video screening of applicants and a curriculum vitae/resume before acceptance. Some may require two or more years as a current music educator to participate. If you are an undergraduate student looking for a conducting symposium to attend, they may require a recommendation letter from your ensemble director or conducting professor. Deadlines for application and submission of required materials may be several months before the symposium. The application process may take some time, but it is well worth the effort once you find the right symposium. 


Lastly, consider the cost of the symposium.  There will be a required fee to be a participant or an observer/auditor. You must make all travel arrangements, including transportation, parking, and lodging. Some symposiums offer on-campus housing, while others give you a list of hotels. You also need to factor in the costs of food. Usually, the participants will go out to eat together, which provides an excellent opportunity for networking and getting to know the other conductors. And, if time permits, any costs for sightseeing or other activities. And, depending on the symposium you choose, the costs of purchasing scores on the repertoire list.


When you attend a symposium, especially if you are going as a participant, you will receive feedback and critiques while you are on the podium. If it is your first time, it can be intimidating. And it does get easier – a little. These opportunities will test your limits, get you out of your comfort zone, challenge you to try something new, and remind you that you don’t know everything. And most importantly, they will help you to grow as a conductor and music educator.

While you want to be comfortable, you still want to dress professionally – you never know whom you will meet or the opportunities that may arise. Usually, you will receive a video of your podium time, so keep that in mind when choosing your attire.

Take advantage of every opportunity to meet people – don’t skip out on the “optional” sessions or networking and social events. You are there to learn, make professional connections, and develop your own network and community of conductors. 


Other things to consider when choosing the right conducting symposium to attend include:

How much time do you get to engage with the clinicians?

How many times are you on the podium?

Are you going to need to bring your primary instrument and play?

Do they offer continuing education credit or professional development hours for teaching certificate renewal? 

Do they offer college credit?

How many on-podium conductors will there be, and the time length of the conducting rounds?

Choose the symposium you foresee benefiting from the most. Most conductors will attend more than one symposium – each one meeting your needs and goals at that point in your career. Attending a symposium is one of the best and most important investments you can make to grow and succeed in your career.

Dr. Catherine Rand is director of bands and professor of music at the University of Southern Mississippi and conducts the USM Wind Ensemble and teaches masters and doctoral wind conducting students.

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