BWW Blog: Peter Stafford Wilson - Reflections
I have encountered a lot of anniversaries that end in zeros lately. My twentieth season with the Columbus Symphony occurred in 2010. My tenth season with the Springfield Symphony was last year. This year marks my twentieth at the helm of the Westerville Symphony at Otterbein University. My first professional conducting job was some 35 years ago (I know there is no zero in that figure, but it seems worth noting). Do the math, and you will rightly assume that I am approaching a significant personal milestone with the aforementioned digit.
So reflection is definitely in order. And I do enjoy fond memories of some amazing music. But The Common denominator in all of these various rubrics is my involvement with young musicians. Whether cajoling a youth orchestra into bringing Shostakovich to life, coaching singers at a summer stock opera company as they twist their vocal chords around Gilbert and Sullivan , accompanying a young group of fledgling ballerinas ricocheting their way through Nutcracker, or navigating a young soloist, having won the local concerto competition, through the mine field known as the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, it has all been great fun and enormously gratifying.
I recall a budding high school composer coming to me, begging for me to read his latest composition with the Columbus Symphony Youth Orchestra. He is now among the leading composers of his generation, and currently teaching at Harvard. Any number of my former students are now among the ranks of the top orchestras of our country, enjoying professional careers, and furthering the quality and breadth of the art form in substantive ways. The real success, however, is that so many former students have now gone on to leadership roles in commerce, academia, governance, and social services and take with them a love for symphonic music and an understanding that an orchestra of the highest attainable quality is a vital part of a great city.
When school music and arts programs are threatened as inevitable budget cuts are confronted, we tend to rally with the admonishment that such cuts do run deeper than the superficial savings they temporarily relieve. And they really do! Music, and being part of the creative process teach us more than just notes and songs, we learn about taste, and how to discern truly great from mediocre. We learn the value of a diverse community. We understand that self expression can exist without words. We are empowered to convey passion and compassion both in the same breath.
Early in my career, I assumed that my interaction with young musicians was a means to another end, a way of finding the loftiest podium that my talents would allow me to achieve. Now, wisdom has taught me that my life and my art would be a lot less invigorating without that influence. So off to Youth Orchestra rehearsal I trudge!