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Conducting a Field Trip with Jennifer Hudson

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Music Director Edwin Outwater took SFCM students in the conducting program on an immersive trip to Orlando to open a new concert hall that included a performance with singer Jennifer Hudson.

February 15, 2022 by Mark Taylor

By Mark Taylor

Students in the conducting program at SFCM are still somewhat shocked at their recent field trip. They were taken to Florida for a first-of-its-kind endeavor where they took on some heavy tasks and worked with major stars in the world of music. 

SFCM Music Director Edwin Outwater took conducting students Jaco Wong and David Baker on the week-long trip where the pair worked as assistant conductors in order to help Outwater open the new Steinmetz Concert hall in Orlando. The pair spent the January trip working with musicians, listening for balances, and helping orchestrate each performance with the conductor, “My biggest takeaway from this experience is probably just the colossal number of people that it takes to put on a multi-show residency,” David Baker said. “It really takes a whole world to make something extraordinary like this to happen,” he added. 

The series of concerts held to open the concert hall at the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts included performances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Leon Bridges, Lyle Lovett, and Academy Award winning actress and singer Jennifer Hudson. For Baker this allowed him to try something new, “I really enjoyed being part of a residency that constantly jumped from genre to genre, and getting to see the Royal Philharmonic and loving every single moment of it,” Baker continued, “The genres of rock and pop hold a very special place in my heart.”

The idea for the immersive trip was the brainchild of Music Director Outwater. “What better experience for my students than to be in this environment where you deal with things that go right and wrong all at once,” he said. Outwater was asked to help open the new Steinmetz Hall last year and the trip was co-funded by the Conservatory. “Both students ended up being a huge help because my workload was so heavy.” Outwater added. The Music Director and conductor hopes they all learned a valuable lesson in what it means to be a conductor, “So much of being a conductor of an orchestra in the 21st century is not just classical, I hope they learned how to handle the variety of challenges musicians encounter,” Outwater continued, “This is truly what the life of a modern classical musician is today.” 

Continuing with the celebration of the opening of Steinmetz Hall was the professional world premiere of composer Duke Ellington's “Black, Brown, and Beige,” a piece that first played at Carnegie Hall in 1943. It was panned by critics arguably because it was ahead of its time, Ellington never performed it in its entirety again. This version of the piece, commissioned in 1987, is arranged and orchestrated by music scholar and former Ellington bandmate Randall Keith Horton, “We were especially involved with Randall Keith Horton's "Black Brown and Beige" project, as we helped with adjusting small orchestrational details,” Baker said of the experience. 

For conducting student Jaco Wong, the best part of the trip was working with the many musicians and artists, “Some highlights include cueing cannons for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture, witnessing a magnificent Beethoven 9, and spending time with Duke Ellington’s personal assistant, Randall Horton,” Wong said. 

While the biggest lesson was in the experience gained, for Baker the highlight of the trip was working with Jennifer Hudson, “It's always incredible to be in the presence of an A-list artist such as Jennifer. Her energy is contagious, and I've been so blessed to be part of her world for a couple of days,” Baker continued, “It was especially wholesome to chat with her and realize how she is still a learner who is always curious about different realms of music and the arts.”

Learn more about studying conducting at SFCM.