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December 9, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Life & Culture

Q&A: Choral director acts as artist in residence

Janet Galvan, director of choral activities at Ithaca College, served as an artist in residence at Mississippi State University (MSU) from Sept. 5 to Sept. 8. During her residency, she worked with the Mississippi State Singers and conducted them in a concert. She also provided workshops for local high school choirs and the Mississippi State Chamber Singers.

Staff Writer Hannah Fitzpatrick spoke with Galvan about how she received the invitation, her experiences at MSU and her plans on integrating what she learned from her residency to her current classes and ensembles at the college.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hannah Fitzpatrick: How did you first hear about the opportunity to serve as an artist in residence at Mississippi State University?

Janet Galvan: I was invited by the Mississippi State University director of choral activities. He chooses a conductor each year to work with the choirs at Mississippi State University and to present a concert with his most select ensemble. That person also presents sessions to music teachers who attend the colloquium and works with high school choruses. One receives this type of invitation based on one’s reputation in the choral profession.

HF: What inspired you to go to Mississippi for this residency?

JG: I accepted the invitation for several reasons. I love guest conducting. It is exciting to work with an ensemble and make a fast connection with the members of the ensemble. … I respect Dr. Packwood. He is an inspiring person who is fun to be around. He has met many obstacles in his life, and he has overcome them to be an influential presence in the choral world. It is fabulous to work with someone that you admire and respect. … Any time I go out to do this kind of work, I am representing Ithaca College. I want to be at my best so that the reputation of Ithaca College is enhanced. 

HF: What was the most memorable part of your experience?

JG: The highlight of the residency was getting to know and work with the singers in the State Singers and to see what excellent work Dr. Packwood is doing with that ensemble. Every member was extremely open to instruction and ideas. They were an amazing group of singers and human beings. … The audience’s reaction to the State Singers felt like a rock concert. Everyone was so excited by the music we made. … I had several young women tell me that they were so excited to work with me because they want to do what I do, and it was inspiring to have a female model. … I never had a female guest conductor growing up. Things are changing, but it is still relatively unusual to have a female director of choral activities or as a guest conductor for mixed or tenor/bass all-state choruses.

HF: How did this experience compare to your usual day-to-day activities as a choral professor at Ithaca College?

JG: In this situation, everything is packed into a short period. You go in, make connections, try to inspire excellence and communication. It is short but intense. It leaves an impression. I try to reinforce, praise and support the work of the day-to-day conductor so that it is clear that it is that person who built the foundation of what happened. 

HF: From my previous research, you’ve done plenty of artist residencies before and conducted numerous choruses and orchestras at some of the most well-known venues in the world. What makes your experience at MSU stand out from other artist-in-residencies and guest appearances you’ve made in the past?

JG: I often have others work with my choirs, and it is wonderful to sit to the side and listen to your own choir. The students found it hysterical when the regular conductor would glare at them after I asked for a certain change because he clearly had asked for that in previous rehearsals. He interjected a few times and said, “Did I not just say that yesterday?” It was light-hearted and fun, but these students worked so hard. So many of them emailed or contacted me through Facebook after I left. Lots of hugs and pictures after the concert. Everyone that I came in contact with was excited about what we were doing and very welcoming.

HF: How do you plan on integrating what you’ve learned from your experience at MSU to your classes and ensembles at IC?

JG: I learn when I teach — I think most of us do. But the atmosphere when one is guest conducting is one of excitement and joy. It is my goal that every rehearsal that I lead at IC is that way too. It is much harder on a day-to-day basis, but, in some ways, a conductor is at their best when guest conducting. Trying to create the best in oneself daily is the goal. I try to create a safe space where all feel welcomed and valued. My students work hard, and they allow themselves to be vulnerable to create art and share that art with others. They deserve a safe space for that. Just as I try to look every student in the eye as a guest conductor, I try to be sure to connect with each student every day at IC.

Hannah Fitzpatrick can be reached at hfitzpatrick@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @HannahFitzpatr7