How to build a cathedral

Dr. Robert Taylor (right) 

Dr. Robert Taylor (right) 

Recently, Dr. Robert Taylor, Director of UBC Bands, was selected as conductor of the Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band — an exciting opportunity to work with the state’s most talented young musicians and their teachers.

But while he has conducted a number of state and provincial honour ensembles in the past, Dr. Taylor notes that the approach in Minnesota is unique: “Normally, these events are “one-offs,” where the guest conductor spends a few days with the ensemble leading to a concert. However, in Minnesota they do a weeklong camp in the summer, followed by a feature performance at the state music educators conference the following spring.” 

This emphasis on continuity allows for the conductor and coaches to take a more ambitious approach both to teaching and performance, with inspiring results.

In August, Dr. Taylor spent a week rehearsing the ensemble with a team of coaches. The students spent time in large ensemble rehearsals, sectional coachings, master classes, and doing other camp activities, such as a talent night where they all showed off their other talents. The week concluded with a recording session and two performances.



LISTEN: The Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band performs Bach's "Prelude and Fugue in G Minor." 



The program was entitled “Cathedrals,” and included works inspired by the music of Pérotin, Bach, Debussy, and Wagner. The program concluded with a performance of Frank Ticheli’s “Angels in the Architecture,” a creative work that includes harmonic whirlies, a solo vocalist, and surround-sound elements.

“For the performance, we surprised the audience with students from both bands performing the climactic chorale from all corners of the auditorium,” Dr. Taylor says of the summer concert.

Then, in February 2017, Dr. Taylor returned to Minnesota to work with the same group of students and to present a session for teachers at the MMEA conference. The weekend concluded with a performance of the “Cathedrals” program at Orchestral Hall, a superb acoustic, for a large and enthusiastic audience of music educators.

"The model is also interesting because there are layers of mentorship in the approach," Dr. Taylor says. "I worked with a number of high school band directors in a conducting workshop, who were at camp doing professional development sessions while their students were attending the camp, and presented a session on rehearsal techniques at the state conference, which I was able to demonstrate during rehearsals with the band.”



WATCH: The Minnesota All-State Symphonic Band performs Ticheli's "Angels in the Architecture."