Beyond the Baton

Several parties have asked me to share my thoughts about classical music, conducting and how COVID-19 has impacted my normal routines.  To be honest, I’ve been resistant to the idea and I’ve only recently agreed to do so.  I’ve promised myself to not be overly-pedantic and long-winded, and to try and share some personal tidbits where appropriate!

It is hard to believe that it’s been nearly a year since I’ve conducted the ETSO, or any other orchestra for that matter.  When it became apparent that the virus had staying power, I had to quickly figure out other ways of occupying my time!  Unlike some of my fellow musicians, financial considerations did not enter the picture, fortunately.

Since September, I’ve been teaching orchestra at Boulter M.S. in Tyler.  I’ll skip the “how did this ever come about” story for later.  The short version is that Boulter didn’t have anyone to teach orchestra this year and I had both the time and training, so the path forward seemed pretty pre-ordained somehow!

Some of you know that prior to conducting for a living, I worked as a middle school teacher for five years in Toronto, mostly Music classes (string orchestra, choir), with some French, and Physical Education as well.  I should note that I resigned from this job 20 years ago!  So there were HUGE doubts about whether I still had any teaching “chops” left and how out-of-date any of these “chops” would be.

The good news is that I haven’t been fired (yet!) and my students, especially the beginners, are progressing quickly.  Apparently teaching chops can be dormant for quite some time!  It’s more of an attitude and a reflex than any particular skill or preparation on my part really.

The other good news is how wonderful Boulter is.   I am impressed by how malleable and attentive (for the most part) the students are, how well the school is run, and the high level of discipline there.  The kids practice, listen, perform and are generally respectful (and usually only require gentle nudging if they aren’t).   My beginning students are progressing much more rapidly than my former students in Toronto did.  Is this surprising to you?  I hope not, but I have to confess that it was to me.  My only regret is that I can’t currently show off these Hispanic and African-American kids by getting them to play in public.  If you’re at all curious, I think our winter “concert” is still online at Christmas Concert | Boulter Middle (  Hopefully some of these kids will be featured in the lobby prior to an ETSO concert soon!

Music matters!

Richard Lee

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