Inheriting the Baton

Music Seniors Blossom as Conductors


Patricia Antonio stepped up to the podium gingerly as she struggled to stifle a wave of nerves pitching in her stomach. Drawing a long breath, she looked out, raised her baton and extracted the first notes of music from the 50-piece wind ensemble before her.

Weeks of preparation had gone into this moment, her debut as conductor of her own peers in front of a live audience, a required step toward earning her bachelor of music education. Every spring and fall semester Armstrong music majors face the same challenge, conducting in a concert that is open to the public.

“At that moment you feel intimidated; you have to listen for the different elements, balance, intonation, pitch accuracy and it requires your full concentration,” she said. “You have to give it your best to be able to bring those notes to life. It is a big responsibility; you have to learn the piece and devote hours of preparation. The nerves begin the moment you set foot on that podium, but soon you can get lost in the music.”

Patricia first picked up a clarinet when she was 8 years old, following in the footsteps of her dad, a musician. But for a time, while attending Hilton Head High School, she got away from music. At Armstrong she started as an economics major, but soon found her path back to music.

“The conducting class is very intense. You learn that a good conductor knows everyone’s role. You have to. It requires a lot of work and a lot of time and you owe it to your peers to learn that piece of music and be able to respond to it.”

Professor Mark Johnson, who teaches the conducting and repertoire class designed for advanced students, believes that teaching young musicians to be conductors before they graduate is worth every effort.

“This class is a culmination of all the skills they have learned up until this point, a synthesis of all the elements that go into being a musician. My job is to take them from sitting in the ensemble and up to the podium to interpret the composer’s intent so that we can all come to a consensus about what we are trying to play for the audience.”