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Currently in his twenty-first year as Music Director of the Oakland East Bay Symphony, Michael Morgan was born in 1957 in Washington, DC, where he attended public schools and began conducting at the age of 12. While a student at Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, he spent a summer at the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. There he was a student of Gunther Schuller and Seiji Ozawa, and it was at that time that he first worked with Leonard Bernstein.
In 1980, Michael won first prize in the Hans Swarowsky International Conductors Competition in Vienna, Austria and became Assistant Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, under Leonard Slatkin. His operatic debut was in 1982 at the Vienna State Opera in Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio. In 1986, Sir Georg Solti chose him to become the Assistant Conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, a position he held for seven years. His debut conducting a regular subscription concert of the Chicago Symphony came in 1987 when he stepped in to replace the ailing Maestro Solti with no rehearsal, to critical acclaim. During his tenure in Chicago, he was also conductor of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago (the training orchestra of the Chicago Symphony) and the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra. In 1986, he was invited by Leonard Bernstein to make his debut with the New York Philharmonic; he has since returned to conduct that orchestra several times.
In addition to his duties with the Oakland East Bay Symphony (Meet the Kids whose lives have been touched by OEBS), Maestro Morgan has a busy guest conducting schedule. He has conducted the San Francisco Symphony on many occasions, and will conduct the Winnipeg Symphony, San Antonio Symphony and Boulder Philharmonic. Morgan serves as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of the Oakland Youth Orchestra, Music Director of the Sacramento Philharmonic, and Music Director of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek. He makes over 100 appearances in the nation's schools, particularly in the East Bay, and is widely regarded as an expert on the importance of arts education and minority access to the arts.
Dear Mr. Morgan,
My name is Andrea Landin and I am a senior in high school. I am a cellist and in the fall will be going to Oberlin Conservatory! As a Latina, I have become increasingly aware of the lack of diversity in classical music and have chosen to research this topic for my senior project. I am just curious about your opinion on this; it is obviously very important to concentrate on music education for young students, but do you think conservatories and symphonies should be making an effort to diversify as well? I realize that affirmative action in music would be problematic because the field is based solely on talent. But if minority youth went to a concert and saw people like them on stage, wouldn't it encourage and inspire them even more? Your thoughts on this issue would be greatly appreciated...I have become incredibly interested in social issues relating to music and hope to incorporate this into my career one day. Thank you!!!
Dear Ms. Landin,
The most important thing we can do as individual artists is to be on the lookout for young people of color who have a special talent or, even more importantly special drive and dedication, for classical music and try to see to it that they are properly taught. If we can see to it that these young people get to private lessons (and there are teachers everywhere who are willing to give such students "scholarships" and teach them for free) they will eventually make there way to the conservatories and symphony orchestras. The biggest problem is people falling through the cracks at the early ages.
If you find such a person, bring them to the attention of everyone that even MIGHT be able to help. And in the case of people with schedules like mine, be persistent. We really do want to know about them.
You are quite right about Affirmative Action. It has no place in any field in which you MUST start as a young person and then be properly trained. That's why those of us who are trying to address the problem of diversity in classical music concentrate on the kids at the beginning. After that it's too late to help them because unless someone has superhuman talent they can't possibly catch up.
So do get out and play for as many of these young people as you can in order to show them there is a way for them to enter what is, for us, the mainstream but which is, for them, something quite foreign. And remember that the average 3rd or 4th grader is interested in everything. And certainly interested in anything you are really excited about. That's why you must catch them then and show them they have options.
P.S. Good luck at Oberlin and look out for Danielle Taylor, an African American violinist coming there in the fall from the Oakland Youth Orchestra. We discovered her in a 4th grade violin class in East Oakland, got her lessons, and she's on her way, because people were looking out for her.
Dear Mr. Morgan,
It's great that you can take time to answer questions from less-experienced musicians. I'd like to have your advice about being a composer.
For pieces composed for an orchestra performance, or entered in competitions, how does one find out what orchestras/competitions exist that would be interested? The American Music Center has listings, but has limitations by ensemble, residence, age, and type of music. There must be many "unknown" orchestras/competitions not in their listings. What is the best way of finding additional appropriate venues for performance/competition?
Are tonal pieces accepted as much as non-tonal or more experimental compositions? What do you look for in a composition that is submitted to you? What resources could you recommend for the education of a composer, and for sending out his work?
I thank you in advance for your time in answering my questions. I appreciate it very much.
I would highly recommend, in addition to the American Music Center, that you join ASCAP or BMI as soon as is practical. They have a great many resources for composers including the locations and requirements of competitions, workshops, schools and the like.
From tonality to total experimentation, a wide range of works are accepted by various conductors for performance. I suggest looking into the kind of new music a given conductor is currently programming. Find a way to hear or peruse those scores and you'll have some idea about the conductor's tastes.
As for what I'm looking for, go to my orchestra's website and see what I'm playing. I look for a variety of things in orchestra scores including inventiveness and practicality (can the piece be put together in a normal series of four rehearsals along with the rest of a concert). There's no formula for what it is that will strike me, but some sort of original voice (or the potential for developing one) is certainly high on the list of attributes.
And if one conductor doesn't go for your piece, try another. But always look at what he/she is already programming first and see how your piece might fit in.
I hope this helps.
Hi my name is Naomi, and I was surfing the net recently and came upon a listing of music mentors. I would for one like to tell you how cool I think it is that people such as yourself take the time out of their lives to help potential musicians. Being a musician myself, a composer, clarinetist and pianist, I hope that one day I can have the same kind of influence on someone.
I have written a few pieces, one of which was performed (as a favor) by the Hudson Valley Philharmonic orchestra. It was such an honor to have professionals playing my music, and the experience itself was a lot of fun. I do plan to become a composer/conductor, and I do hope that one day I can master the art. As an African American woman however, I know that I will probably face more obstacles than your average person.
As a senior in high school, I am preparing to go to Ithaca and hope to go to Eastman School of Music for graduate school. I remember distinctly the interview I had with the composition professor. He listened to a sample of one of my works and seemed impressed. He responded, "I didn't expect something like this to come out of a person like you." He was a nice guy, and I knew he was being honest, and that it was even a compliment, but it was just another reality check.
I was wondering what kind of obstacles, if any, you've faced as a person of color in the field of composing and conducting. Was it hard to make it to the top? Did the orchestras that you conducted ever give you a hard way to go? If so, what can I do to help myself get through that?
If you have the time, I would be grateful to get your advice on how I should handle these situations. Please write back, and thank you for your time.
The fact is that at this point the music business has opportunities for everyone. Everyone is tested as a conductor or composer, and some orchestras are difficult no matter who is conducting, but I've seen very few instances where any difficulty with an orchestra seemed to be racially motivated.
What you have to do is learn as much as you can and set up your own support system of family and friends inside and outside the music business. Find a mentor or mentors in your area and just follow them around. Learn from what they do well and also from their mistakes. Many are happy to be watched by an apprentice. May I also suggest my favorite book on the subject of race relations: "Losing the Race" by John McWhorter.
There are difficulties for everyone and you certainly will see your share but you should let that stop you. And when you have specific questions along the way, don't hesitate to ask.