It is no secret that Caltech is home to some of the world's most exciting research in science, math, and engineering. Less well known is that Caltech supports a thriving music program, built around students who excel in Caltech's "wheelhouse" but who desire - even need - a creative outlet to continue their musical interests. In his leading role as Director of the Symphony Orchestra, Wind Orchestra and Director of Performing and Visual Arts, Glenn Price ensures that Caltech students, postdocs, faculty, and the broader community have a musical home on campus.
Born and raised in Toronto, Price distinguished himself as a percussionist bound for a musical career. As an undergraduate at the University of Toronto, Price took the initial decisions that ultimately would put him on an academic path. In the discussion below, he reflects on the value and perspective gained from life as a working musician, before he enrolled at the Eastman School of Music, where he ultimately earned his PhD and which set him on a path of academic leadership. After an international tour as a postdoctoral scholar, and appointments at the University of Calgary and the The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Price was drawn to Caltech from an earlier and formative connection to the legendary Bill Bing, who was Price's predecessor in his current roles.
Now happily ensconced at Caltech, Price enjoys all of the cultural offerings of Greater Los Angeles, but as he emphasizes, his focus is on Caltech where he is nurturing and growing the music program. For so many Caltech students, music and performance offer a pressure release valve from a demanding curriculum, and it fosters community and a sense of belonging that is a source of the Institute's greatness in its core areas. Thanks to the work of Price and his colleagues, students of all backgrounds and experience levels have an outlet for music, which undeniably puts demands on their schedules, but ultimately benefits their studies.
DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Wednesday, September 20th, 2023. I'm delighted to be here with Dr. Glenn D. Price. Glenn, it's so nice to be with you. Thank you for having me in your office.
GLENN D. PRICE: It's my great pleasure.
ZIERLER: Glenn, to start, would you please tell me your title and affiliations here at Caltech?
PRICE: My title is Director of Performing & Visual Arts. In that capacity, there are three roles that I fulfill. As an administrator, I oversee our area, made up of 10 people who are in all aspects of music plus theater and visual arts. I also conduct our Symphony Orchestra and Wind Orchestra.
ZIERLER: What aspects of your job are you the inaugural holder of those positions, and where are you a successor? What have you innovated? What did you inherit?
PRICE: Both of the ensembles I have inherited from people who held them for a very, very long time. Bill Bing was the director of what was originally called the Caltech Concert Band. He was here for over 40 years. The group actually preceded him, but he really built the program up. Allen Gross, was the orchestra director here for almost as long, something like 36 years. My position in Performing and Visual Arts is kind of a new one. There was some sort of intermittent administrative position earlier, but the person who hired me, Joe Shepherd, had in mind, I believe, kind of a parallel position to the one that Betsy Mitchell holds in Athletics, which is that they wanted to have someone with a broad oversight of the whole area that could understand all the components, advocate, and lead the area forward. They'd had really good success with hiring her in Athletics, and I think that was a model for creating this position that I now hold.
ZIERLER: Administratively, where do you sit, who do you report to, and who reports to you?
PRICE: I report to Kevin Gilmartin, who succeeded Joe Shepherd as the VP of Student Affairs. The people who report to me are all the faculty in Performing and Visual Arts.
ZIERLER: As the new term comes up, I wonder if you can give me a sense of a day in the life of a conductor at Caltech. What are the kinds of things that you're involved with on any given day?
PRICE: There's a lot of planning here, and we are responsible for our own areas without a lot of administrative assistance. Now, we do have a fantastic operations manager, Hyesung Park, who's actually Dr. Hyesung Park, as she holds a doctorate in flute performance. But in my previous positions, I had what I wouldn't say was a small army [laugh] of assistants, but in my immediate position prior to this, I had five doctoral graduate assistants who were my main staff, plus office staff, and others in support roles. Here, we do this [laugh] on our own. I don't have a personnel manager or anything like that, so there are a lot of people to look after. Here what's interesting too is that people aren't all in the same kind of schedule or program, so there's a lot of individualized attention. The rehearsals themselves, the culmination of those preparation and planning elements, take place in the evenings so they are not in the way of most academic classes. The main thing that a conductor does is study scores and prepare rehearsals, and look after all the personnel to make sure that parts are appropriately assigned. We have auditions coming up, so that's still a little bit of a question mark. We've got a lot of returning people, but there will also be new faces, so there is that kind of administrative planning. Prior to this, of course, was the administration was setting up the season that I can show you later. We have flyers that promote the full seasons for the Symphony Orchestra and the Wind Orchestra. After auditions are completed, we are looking forward to meeting everybody for our first rehearsal with the orchestra on Tuesday night.
ZIERLER: Glenn, tell me about the season. What are the big performances to look forward to?
PRICE: We organize the groups that I conduct according to the school terms. Since we are on the quarter system, that is three 10-week terms. We try to stay away from the very final weeks of the year, and of the term, because of the students' considerable academic demands. Usually somewhere between the seventh, eighth, and ninth weeks of the year, we have weekend concerts. We do a new program each quarter. We're very lucky here that the audiences are so large and vibrant, we get to do every concert twice. Typically that means a Saturday evening and a Sunday matinee. The programs with the symphony orchestra are a mixture of traditional and contemporary repertoire. We just finished last season with Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony, and Mahler's First Symphony before that. Coming up in our first concert of the year is an all-American program, where we're doing a piece by a high-profile composer who lives locally, whose name is Peter Boyer. Then the Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo by Aaron Copland. The major work that occupies the second half is the Howard Hanson Second Symphony. Then for our middle concert of the year, we do some orchestral favorites such as Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky Korsakov, and it's also the program we designate as our Concerto Competition Winners Concert. In the later part of October, we will have a weekend where we hear students who have applied to perform in the Concerto Competition Concert, who are selected to perform in our second term concert. Then the final program of the year is really special because we have a Caltech professor, Konstantin Batygin, who you may have heard of.
ZIERLER: The rock star.
PRICE: That's it. The planets—no pun intended here—lined up perfectly.
ZIERLER: [laugh] I love it.
PRICE: We have a Caltech professor who had a piece commissioned for him for electric guitar and symphony orchestra, which we will be performing. Of course, he's rather famous because of his discovery of Planet Nine, which is the title of the piece. It doesn't get much better than that. Surrounding that, we'll be performing pieces that are traditionally connected with space, especially film music, including some works that are lighter, so we'll include some John Williams, as well as Holst, Britten, and so forth. The Wind Orchestra similarly does three programs per year, typically on a theme, and explores both well-established, and new repertoire.
Music and the Broader Caltech Community
ZIERLER: Glenn, the Caltech community broadly conceived, undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, staff, and the neighborhood, right?
ZIERLER: Among all of those groups, who do you interface with the most? Who are you working most closely with?
PRICE: Most closely with the students, because they are the reason we exist.
ZIERLER: That's both undergraduates and graduate students?
PRICE: Correct. But I will also refine my explanation about our participants—your definition was perfect. When we talk about our community members who fill out the ensembles, it's typically an affiliated community. To be eligible for the orchestra, there's a pathway or "keys to the kingdom" [laugh] scenario, where we typically don't include regular community people. They usually need to have an affiliation, such as being an alumnus, or a faculty member, or maybe a spouse of a faculty member. JPL people are eligible, so that's a very large community we also draw upon. If there's a pure vacancy, a spot that needs to be filled —
ZIERLER: We need a harpist?
PRICE: Exactly. But we're fortunate enough that—that was a bullseye there for you—harp is the one position only where I typically needed to hire somebody. Nobody gets paid to play [laugh] in the orchestra. We have a really rich pool of talent here so that's no issue.
ZIERLER: Which is amazing because you think a Caltech student, I mean, they're not coming here for music.
ZIERLER: The rich pool that you speak of, this is just an additional talent that they have?
ZIERLER: That's what you're drawing from?
PRICE: Correct. It's partly that we just have a lot of overachievers, [laugh] across-the-board overachievers. I'm not one to speak with any kind of insight to this, but there is some feeling that music and science often go together, and so we see a lot of people that seem to have that kind of cross-pollination or connection.
ZIERLER: For new students, either undergraduates or graduate students, are you going out there, and figuring out who can play instruments, or are most of the students self-selected? They come to you? They want to continue in this pursuit?
PRICE: The latter, partly because in the last couple of years, for privacy reasons, we're not allowed to be sent specific information about students who have said, "I am interested in playing the viola in the symphony orchestra." That is not allowed to be conveyed to me anymore, so we offer broad opportunities for information. We have club fairs, open houses, and also through the undergraduate office and the graduate office we try to just get word out to people so that they may identify themselves and come to us.
ZIERLER: What is the range of musical talents? This is not Juilliard, where everybody who comes here is tops in the field in music. Do you have Juilliard-level musicians who just come to Caltech because of their interests in science and engineering?
PRICE: Absolutely. But what drives the program isn't catering specifically to the people at the upper end of that spectrum. What drives the program is the entire spectrum, because the students are all equally of value to us, regardless of their level of experience. We have built into our framework a way to accommodate people at all different levels of experience. In some cases, it's restricted by the nature of the repertoire. In the symphony orchestra, for example, we do not do any part doubling outside of the strings, so we won't have five flutes; we'll just have two or three, as the piece calls for. But in wind ensembles, it is common to have multiples, and so that allows us to have a larger section and wider spectrum. We also have a chamber music program, which is extremely customized because those are small groups. My colleague Maia Jasper White does an amazing job of matching people up. She'll find three or four students at the same level, whether that's less experienced or a medium level of experience, and match them up so they can have a good experience and appropriate level of challenge.
Performance as Vital Creative Outlet
ZIERLER: The Caltech curriculum is brutal, famously so. What role does music play in balancing out all of the work that students have to do, even from a mental health perspective, a sense of community? I wonder if you could speak to that.
PRICE: You've just checked all of the boxes [laugh] in that question. Those are the reasons we exist. I think it's a balance of artistic expression and social enjoyment, because here, no one needs to do this for their degree. Unlike anywhere else I've worked in the past where music has been a career path, nobody is on a career path to music here. Personal fulfillment is the only reason they are participating, for while we offer all our courses for credit, they honestly just don't need the credit. Most are doing this because they can't imagine going a week without having the arts or performance in their lives. There is the artistic expression factor, but there's also very much an important amalgam of community and social contact, which then results in a healthier mental balance. A lot of our students remark upon how it somehow balances their brain in a way that actually enhances their research. It's not unusual to have people report a "eureka" moment, something that they've been working, working, working over with no results. They go away, come to rehearsal, and then go back to discover "Oh, it's so obvious"—because something happens. Again, I'm not the expert in this, but that's a side aspect that does seem to be a real thing. But the first two priorities are artistic expression and the social aspect of community and mental health.
ZIERLER: Because there is a range of talent levels in the musical community here, does that influence the kinds of pieces that you want to conduct, the kinds of pieces you want to choose from?
PRICE: Exactly. What we try to do is have a level that's appropriate in both ways. We have players who are wanting to play music at a certain level, and we program that way. The best example being chamber music, where in our top group they are playing major works, like full Beethoven string quartets, incredibly well at an extremely high professional standard. Then for people who have only been playing for a little while, they are matched up with other players of the same level, and with music that's appropriate for them. That's our goal, to see that everybody gets an appropriate level of experience.
ZIERLER: Glenn, I want to move to your areas of expertise. What is your forte? What is your home instrument?
PRICE: I'm a percussionist, and that was my full-time job. I didn't decide I wanted to move in the direction of conducting until the very, very last moments of my doctoral degree. Since that time, I've done both and more recently I tapered my playing because the conducting kind of pushed out any time being available [laugh] left for performing on my instruments.
ZIERLER: Is percussion very conducive to going into conducting? Are percussionists perhaps overrepresented in the community of conductors?
PRICE: It's interesting that there are some, and I think that there is a good reason for this. Certainly for me, having spent all those years playing professionally in orchestras, being at the very back of the orchestra, you get to see the entire picture. Also, you're not playing in every bar, like a first violinist might. You've got time to observe what's going on, the relationship between the conductor, and how everything's working through the rest of the ensemble. I think there are definitely some advantages that way.
ZIERLER: Being in the Greater Los Angeles area is that an asset for you, the artistic scene of Los Angeles?
PRICE: Absolutely. It's not boring here. [laugh]
PRICE: There is just a lot of opportunity of every kind.
ZIERLER: Do you have a musical career beyond Caltech?
PRICE: Here, I've really tried to make this my focus. What I do outside is mostly guest work, and is primarily international. I'll fly someplace as a guest conductor. Locally, the only other thing I do on a semi-regular basis is a professional contemporary chamber ensemble called TEMPO—it's an acronym—which is based out of Cal State Northridge, because one of the professors there is a member of the group. We use that as a home base. But it's a small group that's made up of some really outstanding professional freelance players in town from Northridge, from CalArts, studio players, and so forth. But that's the only other local activity that I do on a regular basis.
ZIERLER: How inclusive, when you say you're a percussionist, is that, from timpani to triangle? Is it everything?
ZIERLER: What about like xylophone, for example, is that percussion?
PRICE: Absolutely. That's the name of the game, if you want to have a career. Back when there were phones that rang—
PRICE: —you picked it up, and say, "Yes, I do that." If you don't know how, you figure it out. The idea is that you play anything that there is to do.
ZIERLER: Let's go back and establish some personal history. Your parents are from Canada?
PRICE: No, they're from England.
ZIERLER: From England?
ZIERLER: How did they get to Canada?
PRICE: Second World War London was not a great place to be, because as I've only more recently learned, rationing was worse after the Second World War than during it in London. My sister was born in London. The stories are quite harsh about what they had to experience. They, like lots and lots of other people, immigrated. The typical thing within the Commonwealth countries, was that there was a lot of migration. I grew up in Toronto in a kind of a scenario where there were lots of people who had come from England and Scotland and Ireland and so forth. That was the wave of that time, and then there've been successive immigration waves. My parents moved in 1953 to Canada. I'm the only one in my family who was born there.
ZIERLER: What was your father's profession?
PRICE: He was in business as a financial analyst and planner.
ZIERLER: Your mom, did she work outside the house?
PRICE: Yes, when I was older, as an executive secretary.
ZIERLER: Where in Toronto, like a suburban existence?
PRICE: We had an extremely suburban existence in a place that—this isn't going to interest anybody but for the one sociologist out there—there's a community called Don Mills, which apparently is North America's first fully planned community. Before they broke ground on anything, it was all planned out. It's a gorgeous plan with green belts so kids could walk to school without crossing a major road, plus density controls, zoning for traffic flow, planning where the schools were located, and many other details. It was a very supportive place to grow up, and very peaceful.
ZIERLER: Is there musicality in your family? Are there other musicians?
PRICE: No. My dad would just kind of play for fun - self-taught piano and organ and accordion, and that kind of thing, but not at a particularly high level. My sister played piano a lot. She was quite talented as a child but, no, otherwise not.
ZIERLER: What was your very first instrument?
PRICE: We lived for one year, when I was eleven, in Iowa, and if you wanted to be in the band there, you had to take lessons on an instrument. I decided that I wanted to play percussion, so we got a snare drum, and that's how that started.
ZIERLER: What kind of music did you like as a kid?
PRICE: As a kid, I just liked pop music, until I was introduced to other genres, which was just a huge awakening.
ZIERLER: Iowa was just one year?
PRICE: Yes, just one year.
ZIERLER: You spent your childhood through high school—
PRICE: In Toronto.
ZIERLER: —in Toronto?
Musical Roots at the University of Toronto
ZIERLER: Strong music program in school in Toronto?
PRICE: I happened to be part of an enormous bulge in that demographic where there were just a lot of kids of the same age going through. My high school had this big surge of numbers. There were a disproportionately large number of people involved with music. My high school, by Canadian standards, was very large. There were about 2,400 students, and there were 750 kids taking music, and four full-time music teachers. That's not so unusual in the US, but it was unusual in Canada. Interestingly, I have a lot of friends who went on to be highly successful in the arts, mostly in music but also as authors, and you name it. It's quite remarkable.
ZIERLER: When did you think about pursuing music as a career path?
PRICE: The interesting thing is, as I mentioned, growing up in Don Mills, we had no role models in the arts. Like I said, very, very conventional, where most dads worked downtown. At that time, most moms stayed home and looked after the kids. Like I said, nobody in the arts, so it never occurred to me that this was an option. But through school, I just knew that I liked doing this. In high school, I started thinking about whether there was any way that I could incorporate music into my life on an ongoing basis. I thought maybe I could be a high school music teacher, and so initially that's what I thought I would do.
ZIERLER: Did you apply to colleges with a specific idea of pursuing music?
PRICE: Yes. I did my undergrad work at the University of Toronto, and I applied to be a music education major there.
ZIERLER: Did you live at home or did you live on campus?
PRICE: Actually I lived at home because I was very lucky. I loved to teach. I started teaching when I was a teenager, and I built up a very large private studio, which I taught at a commercial studio and also at home. My parents were very indulgent. I was really lucky. It also gave me a place to practice, and it meant that I could, by staying at home, play in some really high-end community groups in town, like orchestras and rock bands. It was advantageous for me actually to not stay downtown but to stay in Don Mills, and do everything from there as my base.
ZIERLER: Tell me about the curriculum. It's mostly a mix of education and music?
PRICE: Yes. The main difference with a music education program is that you need to develop some facility on all of the instruments. It sounds a little daunting, and it's not like you become a virtuoso [laugh] on any of them, but you need to have a working facility so that you could teach beginners on clarinet or violin or whatever the instrument happens to be. That's the main defining feature of a music education program as opposed to just a regular bachelor of music degree where you're developing yourself on your instrument, and studying music history and music theory and sight singing and the rest of the standard canon.
ZIERLER: I imagine ultimately that was very useful as you became a conductor to have that breadth of experience.
PRICE: Yes, although I actually didn't go in that career direction. What ended up happening was that, I had my music education degree, but in the meantime, I'd started playing professionally—I had never thought about having an opportunity to play more at a higher level and getting paid for it. But I was lucky and was getting called to work, and so—fast forward a little bit - I was working full-time as a performer in Toronto, and so I never went to teachers college to be certified to teach in a school. While I did a music education undergraduate degree, my career was not music education; it was performing. I played with the Canadian Opera Company, the National Ballet of Canada, and whatever freelance jobs came through the city.
ZIERLER: How did you establish those connections with professionals?
PRICE: It's [laugh] like a medieval guild. It's word of mouth, that somebody recommends you. It's not like a normal job that you can apply for. Historically, the way it would often work is that somebody would substitute for their teacher. If you're teaching me oboe, and you get called for something, and there's one date you can't make that you might say, "Can my student cover for me on that occasion?" That's how you might get worked in. Especially in Europe, that's what happens. Here, what tends to happen is that every contractor has a list pieced together from experience and recommendations, and you try to work your way up on the list by being recommended, and doing a good job when you actually get hired, show up, and people meet and hear you.
From Professional Gigs to Eastman
ZIERLER: Tell me about the music scene in Toronto. What are the major venues?
PRICE: Toronto is much bigger now than it was. It's actually larger than Chicago now. It has always been a big theater-producing city. I played a lot of musical theater. The longest run I did—I never did any of the mega runs and multi-year shows, like friends who paid for their houses by playing Phantom of the Opera.
PRICE: That was never me. But I did do 64 shows of Man of La Mancha at one time, and so that was the longest single run I did. In Calgary, where I spent most of my career, I did 56 performances of Leonard Bernstein's Candide. That was kind of exceptional. More typical would be the opera, where we would rehearse, and there might be a run of, let's say, nine performances, and that would happen periodically; likewise with the ballet.
ZIERLER: What was your degree? What did it end up being at Toronto?
PRICE: I did a Bachelor of Music degree in music education. That was my specialty.
ZIERLER: Then how long were you in Toronto after graduation?
PRICE: I stayed there for about 6 years. As I became more active as a performer, I wanted to study with teachers who were at the top level, so I ended up going outside of Toronto, especially to New York. I had a couple of teachers that I would fly to have lessons with. Through them, I had the idea to do two master's degrees. I really loved teaching, and I wanted to do a music education master's degree, but I wanted to go where my timpani teacher was teaching, and thought I would do a master's degree in performance there. He had moved from the Philadelphia Orchestra to the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra but had since stopped teaching at the Manhattan School of Music. So I just did a master's degree in music education, at the Eastman School of Music. Eastman was a huge experience for me, and opened up another world, and I decided I wanted to continue on, but in performance, which took some time. The level there was extraordinarily high, so I had to really work. They only accept one graduate student a year. It's a hard school [laugh] to get into. But I wanted to merge my interest in performing with my love of teaching. The world was developing in such a way, as you know, that most universities wanted to have people with higher academic degrees. In order to continue to have my teaching evolve, where I could have an affiliation with a university, it became clear that having an advanced degree would be helpful. That's what led me to go back to Eastman, and do a doctoral degree in performance.
ZIERLER: Now, before you got to Eastman, were you supporting yourself exclusively as a musician in Toronto?
ZIERLER: But that wasn't enough for you intellectually, at least?
PRICE: A combination of intellectually and pragmatically. This will sound very mundane, but I was really lucky to be playing professionally when I was very young. Performing in a group like the Canadian Opera Company while in my early 20s, I realized there was a fantastically talented and experienced performer next to me. We're getting paid the same amount because that's the way the fee system worked. I thought, OK, well, this is great right now because I'm in my 20s. But in my 60s, I don't know how viable that's going to be. There was that pragmatic aspect, but it was mostly that I just wanted to work at a high level, and I thought a combination of performing professionally and having a teaching connection with a university would be the ideal balance.
ZIERLER: Besides Eastman, where else were you looking?
PRICE: That's it. Eastman was the best school I could go to, and so I was lucky enough to get admitted there.
ZIERLER: Some Eastman 101, just tell me about Eastman. What is it all about? What is its mission?
PRICE: It was founded and funded by George Eastman, of Kodak fame. One of the things that's outstanding about the Eastman School of Music is that it's really hard to get in, but once you're there, they look after you very, very well. They cap the size of every studio. At some schools you may get accepted, but then have to audition for that one performance spot that you might not get because someone else beats you out. It's the opposite at Eastman. You're guaranteed opportunities, in that it's on a by-year basis where you rotate through all of the ensembles, so everyone gets to play eventually in everything. A great combination of a terrific school with really high-level teachers who are very committed. The top two music schools most people think are Juilliard and Eastman. The big difference is at Juilliard, most of the teachers have a lot of other things on their plates. At Eastman you are in Rochester, it's not Manhattan, so the faculty are resident, there every day, and you got their full attention. I'm oversimplifying, but there's a real feeling of commitment and family and connection and that your teachers are very invested in you.
ZIERLER: Eastman faculty are not necessarily also professional musicians doing other work?
PRICE: Yes, they are on the same level and do other work, but not to the extent they would be in New York. Some of them might play with the Rochester Philharmonic, which rehearses in the same building. This was a beautiful thing about it. My teacher, who was the timpanist of the Rochester Philharmonic would say, "Oh, I've got a rehearsal in 15 minutes, so I've got to make sure we end our lesson on time." He would just go downstairs [laugh] for rehearsal, so it was very simple.
ZIERLER: Tell me about the curriculum. How do you learn at Eastman?
PRICE: It became apparent to me that there is an interesting point about what you can do on your own, and don't really need a school for, as opposed to those things you can only access in a formal degree program. This became, from a practical point of view, really clear-cut in my mind when I was thinking about the high cost of studying on my own budget, because I didn't take out any student loans. I paid my way through, or earned my way through. There are some things you don't need to be at a school for. You can practice anywhere. So what can the institution provide? The institution can provide me with ensembles that I get a chance to play in and learn some repertoire that's going to serve me well for the future. It can put me in a situation with other colleagues or students who have similar aspirations that I can learn from, and be around teachers whose level of discourse is just at a much higher plane. All of the analytical side of music as well, the musicology and theory and so forth, was really important.
ZIERLER: Because you were already a professional musician in Toronto, what were you exposed to? What was new for you at Eastman?
PRICE: At Eastman, from a performing point of view, the level in percussion had become so high that there was this whole other emphasis on solo performance. As a working professional, it's a different kind of skill set than being a soloist; a good case in point being with keyboard percussion. You mentioned xylophone before. All of the orchestral repertoire that exists, all of the xylophone excerpts, they wouldn't fill a drawer of my filing cabinet. There aren't that many, and you usually have one mallet in each hand. Now, in the meantime, there's a whole body of marimba repertoire that has been developed where you have to hold at least four mallets, and it fills many, many, many filing cabinet drawers. There is a different expectation of performance level as a soloist, kind of like how pianists are primarily soloists. From a playing point of view, it was like that. From an intellectual point of view, maybe I can illustrate this in a short phrase a colleague told me early on. I had a good friend who was a really, really, really talented harpist. Both of her parents were professional musicians. We were sitting down having coffee one day, and she was already working at a professional level, very young. She said, "I think I'm going to go to university next year." I said, "Why, Sarah, you're already"—she said, "Because I want to be more than an instrumentalist." I hadn't even thought of it that way before. I think that may be one simple way of discussing what happens at the university research level, as opposed to just having the skill set to show up and play everything that's on the page really well.
ZIERLER: Are there classes where playing instruments is not part of the curriculum?
PRICE: Yes, all of the music history, theory, analysis—
ZIERLER: There are traditional classes at Eastman as well?
ZIERLER: What is the utility of that, of taking a music history class? What's the idea?
PRICE: There are many different outcomes for this. I'm very lucky that as a conductor now that it's really central to what I do every day. One example would be style period and performance practice, and how music is played in the baroque period versus the classical period, the romantic period, or the 20th century. An articulation mark will mean something different for Stravinsky than it would for Mozart—
ZIERLER: I see.
PRICE: —for example. It gives you a richer way of understanding. It also gives you some tools to analyze the music, and how it's structured, or the architecture of it so you can pace the performance of it effectively. Those analytical skills are really helpful.
ZIERLER: What are the expectations for music composition? Are Eastman students expected to produce their own scores?
PRICE: There actually aren't any expectations for composing your own music. However, that had always been an interest for me, and so I had always done some composing. When I was at Eastman, one of the other things I liked there was you were able to take some courses that were not your major, and so I was able to study composition with a fantastic person, Samuel Adler, who was the composition teacher for the composition majors, without it having to be my main field. There was no requirement for that.
Setting on an Academic Path
ZIERLER: Now, you came in. Is it an initial terminal master's degree that you go in for—
ZIERLER: —or do you go in for the doctorate from the beginning?
ZIERLER: What is the master's of, what is the degree called?
ZIERLER: A master's of music?
ZIERLER: Did you leave the program, and you returned, or you stayed on?
PRICE: I finished my master's degree in music education, and took stock of what I wanted to do next.
ZIERLER: Just orient me in the chronology. What year is this now?
PRICE: I finished my master's degree in 1981, which had been primarily in summers so I didn't have to burn all my freelance bridges in Toronto. But then when I decided to do the doctorate degree—that's what I mean by taking stock—if I was going to do that, it meant I would have to let go of all of the connections, which I'd carefully built and nurtured over the years, to take the plunge. That's what it meant to then do a doctoral program.
ZIERLER: What were your considerations at that point as you were in this fork in the road?
PRICE: I had really been able to control my own destiny as a freelance player in Toronto, and I was very happy there, and very fortunate to have this balance of my own private teaching studio, plus a large percussion ensemble program I had created, as well as lots of freelance playing. I performed with basically everything except the Toronto Symphony. There were many other professional orchestras in the region, plus shows that came through, as well as the opera and the ballet orchestras where I was a regular member, plus other various engagements, so very happily, more than a full-time load. I was reluctant to just—I wasn't going to be cavalier about letting that go. Realize that I'm from a practical background, with my dad being a business person, you just don't let go of that too easily. I had to feel reasonably confident that this plan would succeed, that I would be able to use this degree, and even though I was cutting the cord here, that I would have some success in moving on. What I expected moving on to, and what I ended up moving on to after my doctoral degree, was different than I was anticipating. I thought I might move back to Toronto, try to pick up some of my earlier connections, and then aim to be the percussion teacher at the University of Toronto, for example. But instead, because I became interested in conducting, I instead went for a full-time university job that was a mixture of both conducting and percussion.
ZIERLER: Did you take time off between the master's and the doctorate?
PRICE: From school, yes.
ZIERLER: How long was that for?
PRICE: About three years.
ZIERLER: You were in Toronto for the three years?
ZIERLER: To the degree that you were returning to an old life, what was enhanced, having the Eastman experience? What did you do better? What was supercharged that wouldn't have happened had you just stayed the whole time?
PRICE: First of all, it forced me—it kind of changed my expectation of myself. When dealing with a practical matter—I've got X number of hours, and this has got to happen on this deadline—it would be pretty customary in the working world to be practical, maybe cut a few corners. At Eastman there was the expectation that if you can't do it, you keep at it until you can, and so there was no settling or compromise. My expectation working with other people at that kind of level was that, if it's supposed to go at this tempo, you just keep working at it till it's there. You're not going to simplify or edit the parts. The level of expectation was just much higher.
ZIERLER: I wonder if you've ever thought about this, returning, being a working musician in Toronto. Were you a better musician having gone to Eastman? Because the other way of looking at it was, if you weren't a student for all that time, you would've just been playing more.
ZIERLER: I wonder if you could reflect on what it means to be a better student with the formal education, a better musician.
PRICE: In my formal education, the doctoral degree happened to include even more playing than had I stayed in Toronto, because my typical day would include six or seven hours alone in the practice room.
ZIERLER: You actually got more than enough—?
PRICE: It was like being a monk.
PRICE: You lock yourself away, and the break would be going to a class or to a rehearsal, and then you're back in the studio.
ZIERLER: Your mindset, when you returned to Toronto, you weren't thinking necessarily about going back for the doctorate? This was an evolution in your thinking?
ZIERLER: What was that moment like for you when you realized you wanted to go back for the doctorate? What were your motivations?
PRICE: It wasn't something that had ever occurred to me. I wasn't a particularly huge fan of being at school. School seemed to be something that I needed to have some practical reason for, and some logical outcome that would evolve from that. But I got encouragement that I was not expecting at Eastman. I was in the elevator with my advisor one day, who said, "You should do a doctoral degree." It had never even occurred to me.
ZIERLER: Seeing what in you? What was the comment for?
PRICE: I don't know. [laugh] In that case, this was somebody in the field of music education where we were doing a lot of research. At that time, the whole emphasis was with brain research, hemispheric asymmetry, and how music was processed, such as right brain and left brain functions. I found that quite fascinating, and I guess he thought that I might've been smart enough to be able to handle continuing on. I don't know. Maybe because he indicated that he had been talking with the person I had auditioned for, who was in another department altogether. Apparently I made a good enough impression that they thought, well, the combination of those two things might be a reason to continue on.
ZIERLER: Was it the same consideration? It was Eastman or bust for your master's degree?
ZIERLER: Was it the same idea for the doctorate?
PRICE: For my doctoral degree, there wasn't anywhere else I was considering.
ZIERLER: Because Eastman is that good or it's that specialized or both?
PRICE: Both, and especially in percussion, it's been the number one percussion school since the 1930s. It's an interesting thing about the place. For me, there wasn't a close second.
ZIERLER: Beyond just the intellectual development, what is the credential of the doctorate in this field? What jobs are available to you as a doctor that are not available without the degree?
PRICE: Oh, before I answer that, I should fill in one little gap that I should mention in credit to Eastman. The other thing that the Eastman School of Music is known for is a group called the Eastman Wind Ensemble. A quick history, that will probably bore you, in 1952, Frederick Fennell founded a group called the Eastman Wind Ensemble, and the idea was to take band music, and put it at a professional level by doing the following things: having one player on a part; having a professional level of expectation; and also performing music that was not transcriptions of light music but historical gems by Stravinsky and Strauss and so forth, as well as newly composed challenging music. Eastman has always been the leading center for that since 1952. I had not been exposed to that before, so as a conductor, I was thinking only about orchestral conducting because that was my background. But while at Eastman, in my doctoral program, I was exposed to that, and I thought that could be a way that kind of bridged the worlds of being a high school music teacher with being a professional conductor as well. That's the other thing about Eastman, that a little light kind of went on for me, that this might be a bridge. Your question—?
ZIERLER: About the credential that there are jobs that are available to you when you have the doctorate in music that simply would not be otherwise.
PRICE: It just seemed that around that time—and I am aware that it's still the case now as I've been teaching a lot of people taking degrees in graduate programs—that there's an expectation for the advanced degree. In Canada, for example, for a university to be allowed to offer a particular degree, it needs to have a certain proportion or number of faculty that hold a degree that's higher. If you're going to offer a master's degree, you have to have X number of people on faculty with doctoral degrees to be eligible to do so. That kind of philosophy has permeated a lot of schools around the world. Having a completed doctoral degree was like a prerequisite to be able to apply for a job. For a lot of the types of positions I'd be applying for, a doctorate would be required. Often a doctorate with some years of teaching experience would be required. Occasionally they'll have an ABD, all but dissertation, as an acceptable minimum standard, with an expectation that you will complete your dissertation before a certain amount of time. That's what changed. It allowed me to apply for jobs I wouldn't have been eligible for otherwise.
ZIERLER: Was the doctoral program enriched by you having gone back to Toronto, working as a musician for those three years, do you think?
PRICE: For me, it was enriched. I'd say the biggest difference for me with my colleagues is that I had spent a lot of time in the practical world of getting paid to play professional productions. For example, the undergraduate students had never done any of that. They'd been in school continuously. For me, there was a context that gave meaning to specific aspects of what I was doing at the school, and I could very clearly separate what was going to help me go to another higher level, based upon the practical experience I already had.
ZIERLER: Did you reconnect with the same professors that you had as a master's student, or these were new people you worked with?
PRICE: Both, mostly the same people in the music education and the percussion side. All of the other part, the history and theory, they were new.
ZIERLER: What was the curriculum like? How different was it from the master's program?
PRICE: Very different because my master's program was in music education, so we did research having to do with the classroom, plus learning theory and, as I mentioned, brain research related to learning theory. Whereas the performance degree was almost like a musicology degree, where you also play an instrument, so those two streams as opposed to the music ed side, which is more of a practical education and pedagogically based.
Becoming a Doctor of Music
ZIERLER: Forgive my ignorance, but is there a written dissertation for a doctorate in music?
PRICE: Yes. In the case of Eastman, the options to fulfill this requirement helped me, because one of the other really major challenges with Eastman was the qualifying exam. After you've done all your classes or the majority of your classes, you get to the point where you have to also write a final qualifying exam, which is extremely difficult, in order to earn and be granted the degree. People would spend all their time just studying for the qualifying exam. Although my background on the practical side was really strong as a percussionist, I had a deficit in other respects. Had I been a violinist, I would've learned more about style periods. I would have learned about many different composers. Eastman offered a menu. [laugh] You could either do one dissertation, that counted for 12 credits, or two doctoral essays for six credits each, or you could write four doctoral papers for three credits each. I chose the last option because it allowed me to delve into four different areas, which helped prepare me for the qualifying exam. [laugh]
ZIERLER: [laugh] Pick your poison, it sounds like. [laugh]
PRICE: Yeah. It was an extremely detailed and broad qualifying exam – 12 hours of writing over 2 days. Many people would enter the doctoral program and not complete it, specifically because of the qualifying exam.
ZIERLER: When did you start seriously thinking about becoming a conductor? That was during the doctoral program?
PRICE: During the very tail end of my doctoral program.
ZIERLER: What was the thought process?
PRICE: It's a combination of two things. Percussion, at that time, wasn't quite as large a field as now, and I felt like I was starting to see my own horizon there. In the case of marimba, which had not been my forte, but became a central focus at Eastman, there were only so many concertos in existence, and I was in the process of learning the last handful of them, and so that was all great, but the classical repertoire wasn't changing. We were still going to be asked to play Beethoven symphonies, which are wonderful but I thought that may be a little unnecessarily self-limiting. Conducting seemed like something that I gravitated toward, that I felt comfortable doing, and it was more stimulating because it allowed you to draw upon all the elements that you've worked on, including your performance skills, but also your understanding of how to analyze music, and then perform in an informed way.
ZIERLER: What was your original research? What was your contribution for the doctorate?
PRICE: I'm going to say that my original research was nothing dramatic because, as I mentioned, I had this priority for myself to get through the doctoral qualifying exam. I did things that might seem a little arcane and aimed to merge it with percussion. I looked at Handel's use of the timpani through his oratorios. Some of those developments have to do with the mechanics of the instruments that were available at the time, and what that might mean as technology changed.
ZIERLER: You were strategic? You wanted to get through the program?
PRICE: I was strategic, so there was that. We also had to do three recitals, one of which would be a lecture recital. For that, I wrote a number of original transcriptions.
ZIERLER: What does that mean, a lecture recital?
PRICE: A lecture recital means you don't just perform, but you provide a presentation along with it. Now, my lecture recital had to do with expanding the repertoire, and so I made some transcriptions of pieces originally composed for other instruments. The focus could have been something analytical behind the piece that you're performing. It would be a combination, like a musicology presentation or a composition presentation, during which you also play. The other two recitals were just pure performance.
ZIERLER: Pure performance, as a soloist?
PRICE: As a soloist for an hour or more.
ZIERLER: You get through the qualifying, you do the three recitals—
ZIERLER: —you're a doctor of musicology now?
PRICE: Well, yes, eventually. My degree is called a Doctor or Musical Arts in Performance and Literature. The literature component relates to the musicology. There were 60 credits involved, and so those 12 credits that I did were 12 of the 60 required for the degree.
ZIERLER: The thought process at the very tail end of wanting to go into conducting, how did that shape your motivations, having completed the program? What did you want to do next?
PRICE: What I wanted to do next was learn how to conduct [laugh] because—
ZIERLER: Which is not part of the curriculum at Eastman?
ZIERLER: It's totally separate?
PRICE: This is the thing, I wasn't a conducting major at Eastman. Had I been, it might have been a different story, but I wasn't. I had taken some conducting classes, and I'd been doing a bit of conducting, but I'd never been a major. Because I wanted to make this a central focus of my career, and I was serious about doing my job properly, I realized I needed to take this seriously, so I went overseas. Japan was the main place I went. There's a long story I can skip, but Japan, Russia, Tanglewood, those were the main places I went post-doctoral to just develop my conducting.
International Postdoctoral Focus
ZIERLER: What are the funding sources for postdoctoral research? Self?
PRICE: Self. I was eligible for some grant money from the Canadian government for some of it, but mostly myself. But the good thing is, Eastman was a great place to go. First of all, as you gather, I worked for that span of time. Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I had money built up to put toward university. In my last year of my doctoral work, I actually made a profit because I had a small grant from the Canadian government, I had a teaching assistantship, and I performed on three records, which we got paid union scale for at Eastman. I had three income sources during my doctoral degree. Rather than going into negatives, I finished my degree, and I had a little nest egg of money put aside that I could use to fund my further study.
ZIERLER: What was the program in Japan?
PRICE: I did three things there, but the number one reason I went is that one of the conductors who I admired, Seiji Ozawa, the conductor of the Boston Symphony, had trained under a very famous Japanese conducting teacher, whose name is Hideo Saito. Saito had organized a way for the instruction of conducting to be clearer. Conducting is a relatively recent area of expertise compared, let's say, to violin, where the technique was codified 200 years ago. Conducting people still don't talk the same language. There are all kinds of ways of describing different gestures and concepts. It's not standardized at all. Saito took the idea of all of that and, during the period where Western music was taking hold in Japan, wanted to have a way to effectively teach Japanese students. During that time, just about all of the famous conductors were German, and Saito would make notes during rehearsals—this is what Furtwängler does, and this is what Klemperer does—and organized a way to discuss the technique properly. It apparently worked for Maestro Ozawa, so I thought it might be worthwhile [laugh] for me. That was my main reason for going. Now, I was really lucky. At the same time and at the same school, the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo, was Keiko Abe, the most famous marimbist in the field, who I wanted to study contemporary Japanese marimba repertoire with. Since she was also was connected with the school, I was able to with her. I mentioned earlier Frederick Fennell, who founded the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Later on, he had a whole other career as a conductor of professional wind ensemble in Tokyo called the Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra. I spent a lot of time with him, and watched rehearsals, and so forth. I was a happy person in Tokyo doing those three things.
ZIERLER: Are the performances mostly of Western compositions? Are there native Japanese symphonies?
PRICE: This gets into a whole other area of discussion. Until fairly recently, most of the writing was in a Western style. Japanese composers were writing very much in the American or European style. The marimba was an exception. But the wind ensemble and symphony orchestra music tended to be written in very much of a Western style.
ZIERLER: How was that valuable for your intellectual development, just being exposed to a very different culture but having the universal language of music?
PRICE: Oh, very much so. I loved everything about being in Japan. It showed me different ways that things are taught. My conducting teacher's position, is an example. In most places, the person who teaches conducting also conducts the orchestra or the wind ensemble. My teacher's job was purely to teach conducting full-time, that's all. He had been doing this for decades, so by the time I met him he's [laugh] got it pretty well figured out. I was working with somebody who was really a pure specialist. In a similar way, in most places, you can't be a conducting major until graduate school. At Eastman, for example, the only conducting major degree they offer is the doctoral degree; not even a master's degree like most other American universities. But there's no school that I'm aware of in North America where you can be a conducting major as an undergrad. However, in Russia, at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, they have been doing this for a long time, and some people have figured out when they're a teenager that that's what they're going to do. Studying there contrasted in approach, but was similar in a kind of way, since it's such a specialized field that's been established for a long time. It was really interesting to see how it's taught, and I was very interested in being a good conducting teacher as well as a conductor, which eventually led to my writing a conducting textbook, which became a very big part of my life, amalgamating many of these methods plus adding my own perspectives. Getting back to Japan, everything about the culture I found fascinating. Seeing different approaches and ways of doing things was really edifying as well.
ZIERLER: You were there for a block of time, or you went back and forth?
PRICE: No, I went and stayed.
On the Tenure Track in Calgary
ZIERLER: For how long? How long were you there for?
PRICE: It would vary. I was able to do this in a couple of different ways. In Canada, the school year is short by American standards. It's typically two 13-week semesters, ending in the beginning of April. I would have April until after Labor Day available, so that would be one block of time I could go. The other opportunity too was that where I worked in Canada for the longest period of time, at the University of Calgary, we had a very, very attractive sabbatical arrangement. In most places, in order to be eligible for a sabbatical, you have to have taught for at least six years. We could teach for three years, and be eligible for a six-month sabbatical, or research leave. I took a lot of six-month [laugh] sabbaticals. Those were the main ways that I was able to just go and stay.
ZIERLER: When did you start up in Calgary?
PRICE: In 1988.
ZIERLER: This was as what? What was your position?
PRICE: I was the director of wind ensembles and percussion professor.
ZIERLER: At the university?
PRICE: Of Calgary, yeah.
ZIERLER: What about Russia?
PRICE: Russia was not long-term like Japan was. Both Tanglewood and Russia were for courses. Tanglewood is a summer program the Boston Symphony runs. Likewise, I got to meet a particular Russian coach in St. Petersburg. He was Ukrainian, and we met through a workshop I attended. I was thinking – I'm in Russia, and they're playing Tchaikovsky. They probably know how to do this, so I'm sure I'm going to learn something here. Through that, I got to meet a couple of people who I thought would be really helpful for me to maintain contact with, and so I did. I went back independently as well as just attending some workshops.
ZIERLER: Now at Calgary, you were a tenure track professor?
ZIERLER: What were some of your responsibilities? Were you basically replicating what the Eastman professors were doing, or was it a very different focus?
PRICE: It was very similar but just in a more traditional setting. Calgary is a regular research university of about 30,000 students, with a music department. We had students who were a mixture of music education majors, performance majors, composition, just the usual mix. My teaching load was fairly typical. I conducted the wind ensemble, taught conducting, and I taught percussion.
ZIERLER: You had graduate students also?
PRICE: Yes, though fewer than my position in Cincinnati, which is a much larger conservatory situation. In Calgary, we didn't have many graduate students, but I did have a good number. We also had a summer conducting diploma program in Calgary that was purely graduate students.
ZIERLER: Oh, I didn't mean to skip over Cincinnati. Cincinnati comes first?
PRICE: No. Cincinnati came last, just before Caltech
PRICE: Oh, I see.
PRICE: I was in Calgary from '88—with a break in the middle, when I spent two years in Los Angeles—but from '88 till 2011 was the University of Calgary, so I was there for a long time.
ZIERLER: You said there was a break in the middle in Los Angeles?
PRICE: Yeah. I taught at Cal State Northridge for two years. We thought that might be a permanent move, but we decided not to stay. We liked Southern California, but the position didn't have the future that I was hoping it might. I was actually technically on an extended leave. I was a tenured full professor at Calgary, and I had some privileges which included taking an extended leave of absence, so I did, and ultimately ended up going back to Calgary in 2003.
ZIERLER: Is the arts scene in Calgary centered around the university?
PRICE: No, but Calgary is actually both typical of Canadian cities and also a little bit unique in that there's kind of one really good everything.
PRICE: One really good orchestra, one really good conservatory, one really good university, and that's it. Most Canadian cities only have one university. The orchestra is an independent professional group. But when I say those three things, they do share and integrate. For example, our main applied faculty, like our trumpet professor, was the principal trumpet of the Calgary Philharmonic. Pretty much all of the first chair players of the philharmonic were our applied teachers. We weren't big enough to hire a trumpet teacher who would have a studio of 30 students. It was big enough for there to be someone like me who taught several different things, making up a full-time load. We connected with the philharmonic and the conservatory really well.
ZIERLER: What is the tenure package like in this field? What do you put together for a tenure consideration?
PRICE: In Calgary, at least, things are fairly typical. We were evaluated on three equally important parts: teaching, research, and service. It was all of those three areas. You had to have taught successfully with really strong student evaluations that were taken very seriously. Research that showed you were actually making a contribution to the field, and that you're doing something outside of the university. Then service, how you are serving the university on committees, plus contributing to the community and the professional field. Those three areas would be the ones where you would be evaluated.
ZIERLER: Did you perform professionally in Calgary?
PRICE: Yes, all the time.
ZIERLER: All the time?
PRICE: When I say all the time, all the time I was there, and pretty steadily, with the orchestra, ballet, opera, shows, new music ensembles and so on. When we left Calgary, I officially resigned from the Musicians Union because I decided I would officially draw a line under getting paid to play. I was very lucky in Calgary, I played with the philharmonic all the time. I was a founding member of a contemporary music group there. I played 56 performances of Candide. I played a Wizard of Oz run for a Madison Square Gardens-based production with—get this casting—Mickey Rooney as the Wizard, and Eartha Kitt as the Wicked Witch of the West. This was one of the great experiences of my life. I was very, very lucky that I could be at the university, and geographically things are very centralized there, so I could go back and forth between the university and the concert halls with no problem at all.
ZIERLER: Are you operating as a conductor also at Calgary? Is that part of your—?
PRICE: Yes, the main part of my job in Calgary was conducting.
ZIERLER: What is the title? Professor of conducting or a music professor who specializes in conducting? What's the nomenclature?
PRICE: I would've been director of wind ensembles.
ZIERLER: That means it's implied that if you're the director of wind ensembles, you're a conductor?
ZIERLER: Got it. Where is Tanglewood in all of this?
PRICE: Tanglewood, I went for two summers. Tanglewood is pretty much the top American summer program that's a combination of a school and a festival. This goes back many decades, to around 1940 when Serge Koussevitzky, who was the director of Boston Symphony, wanted to have a summer home but also a school. In residence, is the Boston Symphony that does a regular series. They perform Friday, Saturday, and Sunday concerts every week at Tanglewood. But there is also the Tanglewood Orchestra, which is like a scholarship orchestra of pre-professionals, so a younger orchestra of people who may already be playing professionally. It has its own series. For example, I happened to be attending during Bernstein's last concerts in 1990, when he conducted both the Boston Symphony and the Tanglewood Orchestra.
Those two groups have a regular performance series, plus there is a lot of chamber music, and also a conducting seminar that has a long-standing tradition and where Leonard Bernstein was one of the first students before Seiji Ozawa and a list of luminaries, so it has a very rich history. The conducting seminar is held in a big living room in what was Koussevitsky's summer home, with a life-sized portrait of Serge Koussevitzky looming behind the conductors podium. It's quite daunting. What was also great about Tanglewood, is that it was like a parade of record covers. [laugh] Every week, a new star is coming through. I was there when Valery Gergiev had his American debut, and we had André Previn, Leonard Bernstein, and Seiji Ozawa, who I mentioned. It was just a huge range, all the most famous people would come through in the course of a summer. It was a great way to see lots of different people who represented different styles and approaches.
ZIERLER: A nice way to mix it up from a full-time life in Calgary too. [laugh]
PRICE: Exactly, yes, absolutely.
Opportunity in Cincinnati
ZIERLER: What ultimately pulled you away from Calgary? How did you get to Cincinnati?
PRICE: Cincinnati was basically just a step up, career-wise. It's one of the top handful of conservatories in the US. It's got 1,400 students—it's a conservatory within a university—actually [laugh], and it's got a very long name because it's the merger of three schools. Historically, there was a conservatory, a music college, and university. The proper name is the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory [laugh] of Music. That's how it ended up being so big. There are 1,400 students in the program, with a high proportion of graduate students. Every year, I had five typically all doctoral conducting majors working with me as students. Plus I conducted the top ensembles there, the wind ensemble, chamber winds and winds and strings mixed.
ZIERLER: How similar an environment is it to Eastman?
PRICE: Very similar.
ZIERLER: In what ways? What were some standouts?
PRICE: Very similar in the sense that its job is even more clear-cut than Eastman. It is a career track. This is where you go if you want to have a job. It's not so big on music education, interestingly enough, it's mostly performance-driven. People come with the idea that this should be their last stop, in particular for the graduate students, before getting a full-time job. Our students would regularly be auditioning for the military bands, as well as professional orchestras. The Marine Band, and the Washington-based military groups in particular are all very significant employers. That would be the kind of direction that our students would go. Eastman historically was primarily focused, in numbers at least, on the undergrad program. The graduate program was very elite but not as large. Whereas in Cincinnati, there were more graduate students than undergrads. That's how it got to be so large a school.
ZIERLER: Did you keep up your own performances in Cincinnati? Did you work as a professional musician?
PRICE: That was the time where I decided I will take a step back from performing as a percussionist. There was just too much—between my conducting there, and a lot of overseas work. I've conducted in over 30 countries, and I was in a particularly busy span of time then with guest conducting. I decided I could not do that and also keep playing percussion professionally. There is a physical aspect of keeping your technique up to snuff, and the hours that are necessary to prepare. I decided to make a strategic decision to let that go for the time being.
ZIERLER: Are the demands just being at such a specialized school, are they just greater than they would be at a general university like Calgary? Is that part of the equation too?
PRICE: Exactly. The students are already playing at a professional level.
ZIERLER: How long were you in Cincinnati for?
PRICE: Five years.
ZIERLER: Five years—
ZIERLER: —and then it's off to Caltech?
PRICE: That's right.
The Bing Connection to Caltech
ZIERLER: Now, I love asking this question. Had you ever heard of Caltech before?
PRICE: That's where I am so lucky. If not for my two years at Northridge, I probably wouldn't have known much about Caltech, and I wouldn't have had the connection to come here.
PRICE: I mentioned Bill Bing, my predecessor. Bill Bing was our trumpet teacher when I taught at Northridge. He had a fantastic trumpet studio, actually our strongest applied studio. I got to know Bill very well. He invited me to come and guest conduct his group here on a couple of occasions, so I knew about Caltech. Had I not known Bill, and known about the school, I might not have come, because this is not a typical situation. [laugh]
ZIERLER: When Bill asked you to come, did he have a retirement plan? Was he thinking about grooming you as his successor?
PRICE: Not at all. I was in Cincinnati. This is going to sound like I'm taking a very sad leftward turn, but I promise it will be brief—both my parents died at an advanced age with no illnesses. My dad was 95. My mom was coming up to 93. They both died in 2016. I happened to be visiting here, and had dinner with Bill and another colleague here before going back to deliver my second eulogy of the month. We were just having dinner, and Bill was talking about his retirement. I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Oh yeah, I'm retiring, but I haven't told anybody yet." [laugh] It was just at a time in our lives where we were starting to think about, you know, do we want to stay in Cincinnati, and our kids' ages, and all those life questions. It just started a cascade of events. Like I said, Bill and I had had a really very strong personal and professional relationship. He thought it was a great idea. It was a bit of an unknown at that time because it was unclear at that point what they were going to do with what ultimately became this director of performing and visual arts position, because it wasn't something that existed before. Bill was doing the wind conducting part of it but not the administration. But I knew about Caltech, and that this is a very unusual place. It's kind of the exact opposite of Cincinnati, which was fantastic in its own way. But I'd felt like I'd gone as far as I could go. It was similar to seeing my horizon in the percussion world. I felt like I was seeing my horizon there too. It was great but as far as it was going to go. Coming to Caltech was a whole new experience for me. I feel very humbled and excited on a daily and weekly basis here, because it's very different, and I'm learning all the time. The reason for being in these groups is exactly the opposite of a regular music school. As I mentioned, here no one's in it for a career track. It just hit a sweet spot for a bunch of things that we'd been thinking about, totally by fluke. Had I not had dinner with Bill on that evening, I might not even have known.
ZIERLER: What was the interview process like here?
PRICE: I came and had a series of interviews and a rehearsal with what was then still called the Concert Band.
ZIERLER: Now this is a staff position. You're stepping down from a tenured faculty position. Is there career risk in that regard?
PRICE: Yes. I'm in kind of an unusual category. You're exactly right, I'm not in a tenure track, but a full-time director position. It's sort of an evergreen [laugh] position. The term gets renewed, so I am currently on a five-year term, which then can be renewed. Yes, you're right, I had been a tenured full professor [laugh] for most of my career, and I guess I had to feel comfortable and confident enough that this was going to work.
ZIERLER: How well did you understand Caltech before you took the job? Had you spent enough time here? Did you understand what you were getting into?
PRICE: No, only the surface features.
ZIERLER: What was the real crash course for you when you got here?
PRICE: As I mentioned I would say that the arc of our events from first rehearsal to concert, the priority is kind of flipped. Where I used to teach, it was very product-driven. The rehearsals are there in order to get the product as professional as you can make it, and then move on, and that's the goal. Here, the priority is the process. The process is equal or more important than the performance, because it's the contact time we have with each other each week that I think is really the core of what we do. It's not being measured by how our performance compares to a professional recording. It's a matter of how meaningful are those moments where we're all together in the same room. This is pretty different from before, where it was about producing a product.
ZIERLER: To go back to this, one of my very first questions about what you inherited, what you had built, so let's go back to the inherited. What was there for you that was sort of a turnkey operation?
PRICE: Bill was a remarkable people person; fantastic personality; warmth. He's just absolutely remarkable that way. He had built up a sense of community and loyalty. I mentioned the mixture of the students and the community. One fortunate aspect with the students here, compared to most places, is that they move through rather slowly because the graduate students tend to be here longer due to their research projects. A typical master's degree in music would be two years. Graduate programs here tend to be more than a couple of years, and in fact we do not offer many "terminal" master's degrees.
ZIERLER: You're here until the lab works. [laugh]
PRICE: Right. Then for the undergrads, there are not other groups that they might rotate through. For example, at Eastman, you'll do two years with the younger wind ensemble, then two years with the more advanced one. Here there is just the one group. With the undergrads, I get to be with them for four years. In Cincinnati, it was so large that I would have new people each term. I would spend X number of weeks with them, and then another group of students would rotate in, which makes it hard to build a sense of community. This is something that Bill had excelled at here, which was building a sense of real community and commitment. Many of the community members have been here literally for decades, which is quite amazing to me. He had built up within the ensemble a real sense of happiness and fulfillment and human contact. It was very social. He also built up an audience base where the concerts could be performed twice. That's a fantastic gift that I've never heard of at any school. You're lucky to [laugh] get a quarter of a house for one performance in most places, so this is really remarkable, especially when you consider that in most schools the students are primarily local, so they've got family and friends attending. We don't have a lot of family and friends of our students in the audience, because how many are from Pasadena?
ZIERLER: Right. [laugh]
PRICE: I don't know. Has anyone checked that out?
PRICE: A few, but not very many. What I inherited from Bill was a well-developed working enterprise that he had nurtured for decades, and a really lovely, lovely environment. I was just afraid that after I came in, everyone would quit because, after all, no one has to be there. Everywhere else I've been, they didn't really have much choice. If they wanted to be in this group, which they needed for their required credit, they got me, like it or not. [laugh]
The Importance of the Arts Amid the Sciences
ZIERLER: Now, the flip side of that question, where were there opportunities for you to build something new or to build on top of what Bill had created?
PRICE: I also have been very lucky in other respects, that I came in right at a time where there were a lot of new activities. Just the fact that my position was created was a stamp of institutional support for the whole PVA area, and a sense of a greater amount of energy and commitment being given to it.
ZIERLER: What year is this? I want to know what president—.
ZIERLER: This is Tom Rosenbaum, who's a lover of the arts—
ZIERLER: —a humanist.
ZIERLER: You see his fingerprints for this support.
PRICE: Very extremely, yes, absolutely. Then the other part of it too is that I arrived at the tail end of the building committee for the Hameetman Center. That's been a huge game-changer for all of us because—
ZIERLER: It's a proper space.
PRICE: It's a proper space. To give an idea of the scope of how much Bill built, in the old days, in the early days, everything used to happen in the basement of Beckman. Are you familiar with that space?
PRICE: It's not very big.
ZIERLER: No, it's not. [laugh]
PRICE: But apparently everyone fit there. The reason that they ended up rehearsing in Ramo Auditorium is just because they outgrew the Beckman basement. They couldn't fit there anymore. He really, really built things up. To have Hameetman as a space has made everything better. It's a much more enjoyable personal and professional setting and as an air of significance. All of those elements came together at the same time.
ZIERLER: Your expertise as a music educator, now you're working with a very different type of student than you had before.
ZIERLER: What areas of your education, your experience, did you have to draw on, maybe even for the first time, interacting with very different students with very different motivations and career aspirations?
PRICE: You touch on it very well. I have to remind myself what their motivations are for being here, and try to address what's important to them, because there are some things that are not important to them. I don't need to make my methodology transparent, because when they graduate, they are unlikely to teach music in a high school or university. That pedagogical aspect doesn't apply. What is important is to educate without looking like you're educating. Interestingly enough, there's an aspect of that when I guest conduct professional groups. That's the trick with professional groups. You don't want them to feel like they're being taught anything. There's an element of that here too.
The way you approach things, your methodology is one that is focused upon their reasons for wanting to be there. Therefore, the goal is to maximize their enjoyment and their artistic fulfillment. Our people are really smart, and clearly they're dedicated. They don't need to be there. They are all extremely high achievers - cutting edge in all their different disciplines. They could be out improving the world rather than in my rehearsal. Where we are not naturally strong is the technical side of performing, since they're not on their instruments every day. Every place I've taught, all the musicians saw specialists on their instrument for a private lesson every week. That was a fundamental part of the program, in addition to a lot of additional playing. I have to find some way of taking advantage of our strengths, and find repertoire that will be artistically fulfilling, while growing our musical skills.
ZIERLER: Now, this would've been before your time, but did you hear about the Caltech-Occidental partnership and then breakup? Do you have any insight into what happened?
PRICE: Yeah. Actually, I've been here during the transition. Allen Gross, who conducted our orchestra, was full-time at Occidental College. He was a full-time professor there, and part-time here. When he retired from Oxy, they wanted to hire a new conductor, initially. But what they ended up doing was hiring a composer, who's a phenomenal composer, Adam Schoenberg, who is really excellent. Allen didn't leave here, so the orchestra kept going the way it had been for a while. Then Oxy decided that they needed to have their own autonomy, so they did go ahead, and I was part of the search committee that hired Chris Kim, who's the orchestra director now at Occidental College. They were reimagining their program and developing a new focus. At one time, I believe they offered just about every kind of ensemble. They were really active, with chorus, orchestra, bands, and so forth. They decided to make their program independent, and I believe are now focusing upon building on their strengths.
The Quest for the Best Performance Space
ZIERLER: Did Caltech lose access to a good performance space as a result of this?
ZIERLER: How do you fill the gap—
ZIERLER: —or is that not possible?
PRICE: That's a really good question. During my first years here with the wind group, our second term concert would be at Occidental College in Thorne Hall, which was great, and we would do our last round of rehearsals over there. By that point, I'd really built up the Oxy numbers. I had 15 students from Occidental College in the wind orchestra. So it is a loss, because Ramo Auditorium has significant limitations. We don't have a good alternative space but we are continuing to explore. We are also aware of that our audiences like coming here. So there's a concern that we might lose people if we performed off-campus. That's a topic that will continue to be under discussion.
ZIERLER: The issue with Ramo is mostly acoustics?
PRICE: No, actually, it's mostly space for the players, and comfort for the audience. We get lots of complaints from the audience about how uncomfortable the seats are, and many report that they are getting poked with wires [laugh] from the seats. For the players, we can barely fit on stage. We have to really be creative. I'm have to sometimes think about the repertoire we are programming or having some players sit out, because of space issues. It's a really difficult situation.
ZIERLER: This is beyond a renovation?
PRICE: A renovation would certainly help but, yes, that's right.
ZIERLER: The dream is a new space?
PRICE: Yes. Here's my understanding. During Bill Bing's era, there was a push to get a hall. My understanding is that they got very close. In the 11th hour, the plug was pulled on that. That's one of the reasons that there was motivation to provide something in the Hameetman Center. But I know if you spoke with Bill, he would express some significant frustration that the efforts toward building a concert hall did not succeed.
ZIERLER: What about the Beckman Auditorium? What are the limitations there?
PRICE: I would love to play in Beckman, and it does work for our jazz group because they can play amplified. The stage is too small for other groups. There's no backstage at all and it's very dry acoustically, which is—
ZIERLER: What does dry mean?
PRICE: That there's no resonance. I've even done some experiments with a small group of players. During COVID we had to operate in small numbers, so we did a lot of chamber music. I spoke openly with the players and said, "I'd love to find a way to make Beckman viable for us, because it's a beautiful building." We went in, and the players just felt like they were having to work so hard and distort their technique, plus they could barely hear each other. It's strange because you don't get that sense when you are there. It's beautiful for someone speaking, but for instruments it's a problem. But the space limitation is one of the biggest issues. Also, the design is such that even if you built out the stage, there'd be no way to properly illuminate it, because it's completely open right up to the ceiling. There is no overhang that would be able to provide lights above the stage. It's been explained to me by colleagues who've been here a lot longer than I have. I have taken a close look at it and have not given up, because to me that would be the logical thing - to find a way to make Beckman work.
ZIERLER: Here's a fun thought experiment. Let's say you're given the opportunity to give a presentation before the Board of Trustees, many of whom are capable of writing a check that might support—
ZIERLER: —the very building that you would love to build so that there would be a dedicated space. What's the case that you would make? How is this good for Caltech?
PRICE: We don't currently have a space that fulfills the needs of the students.
ZIERLER: Simple as that? They vote with their feet. They're working with you. They want to perform. They want to play music. They need that space.
PRICE: It could also be—now I know Caltech's an unusual place, so this argument isn't so compelling—but it could also be a destination for other high-value groups and a revenue source. When I was in Calgary, we had a new hall built, and it ended up being a revenue stream because it was an attractive place for other groups, such as touring groups to perform, or other local groups to want to rent to use. The university became a magnet for other groups, so it was fantastic for our performers as well as the on-campus culture. It elevated everything that they did. It was such a great experience for them to have this new dedicated performance space. But it also had this other advantage of bringing other artists who would be on campus for the benefit of the university community as well.
ZIERLER: This will hearken to the last part of our talk. I'll ask you to think about the future and revenue space and things like that. Bringing our conversation closer to the present, when COVID hit, what was that like? How did you pivot? How do you conduct over Zoom? What parts of the program went into hibernation? How could you keep things going?
PRICE: Somehow we did remarkably well. Nothing went into hibernation. Those of us that were dealing with larger groups had the biggest challenge because Zoom does not allow synchronous activity, because there's always a time lag, and there's an uneven time lag. We had to find creative ways. But we met at our regular time over Zoom, and I found ways to use repertoire and online resources…it actually allowed us to do some things we wouldn't normally get to do, and so I tried to make that the motivator. I could put up a score, and we could look at specific things in the score and analyze them. Then we would play through together. I would conduct on the screen, and they would perform along with an audio track that I would play.
They would be playing along with a professional recording, and seeing me conduct, so they would be hearing themselves. To make it more personal and engaging I would occasionally plan it so people could be on one at a time. I'd say, "Emily, could you play your bassoon solo for us at this segment? We're going to use you as a model for how we shape this phrase or what style of accents we will do." Those were ways to include people. I might randomly say, "Sarah, do you think this section at letter B should be brighter or darker, or Vincent what do you think the character should be for the section here at letter A?". Dialogue, score analysis, listening exercises, individualized instruction, that's how we made Zoom work. It was an adventure every week. Then when we came back, our limitation was density. Even in our beautiful large spaces, we were cautious, and had rules to limit the number of people in the room at the same time. I split my wind orchestra into five chamber groups, and the symphony orchestra into three groups. For example, the symphony orchestra would be strings, woodwinds, and brass. For the strings, it was less restrictive because string players can wear masks and still play.
PRICE: It's not so easy on flute and trumpet.
PRICE: We did some outside rehearsal, and rehearsals in the tents when the temperatures were conducive. We did that quite extensively. Actually we were very lucky to find that the patio area that's in front of the store next to the Red Door cafe, we could set up as a little performance venue. We would set out chairs, and do performances there with a series of chamber groups. We actually had a concert series that continued on with chamber groups. That's how we pivoted. During the online time, we had this creative way of doing different kinds of things but still focusing on the kind of full orchestra repertoire that's most important to us. Then when we were able to get together in person, we split into small groups on different music for chamber ensembles, giving us the chance to work together.
David, there were unintended side benefits that came out of this that I've really tried to latch onto as ways that have enriched our activities, some of which were pretty simple. The nature of our regular rehearsals, with about 70 people in the room, tend to be rather formal in order to be productive. I have to find ways for people to socialize and get to know each other, so we have snacks at breaks and so on. But on Zoom, we could see everyone's faces with their names underneath, so everyone could see each other as opposed to some people you only knew by the back their heads, since you could rarely see their face. The fact that everyone could see each other, and that I could see them too, all equal, faces and names, and not in rows. There's no hierarchy of front rows and back rows, so that is the personal side of it. Then during the chamber music period, they had an opportunity to work together in a much more intimate kind of situation where everything they did was amplified, because they were now perhaps one-sixth rather than one-sixtieth of the finished product. We've tried to really take advantage of those boosts, to utilize them, and try to build them into our ongoing growth.
Live Performance and Navigating the Pandemic
ZIERLER: Coming out of the pandemic, hopefully staying out of the pandemic—
ZIERLER: —the pivot that you had to take during COVID, what's worth keeping, pandemic or not? What did you learn from that experience that you can roll into normal life going forward?
PRICE: Do you mean with these rehearsals or just in general?
ZIERLER: I mean in all of your roles here at Caltech, the things that you had to do during the pandemic where it was like a forced laboratory experiment, what was the good stuff that you just experimented with because you had to, and it worked well, and it's worth keeping?
PRICE: On a practical basis, I think people have figured out how to use the technology, and be comfortable with it so that you can hold a meeting without having people go across campus or drive from another town in order to meet. That's in my administration role here. In my teaching role, basically the things that I mentioned. I can now reference the things that we did before, about score analysis or chamber music for example. I know it's elevated the game when our brass group has been used to performing as a brass choir. Now when they're situated together in the orchestra, they have an expectation of what they, as a choir within the orchestra, should sound like. There are some very real practical aspects, and some very real pedagogical elements that we are able to keep.
ZIERLER: Finally, Glenn, last question, looking to the future, you mentioned seeing a horizon at Cincinnati. What might the horizon look like at Caltech, and what might you want to do beyond that horizon, if you could think that far?
PRICE: When I went for my first interview for my first university job, and the dean was asking me a set of questions—which were clearly asked of everybody in order to be fair, he—asked me a question about what I might do to develop the program, and I hadn't even anticipated a question like that. My answer at the time was that I think this will start to reveal itself over time. This is what's been happening here for me as well. I came in without a fixed concept of what I was going to do with the program. It's more the other way around. I need to learn and understand the program, the institute, and the people. Then from that understanding will emerge the things that make sense to move it forward. I'm just trying to find ways to sensitize myself more to all of those aspects of the community that I serve, and I think that will reveal the ideas and priorities that will lead us forward.
ZIERLER: Glenn, special bonus request.
ZIERLER: We're here at 305 South Hill, the Music House at Caltech. I wonder if you could take me on sort of a verbal tour of the house, and we'll make that sort of a bonus to the interview.
PRICE: All of our instruction is typically done in Frautschi Hall in the Hameetman building, except chamber music, which works best here. We have a number of individual practice studios, all of which are equipped with a piano, so students can come here whenever they want to practice. Our chamber music includes everything from string quartets to two piano groups. We have one larger room that has two pianos, so students can practice their two piano repertoire as well while there is teaching going on in another room. Our chamber music program is really vibrant and, as I said, represents the full spectrum probably better than anything because it's so customized to the student's level of experience.
ZIERLER: Glenn, it's been a wonderful conversation. I want to thank you so much for spending the time.
PRICE: The pleasure's been entirely mine. Thank you so much.
- Conducting Caltech
- Music and the Broader Caltech Community
- Performance as Vital Creative Outlet
- Musical Roots at the University of Toronto
- From Professional Gigs to Eastman
- Setting on an Academic Path
- Becoming a Doctor of Music
- International Postdoctoral Focus
- On the Tenure Track in Calgary
- Opportunity in Cincinnati
- The Bing Connection to Caltech
- The Importance of the Arts Amid the Sciences
- The Quest for the Best Performance Space
- Live Performance and Navigating the Pandemic