This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. For the complete interview, you can access here.
Kristine Dizon: Hello, my name is Kristine Dizon, and I'm the CEO and founder of The Modern Artist Project. Today, I'm with Jonathan Mann, an orchestral conductor, and entrepreneur, who is currently the Music Director of Ensemble Cambrica, Artistic Director of the CIAC Conducting Academy, and consultant for orchestras and conducting with the Association of Music and International Schools. Thank you, Jonathan, for joining us today.
Jonathan Mann: It's a pleasure.
KD: I know I've read a little bit about your background, but could you tell us more about what led you to this journey?
JM: Absolutely. So, I grew up in the United Kingdom in Wales. And I was very fortunate that my father was a professional violinist. So, I grew up around music, just from as soon as I was born. And I guess I was just there, there was never really any other thing that I wanted to do in my life. So, by the age of sort of about 12, or 13, I already knew I wanted to go and study music which took its course by going to study the violin at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. But it was already at that point apparent that I really had this desire to be a conductor to conduct. After I went to the Guild, I ended up going to the Royal Academy of Music in London to study at the prestigious master's course there with a good friend of both of us and a huge mentor, Maestro Colin Metters.
I worked with him for three years before furthering my studies with another incredible Maestro Bernard Haitink, whom I worked with at the Lucerne Festival and also privately, and that sort of set me on the path to becoming a conductor.
KD: No, and this is really great to hear about the experiences that shaped you and the mentors who have helped you. And in regards t your work, not only as a musician, but I mean, you founded the CIAC Conducting Academy. Could you tell us a little bit more about how you got to that point? And what led you there?
JM: Well, I think also during my studies, as a conductor, I was also fascinated with the whole process of teaching conducting and how the basics of conducting can be taught quite easily, such as how to move the hands. But when it gets to a more advanced level, the sort of pedagogy that's involved in actually how somebody can really change, develop, and improve to be able to conduct at an incredibly high level.
And that's a very individual thing and takes a special kind of teaching to bring the best out of conductors at that level. So I think my thinking in setting up the CIAC Conducting Academy was to provide opportunities for conductors all over the world to come on a course where they would get that kind of level of tuition but also with a friendly orchestra who really want to play for the participants, which is not always the case with the different conducting courses that are around. Also, just a place for conductors from different parts of the world to meet, make contacts, and develop their network. So that was how it started. And I think during my development as a conductor, I saw many different courses, opportunities, and pathways for conductors, and some were better than others. I was looking to provide a top-class opportunity for people to develop for sure.
KD: And I feel like that is so important, especially with the way that our world is today. Being able to provide not only just positive experiences but impactful experiences where people come and travel such far distances uh to be able to take part in a learning experience that, you know, can help them potentially grow into something better. And I feel like that's something that actually has been a participant that walking away and feeling like “Wow, that was really great” being able to say “Wow” and creating music with people who are so responsive, who are so kind and polite. And I think that's like the type of climate that you want to create. Jonathan is also very reflective of who you are as a person, I think.
JM: Well, that's very kind of you. But, but absolutely, it's, it's making sure that the experience for the participants who, as you say, travel long distances, we've, we've had conductors from, I mean, you know, pretty much every continent now around the world coming to, to the UK to take part in our courses. And um it's so important that those, that week, those few days, um the time they have is really kind of life-changing in a sense that's always the aim at our courses.
KD: Yeah, for sure. And also, could you talk more about the online offerings that CIAC also has?
JM: Absolutely. We founded the Academy in 2017. And it wasn't until the COVID-19 pandemic hit us in 2020 that the idea of actually offering virtual courses came into existence. And this has actually been just the catalyst for huge growth in the organization. So, whereas before COVID-19, we were offering maybe two or three courses a year live course. We started to offer these virtual courses and were able to reach even more conductors who maybe wouldn't have been able to travel or wouldn't have the funds to get over to the UK. So, we were reaching far more conductors and being able to do more courses with different teachers. And it's just been amazing, if you'd asked me before COVID-19 could conducting be taught over the internet over Zoom, I probably would have said not really, no.
I mean, of course, you can discuss the score over the internet. Of course, you can look at listen to recordings, and share your ideas, and you can ask questions of the teacher about various things, but the actual art of the physical conducting technique, I was a bit unsure if that would work.
But at CIAC, we found some quite unique methods of working in as conducting in silence, which we do over Zoom on some of our courses. And it has been just incredible to see the progress that different participants have made by taking part in these courses and using that process.
KD: And I feel like this is a process that what's really innovative is being able to take an idea that you would normally have in person but being able to find a way to adapt it. I mean, when we think about COVID-19, I mean, it was traumatic. It’s almost two years of having this social distancing, being away from musicians, not even being away, but also being distant.
When you think about the orchestra formation, having to be about a meter away from your colleague and not being able to take part in that community experience that we typically have, as musicians, but also to be able to find a way to solve it. And I feel like in a sense that with what you've mentioned, you know, the idea of opening the doors virtually for conductors, I mean, that says a lot, and also you mentioned something earlier that's really important, making it affordable. So, in comparison to different places, there are some conducting courses that can run up to thousands.
JM: Absolutely. And that's the difficulty of the profession, conductors need orchestras to develop but you can’t. There are things you can learn and develop without the orchestra. Ultimately, you've got to have that hands-on experience with a large group of people figuring out how to communicate and be effective, and that unfortunately, orchestras are expensive.
So, that does cause some issues. But with the virtual setting, what I would say, going back to what you said about COVID-19, being this sort of it was just such a sort of life-changing moment for everybody, whether that was negative or positive. But for conductors in the profession, which is a very isolated profession in some ways, there's only ever one conductor on the podium at a time with different ensembles.
So, to actually have this time where all the conductors in the world could actually meet together and share ideas over the internet. Just opened the doors to so much extra learning, extra development for people, extra connections for people. And as you say, conducting courses that could be more affordable, could look at things that maybe necessarily we don't have the time to do when we're in front of the orchestra. I mean, it really has in that sense that it was an incredibly positive time for the profession.
KD: Yeah. And I think so too, because sometimes it's about taking a step back and really reevaluating, not only the pedagogy of teaching but also what are we doing. I mean, we have the internet, we live in a digital world. There are so many things that we can do with globalization, being able to connect with people in different parts of the world that sometimes wouldn't have been possible.
So, for young conductors or professionals, this is something that I feel could apply to a lot of artistic disciplines. How valuable do you see the digital media, digital marketing, and everything digital in regards to shaping the industry?
JM: I mean, it's huge. There are so many aspects to it. I mean, where should we start? As far as the education of an artist's personal development, there are just so many resources available online, whether that's Spotify, YouTube, or other media devices where you can watch concerts, rehearsals, or masterclasses.
There's so much you can listen to recordings for us orchestral geeks, to be able to hear people have posted recordings of Richard Strauss conducting Mozart Symphonies, right? The way up to a performance maybe done by the Vienna Philharmonic yesterday. You know, I have this kind of resource available to me to be able to learn from that.
That is an incredible thing. Of course, communication and reaching people all over the world. I think one thing that the pandemic sort of taught us was that a young artist just should not be afraid to send that message, send that email to a famous musician or to a famous professor, you know, there's no harm in messaging, and most likely what we saw during the pandemic was those artists are incredibly generous with their time.
And you know, so if you live in Hong Kong, you could send a message to your favorite violinist who might live in Berlin and most likely you're gonna have instant communication. So this is another part of it. And then of course, the promotion of your art, websites, social media, all of these things, we don't need necessarily, of course, it helps to have a manager or a PR company behind you. But so much of your own self-promotion can be done now to reach a very large audience. So, there are so many other things as well, but I mean, there are three quite major topics right there that are just so amazing for young artists now to be able to tap into.
KD: And you've mentioned quite a bit the idea of fear, playing a role in preventing us from achieving the potential that we can. And that's something that I think, for our listeners today is that fear can hold us back, but it's just a matter of being able to take the courage, which you can still have fear. But the difference is that having the courage to just do it anyway.
And that's something that I feel with what you've mentioned, that's a big issue today because people don't see the value of what they're doing even as students of saying, “Oh, you know, I'm just a student” “I'm a bit shy” I mean, you can be shy but if you want to be able to thrive in the industry to let that go a little bit, even if it's for five minutes, to draft an email and to just send it, but the other point that you bring up to is the fact that when we think about young professionals feeling frustrated about perhaps not being able to secure that agency, right? Being able to say, it would have more prestige, of course, it would.
But I mean, when we think about the internet, when we think about the possibilities with social media platforms, there's so much you can do for free. So in regards to the work that you do for CIAC, what would you suggest for young professionals?
JM: Well, this is something that we, although we focus really, our prime focus at CIAC is really on the art form of conducting and really getting deep into the sort of the musical, the technical, all of that kind of thing that goes into conducting. We have started to offer some sessions on this kind of topic now and we've invited some guests to come in and talk to our participants about this.
What I would say is that for those people that are hoping maybe that an agency is gonna sweep them up. What an agency will want to see actually is already a quite sophisticated social media profile. We have a good website, a well-written biography, and some nice photos. They want to see all of that already.
They want to see the entrepreneur in you because unless they see that you're out there in the field trying to make things happen, being entrepreneurial, they actually struggle to help you, they can't create the opportunities for you unless it's already come from you. The great thing is for those that are shy, I might not, on this podcast be coming across like I'm a shy person, but I am actually I would class myself as being a little bit shy and a bit introverted and I think that's a good quality for a conductor. But the internet is great because in the comfort of your own room, your own office, even your own bedroom, you can make a website, you can, as you said earlier, send an email to somebody. You can make a really good recording now in your room, in your house, and so it does offer artists that opportunity.
We don't want to go too far with all this stuff because the art form, what you're trying to do as an artist has to be your priority. You need to put most of your work into development and get that to the highest possible form. But all of these other things do need to be part of your daily, weekly activities, trying to find some way in your daily life to write a social media post or at the beginning of the week, to plan some posts for the coming months. The tools as you said earlier, they're so easy to use now, and it's effortless to learn how to use them. And it's just trying to get young artists acquainted with these so that it becomes part of their sort of habitual lifestyle as an artist, I guess. Yeah. And those are things that are so important. A lot of time, I feel with artists, the idea of the artist, like the Bohemian, the struggling paycheck-by-paycheck artist. Right? And trust me, I've been there too like you're feeling so great about that check after the concert that you're like “Yes!” those small successes that eventually you end up spending it all the same night.
KD: Right. But at the same time, being able to say, it's not a bad thing to put value on the work that you do. And I feel like that's something that sometimes we miss in the profession because usually, people think “Oh, they're great at promoting themselves” or “Oh, they're kind of sellouts” but it's not selling out.
It's wanting to be able to have stability, raising awareness, being able to demonstrate that you are not just good at what you do and you do it at a high level, but being able to recognize that in the arts, across the board, many countries and continents, that we struggle putting a price tag because of that reason.
And I feel like in a sense with everything that you mentioned, the fact that we have websites like Wix, being able to have it be pretty straightforward, user-friendly, everything is becoming more user-friendly, but at the same time, not losing sight of the objective, which is with what you've mentioned, the idea of creating or inspiring the best out of each individual that walks through your academy. This is why we do music, this is part of our culture, and this is the way that we communicate. And I think that's, I think that's amazing.
JM: Absolutely. That is what we want. Top artists should be using all of these tools we now have in this sort of modern age to promote the core of what we're trying to do, which is the art form itself at its highest level.
KD: For sure. And, for example, you don't have to have like a huge budget. If you do conduct a little bit of research and with what you mentioned like planning, creating some images, and being able to write engaging messages to people with popular hashtags, right? And being able to expand your audience without having to like, pay so much money for advertisements.
For example, with CIAC, you've been here since 2017, right? You've already established trust with participants and people who have been involved for six years.
JM: Absolutely. And it's been great to see that although there is a regular influx of fresh participants, new people are joining. We still have at least a handful of people who have been returning year in and year out, which is a great testament to what we're trying to offer. Actually, in setting up the academy, one of my kind of goals was to be able to have something that wasn't just a sort of here's one week, come and study, and that's it. To actually set something up that could be more regular for people to return to have a sense of community so that we could actually see the development of conductors over a longer period of time.
KD: And I love that structure. I feel like having attended different workshops that element of OK, we'll just have you hop on the podium, wave your hand a little bit, and count 1234, and then there you go. I mean, that's not what it is. I feel like sometimes people mistake that element of the profession and I feel like in a sense with the way that you structured it and having been a past participant and hopefully with more projects that you guys come, I hope I'm very curious to see what you guys come up with next season. The fact that it's not even just about “Okay. Mozart was born in this year and this is his symphony” but you actually talk and discuss the importance of the music, the structures, the melodies, the harmonies, how the instruments communicate to one another, but also to how the gesture, how powerful and impactful the gesture can be in being able to inspire something, this type of like unexplainable phenomena from human beings, a sound that we imagine in our minds. And I feel like that is something that I feel that if you are a conductor, listening is very important to give life up to the gesture in that way in inspiring that type of community. Now that said in regards to these aspects of leadership, one of the things that I really enjoy, and why I've come back up to the workshops in the past is the leadership that you have with, being able to run everything and with communication, how were you able to arrive to that point? And how, what advice would you give to the people?
JM: Well, that's an interesting question. Gosh, I've never been asked that. If we go back, I think you have to go back quite a long way in my life, in my development. But interestingly enough when I was still at high school, in the British system, we were doing levels.
You may study three or four of those. Well, my level ended up being music, history and also business, and economics. So it kind of set me up in a way really well for what I'm now doing and I think having a little bit of that sort of business background, growing up would sort of help me with what's taking place with CIAC.
But I would say that to be a good leader just in general, to be a good conductor as well, organization is crucial. I mean, we're not talking just about business here, we're talking in a rehearsal. The way you organize the time even before rehearsal, when you're preparing scores, when you're preparing music, months in advance, even years in advance, sometimes how you actually structure your time, how you plan and learn repertoire.
But communication, whether that's through electronic communication, emails, whether that's when we're in person at courses, how you deal with people and for conductors just in general, how you actually relate to your orchestra, working with the people to inspire them to lead them. Well, it's exactly the same in an organization like my clients as it we are the participants.
So, it's important that the relationship with the client is absolutely on top as it can be. At the end of the day, you're providing a service to the client, and the client in that situation is always right and you need to make sure that the experience they're having is the best possible.
So that's always on my mind. Before the course starts, the information is provided clearly, and then during the course all the way to the end, and even after the course, asking for feedback. So it's just that consistent communication.
KD: And I think with what you've mentioned, this idea of care, and I feel like this will resonate with a lot of people because of the fact that when we think about the aftermath of COVID, not just from a music standpoint, like across the board standpoint, in regards the different things that developed as a result of the different struggles people face.
The insecurities, the uncertainty, in regards to how to interact with people. And I think, with what you've mentioned, the fact that if you care about people enough, they will feel that care not only from you but also from the teachers they work with and the musicians they collaborate with in that moment of time.
And I think that's something very important now with what we talked about before in regard to the development and the idea of learning these other skills. I mean, Jonathan, you've got like a whole pallet of skills, not only are you organized so that you're able to communicate effectively, but you have to learn how to write, create a website, being able to do all these entrepreneurial things.
Now, when we think about schools and learning those skills, I didn't learn how to write a proper biography. And I know I'm terrible for admitting that. But it took a lot of practice, making sure that there were no grammatical errors, making sure the casings were good, and photos, and being able to provide recordings. I mean, what advice would you give to people who are in the midst of university conservatoire studies to be able to attain those skills?
JM: Yeah, I think again, the internet is a fantastic resource. You know, we can't get by this. So if you're not getting it from your university, I know that many universities, music colleges, and music schools do now provide this. When I was a student, I think we received a session on how to do your tax return, but there may have been some smaller sessions on how to write a biography and things.
But I think actually the art of writing a biography, it's something you keep developing for your whole life, even last week I was revising my biography and I think, we're always revising it because we're doing new things. There are new things to put on that biography.
But certainly looking at the internet, maybe looking at some of your favorite artists, how do they promote themselves, present themselves. So, there are so many people you can learn from. That would be my advice. Even some of the artist management companies, and PR companies, although they might not be willing to sign you up right now, you might not be at that sort of stage in your career. But I know that there are some very friendly artist managers out there who I'm sure would give you advice on how to write a good biography or what they're looking for on a promotional video or a recording, you know, this kind of thing. So again, it's the same as what we were talking about earlier. Don't be afraid to send that message because you'll never know what the answer is or even that initial connection.
Again, going back to what we were saying. If you're not at the stage for management right now, just introducing yourself, having that initial connection, maybe receiving a little bit of advice, you never know what that could lead to in, in five years or even less or even a bit more. Who knows?
KD: And I think this is really amazing advice, Jonathan. And so I think we're going to leave on that note. This was really great and I feel like it was very informative and able to really emphasize the fact that to not have fear and to care, caring about people, being able to connect with people, even if you're a little introverted, but at the same time, being able to maintain the objective of keeping the best art. So I want to thank you for joining us today and sharing your experience and thoughts with us. We look forward to seeing the amazing things that you continue to do for our community. I want to encourage all of you to check out CIAC Conducting Academy if you're interested in learning about conducting or even just interested in learning about music. So before we let everyone go, Jonathan, could you give us the website?
JM: Yes. So it is actually www.cardiffiaconducting.com. Thank you so much for having me.
Kristine Dizon is a multi-faceted performer, teacher, writer, author, linguist, and entrepreneur. She is Founder & CEO of the Music & Language Learning Center, The Modern Artist Project and co-founder of the Gran Canaria International Clarinet Festival and American Single Reed Summit. She is an artist for Uebel Clarinets and Silverstein Works. Learn more at www.kristinedizon.com.