Jonathan Willis Conducts ASU Honors Band

March 19, 2013

Jonathan Willis, director of bands at the University of Mount Union, was recently invited to guest conduct the honors band festival at Alabama State University. The festival was held Friday, March 15 through Sunday, March 17 in Montgomery, Ala. and allowed talented high school students to come together under the direction of Willis.

This was Willis’ first appearance as guest conductor of the ASU Honors Band. He previously worked with Dr. Carly Johnson, professor of trumpet at ASU, who invited him to guest conduct this years’ edition of the honors band.

“It is customary for such festivals to invite a guest conductor from outside the region to lead the band,” said Willis. “In some cases, the conductor will lead a master class on conducting, music education or any number of topics related to learning and leading music ensembles.”

Willis gave a master class on Saturday to the music education students at Alabama State. The session was geared toward conducting and rehearsal techniques. No stranger to all that is entailed with directing, he also discussed administrative duties facing band directors, such as budgeting, writing proposals, hiring staff, uniforms, cataloging instrument storage and equipment database needs.

Honors band students faced a 3-hour-long rehearsal on Friday evening, followed by three separate 2.5-hour rehearsals on Saturday and a final 1.5-hour rehearsal on Sunday before the concert. Students’ parents, university faculty and local community members were in attendance for the concert, as well as local and regional band directors.

“The event was a big success,” said Willis. “Alabama State University uses the event to attract some of the best high school musicians in the region to their campus for a weekend, and they allow those students to audition for music and marching band scholarships.”

Before the final piece of music was performed on Sunday, the ASU music faculty awarded music scholarships to students who had auditioned over the weekend.

“It’s a thrill for the parents to see their kids awarded a scholarship while on stage with an honors band,” said Willis. “I thought the whole process was very well done.”

A member of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Alabama State University is always looking for outside conductors, guest artists and lecturers to attend functions to offer variety and continued diversity to their education.

“I found the high school honors band students to be amazingly talented and bright, and they were a joy to work with,” said Willis. “I also found the ASU music students to be very talented and very receptive to my master class on conducting.”

There are several benefits to attending these events, according to Willis. Events provide participating students with the chance to learn from professionals all over the country and allow college faculty members to meet faculty from other schools, to network and to get ideas from one another.

Willis currently conducts three or four large-ensemble events each year in the Northeast Ohio area. This academic year alone, Willis has already conducted the OMEA District VI Honors Band and OMEA District VI Middle School Honors Band. He was also a guest clinician as a trombonist and conductor for the Lakeland Community College honors jazz band festival.

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