Jason Seber is celebrating his eleventh season as Music Director of the Louisville Youth Orchestra (LYO) and third season as Education and Outreach Conductor of the Louisville Orchestra. During his tenure with the LYO, the organization has grown from four orchestras to nine ensembles and orchestras serving 350 members. He has recently been appointed Assistant Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony, a position he will begin in the fall of 2016.
Where did you go to college? What degrees did you earn?
I went to the Baldwin Wallace University Conservatory of Music for my undergraduate work, where I received a B.M.E. and a B.M. in Violin Performance. I earned my M.M. in Orchestral Conducting from the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Tell us about the places you’ve taught and conducted in the past.
After graduating from Baldwin Wallace I taught orchestra for five years at Strongsville High School right outside of Cleveland, OH. After Strongsville is when I went back to get my master’s degree and then I moved to Louisville, KY. Here in Louisville I have been Music Director of the Louisville Youth Orchestra for 11 years, and I’ve spent the last three seasons as Education and Outreach Conductor of the Louisville Orchestra.
Before working with the LO, I was Director of Orchestras at the Youth Performing Arts School here in Louisville. I’ve also been fortunate to guest conduct many great orchestras all across the country. I’ve guest conducted the Indianapolis Symphony, Colorado Symphony, National Symphony, Windsor Symphony, Cleveland Pops, Charleston Symphony, Mansfield Symphony, and the Denver Young Artists Orchestra. This season I will conduct concerts with the Kansas City Symphony, Houston Symphony, and the Cleveland Pops.
You were recently named Assistant Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony. Tell us about your role there and your path from school music teacher to symphony orchestra stage.
I am really looking forward to beginning my new position with the Kansas City Symphony. They are a fantastic orchestra and organization, and I am eager to get started! As assistant I will be conducting most of the programs outside the Classical series, so programs such as Pops, Family, Holiday, and concerts in the Kansas City community. They have two outstanding unique series that I will be leading as well, Classics Uncorked (which are shorter, more informal Classics concerts on weeknights) and Screenland at the Symphony (where the orchestra accompanies live films). Next year for instance we will be playing the brilliant John Williams scores along with the movies E.T., Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Home Alone. I’m going there in a few weeks to conduct a Pixar in Concert program, featuring short clips from many of the great Pixar films.
My whole career I feel like I have been extremely blessed to have the best of both worlds. I have worked some really terrific kids in various school and youth orchestra settings, and I’ve been able to balance that with a lot of work with professional orchestras as well. Both worlds are extremely rewarding and fun, and I feel like I’ve been able to build a lot of great connections between professional orchestras and the youth in the communities they serve with my various roles.
What are one or two (or more!) thing(s) you’d say to a young orchestra director who asks you “what do you wish someone had told you just starting out?”
Great question! As you know, if you’re going to do the job right, you’re going to be throwing your whole self into it, working many late hours, thinking creatively all the time, not having much of a social life, etc. And I think that’s okay, especially when you’re first starting out and trying to really build something. But you DO need balance in life – and I think it’s important to find other things you enjoy doing and are passionate about besides music. I love playing poker, I’m a huge sports fan, and I love to cook. Make sure you make time for yourself and those you love. That balance can go a long way in ensuring your overall happiness and make you a more productive teacher.
Another thing I would suggest is to have lots of mentors, professionals, and other people in your life who have done this longer and are much better than you at it. And call upon them, use their wisdom and advice, and have them work with your students – as often as humanly possible. You will not only become a better musician, teacher, and person as a result, but your kids definitely will, too! I have always wanted my students to be super motivated and inspired (don’t we all?), and what better way to do that than to surround them and yourself with outstanding music educators. Develop great relationships with your band teacher and choir teacher. I have been so lucky to have great teachers in those areas with which to work my entire career. Learn from each other, support each other. Trust me – your students see and know everything. They will develop a stronger bond with you and with each other if they consistently see you building these fantastic partnerships with other professionals. And they will reap the benefits immensely. Take them to festivals, get them outside of their bubble in their own communities. Show them what other great orchestras sound like. Always strive to find people who are doing it better than you and learn from them.
Tell us about your participation with Music for All and its orchestra programs.
When I was Director of Orchestras at YPAS, I brought my students twice to the Orchestra America National Festival. Hands down the most inspirational four days they can spend doing anything as a high school orchestra. My students LOVED their experience both times, and so did I.
The high standard of music making paired with the professionalism, camaraderie, and networking opportunities (as well as the opportunity to hear other fantastic ensembles from all across the country) is unparalleled.
The same can be said for the Music for All Summer Symposium at Ball State, with which I’ve had the good fortune to serve as the violin coach for the past three summers. Doug Droste does a tremendous job working with the orchestra there, not only giving the string players a peak musical experience for a week with challenging repertoire played at a high level, but the guest artists that he and Dean Westman bring in to work with the orchestra really make the Symposium a prime destination for high school string players. Artists such as Christian Howes, Time for Three, Project Trio, and the Ahn Trio have not only given the orchestra track students the chance to play with them, they lead awesome masterclasses with the kids that teach them skills such as improvisation, critical listening, building inner rhythm, collaboration, and jazz. There is a true sense of community amongst all the tracks at the Symposium, and it is 2,000 kids and a tremendous faculty and staff coming together for a week of incredible music, leadership and life skills, and lots and lots of fun.
What are some of the highlights and memorable moments from your experiences related to Music for All?
Wow. There are so many. I think for me, the first time I brought the YPAS Philharmonia to the Orchestra America National Festival (OANF) would certainly be one. From playing in Hilbert Circle Theatre (one of my favorite halls to this day, from the OANF performances to several concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony that I’ve conducted there), to the masterclasses with ISO members, to hearing some really terrific bands, orchestras, and percussion ensembles, to the world class clinicians who worked with my kids, it was a very positive experience both times we went. I mean, where else can you go and not only get really helpful feedback but also a clinic as excellent as the one you get at OANF with people like Doug Droste, Larry Livingston, Franz Krager, and Jeffrey Grogan?? And ALL of them worked with my students and me, not just one of them. Both times we went to OANF, this was the highlight for all of us. Like I said, people at the absolute top of their game inspiring students, and at the same time, giving them very practical helpful advice to take their playing to that next level. I really can’t describe it, other than to tell you that you really need to apply to the festival and take your orchestra and see for yourself.
Another highlight for me for any MFA event, whether it’s the Orchestra America National Festival, or Summer Symposium, or my students who have participated in the Honor Orchestra of America with Larry (Livingston) or Gary Lewis, has been the presentations by some of the most inspirational people I know – Dr. Tim and Fran Kick. Both of these guys are AMAZING. It doesn’t matter how many times I see them talk to a group of kids and teachers. They make my passion for music education go through the roof, they make you laugh, they make you cry. Dr. Tim can make a whole room of high school kids and teachers cry, in the best possible way. These are memories I will never forget, nor will the kids I’ve worked with. You come back to your school with a whole new perspective on what it is we do and why we do it. Did I mention that you really need to bring your kids and send your kids to these events?
What would you like to see Music for All focus on or accomplish in the future?
I think MFA does so many things well, if you can’t tell from my answers to the last few questions. I hope that more orchestra teachers across the country will get on board with these great programs they oﬀer. I feel like despite the terrific job MFA has done in trying to build the orchestra side of things they do, there is still a hesitancy it seems from orchestra teachers across the country to participate in these experiences. I know that many people might associate Music for All with Bands of America and with the national marching band events they have held for many years. I realize the orchestra side of things is still relatively new, with most opportunities having started in the last 10 years. But I can assure you that the organization is very committed to bringing the same quality life changing opportunities to orchestra students and orchestra teachers that they have for bands for many years. I have taken students to many national festivals, workshops, clinics, and other events, and I promise you that you will not find the same quantity and quality of experiences that you find at an MFA orchestra event.
What music are you listening to for enjoyment right now?
All sorts of music! Well, this week it’s been a lot of Pixar scores for these concerts I have coming up. But lately I’ve also been listening to a lot of Stravinsky, My Morning Jacket, Punch Brothers, Miles Davis, Billy Joel, Rufus Wainwright, Matthew Stevens (a great jazz artist my wife and I saw in New York last spring), Chris Theofanidis, and as always, music from the greatest decade ever, the 80s.
What else should we know about you?
I’m recently happily married! I have a wonderful wife and two amazing step-daughters.
What else would you like to say to your fellow orchestra directors/teachers/ conductors?
Thank you for all of the great work you do day in and day out to not only teach kids how to play string instruments and love music, but for making them better people too. We are very fortunate to do what we do. Keep pushing yourself, your colleagues, and your students to be better than you think you can be.