A Calling for Conducting
As a performing artist, earning an MFA is usually the culmination of your formal education, but for Ryan Bancroft (MFA Music 13, BFA Music 11), he’s got at least one more step. In September, Bancroft will head to a special conducting program at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow.
Expanding Interests and Honing Abilities at CalArts
Bancroft enrolled at CalArts in 2007 intending to become a professional trumpeter. He fine-tuned his skills in classical trumpet, but he also expanded his interests, studying cello and flute—instruments he had started playing in high school—and studying ballet and modern dance, as well as Ghanaian music and dance.
“No other school would have allowed me to play so many different instruments or study other art forms. My faculty mentor, Ed Carroll, said, ‘Venture and explore.’”
With Father’s Passing a Conducting Role Emerges
He started conducting in early 2010 shortly after his father died. Partly as a way to honor him, Bancroft organized a performance of Mozart’s Requiem, rehearsing a chorus and orchestra of CalArts students for two months, and then conducting them at a local church. “Although I was not very good at first, I thought, ‘I can do this,’” he says.
After earning a BFA in trumpet in 2011, he remained for graduate studies, continuing with the trumpet while beginning to study conducting. He also organized and conducted choir, opera, and orchestral concerts at CalArts, and also got involved in projects off campus. Among other activities, he served as assistant music director for the opera Crescent City last year, which was the inaugural production of The Industry, an experimental company in Los Angeles.
Mentor Recommends Application to Prestigious Conducting Program
In the spring of 2012, Bancroft’s trumpet teacher, Carroll, who is also a conductor, recommended that he apply to the conducting program in Glasgow. The school accepts only one student each year, and although Bancroft had never participated in a conducting audition before, he applied, putting together a DVD demonstrating his conducting and rehearsing skills. A few months later, the Conservatoire chose him and 44 other students from around the world to come to Glasgow to compete for the coveted spot.
The audition, on February 22, lasted from 8 a.m. until 9 p.m. After conducting a student group performing Bohuslav Martinu’s Nonette, a three-movement piece for chamber ensemble, Bancroft made the cut to round two—an interview with the school’s faculty.
“I told them that I was interested in theater and dance, and I think they liked that I knew more than just music.”
Motivating Musicians to Enthusiastic Performance
The faculty chose him and three other contestants to continue to the next round that evening, in which they each rehearsed and conducted a full orchestra performing Dvořák’s New World Symphony. “This is a standard, so it can get old easily,” Bancroft says. He watched the first two conductors lead listless performances. When it was his turn, he explained the history of the piece to the musicians, who then performed enthusiastically. Bancroft flew back to Los Angeles, and a week and a half later, he learned that he had won.
“During my time in Scotland and after the program ends, I hope to enter conducting competitions. That’s the principal way to get known as a conductor.”
Working at CalArts Over the Summer–and Then Off to Glasgow
After working for CalArts’ Office of Admissions this summer, Bancroft leaves for the two-year master’s program at the Conservatoire. He will study under Donald Runnicles, the head conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. “I will have opportunities to work with the orchestra,” Bancroft says. “I may also get to work with the Scottish Opera. During my time in Scotland and after the program ends, I hope to enter conducting competitions. That’s the principal way to get known as a conductor.
“Coming to CalArts, I just wanted to play Mozart and Haydn and be in the orchestra. That’s admirable, but my dad’s memorial showed me that I could conduct, and as I started conducting more, I realized that I was taking music more seriously. I still plan on practicing trumpet as well as my other instruments. I will continue to take performing as an instrumentalist extremely seriously. Glasgow will allow me to add conducting to my professional repertoire.”