By Claire Hardwick, Communications Intern / Illustration by Moira Scrimgeour, Graphic Design Intern
When Q Langman found himself conducting John Corigliano’s Mr. Tambourine Man in fall 2018, he couldn’t believe the years of work and preparation that had led him to lifting the baton. He was first introduced to the piece as a concert pianist in 2017. He then spent a year studying the score and rehearsing with professional soprano soloist Alissa Roca to perform Mr. Tambourine Man again with the entire Lab Orchestra, now as an undergraduate conductor with a newfound understanding of the music. Langman says his time with The Lab Orchestra, a student ensemble that focuses on 20th century chamber music, has been an invaluable education. It’s honed his skills in conducting, time management, practicing and performing, and it’s taught him how to be a more organized and informed leader, which are skills he’ll need as a musician and administrator after college.
When Jacob Schnitzer and Nicholas Clark were undergraduates, they found a lack of representation in student ensembles for most 20th century compositions. While the New Music Ensemble performs music written during the last 30 years and the UT Symphony Orchestra covers classical orchestral pieces, Schnitzer and Clark created The Lab Orchestra to fill a niche that before 2016 was left wide open.
The Lab Orchestra not only gives students an opportunity to perform regularly with their peers, but also the much needed space to practice other skills that musicians value.
“Most of the work that goes into The Lab Orchestra is on the administrative side,” says Langman, who’s now in his third season as a conductor. Scheduling rehearsals, programming concerts, recruiting players and fundraising are just a few of the various tasks Langman has to take on daily while running the orchestra.
Langman says conducting with The Lab Orchestra has also changed the way he approaches scores. Score study, the process of thoroughly learning a score for performance, is a crucial skill for a conductor to have, and one that is typically taught in a very technical way. “Score studying for me has transformed from marking meters and cues to coming up with actual creative music ideas that are informed by analysis, pattern recognition and critical thinking,” says Langman, crediting The Lab Orchestra for his progress.
The success of The Lab Orchestra through undergraduate involvement and enthusiasm led Schnitzer and Clark to continue their musical mission and create Density512 after they both graduated, a music collective that prides itself on blending Austin’s music culture with imaginative programs for contemporary chamber orchestra. Many participants from The Lab Orchestra play with Density512 as well, allowing them to grow both in school and in the Austin community.
Want to catch a show? The Lab Orchestra’s next project includes a collaboration with the Austin Children’s Choir for their upcoming concert of Dr. Blaise Ferrandino’s Scenes from the Oregon Trail, April 14 in Bates Recital Hall.