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No beakers here. This lab is all about orchestras, conducting

The Conducting Institute offers aspiring conductors the opportunity to practice their skills in front of a full lab orchestra.
Marcheta Fornoff
Fort Worth Report
The Conducting Institute offers aspiring conductors the opportunity to practice their skills in front of a full lab orchestra.

For aspiring conductors, there is no substitute for lifting a baton in front of a full orchestra. In training, these opportunities are few and far between. Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra Music Director Laureate Miguel Harth-Bedoya wanted to change that.

What began as a series of workshops geared toward young musicians in high school and beyond evolved into The Conducting Institute. The program offers online courses in reading a score or improving aural skills. However, the biggest draw is the intensive, in-person sessions that happen a few times throughout the year and give students hands-on training.

“It’s something that nobody else is doing in the country,” Harth-Bedoya, founder and director of the program, said. “It’s always with a full orchestra, so it’s not as if we’re going to be providing swimming lessons in a bathtub.” 

One of the reasons this opportunity is so rare is the expense. Paying 60 musicians for their time adds up quickly. Students pay tuition that helps cover the cost of the program, but it is important that cost not be a barrier to attendance.

The most recent winter program was about $3,000 for full-time attendees, and an upcoming spring program for music educators is $450.

“We worked very hard at raising funds for scholarships,” Harth-Bedoya said. “I also went to full-scholarship schools, and so I want to re-create all those opportunities as much as we can, based on need.”

Institute Managing Director John Toohey told Harth-Bedoya how much he admires his passion for making music education more accessible to students, even those who might not stand out on paper.

“Instead of requiring that somebody give us a long resume of universities and so forth,” Toohey said in a conversation with Harth-Bedoya and the Report, “you interview the candidates personally to see what their passion is.”

Winston Schneider traveled from Omaha with his mom to attend a weeklong session in January. The 16-year-old high school sophomore first enrolled in an online course with the institute at age 12.

“When I was young, I would go to orchestra concerts and I would always be enthralled with watching the conductor,” he said. “It’s always been something I wanted to do, but especially as I go in my composition pursuits. … It’s great to have a foundation of conducting skills to build on.”

An opportunity to not only direct a lab orchestra but also watch and listen to others at the podium is a huge benefit, Schneider said. But beyond growing as a conductor and composer, he has learned skills from maestro Harth-Bedoya that he can use for life.

“One of the most valuable things he’s taught me is … the importance of just being concise and clear in whatever you have to communicate with an orchestra also not just even with an orchestra, but in any facet of life,” Schneider said. “I can take that with me wherever I go, whatever I do.”

This spring, the institute will offer a two-day session for music educators. Continuing to widen the door of opportunity and serve a diverse pool of students is important for the organization.

“Orchestras and conductors are communities in and of themselves,” Harth-Bedoya said. “When music happens, everything else is forgotten. Whether you’re a foreigner, male, female, old or younger, the music just takes over. It’s incredible.”

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policyhere.

This article first appeared on Fort Worth Report and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.