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Taking a bow with Pacifics 'Dr. B-P'


University's student conductors own the stage Friday

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Dr. Michael Burch-Pesses shares stories of his own experiences with his students in preparation for their debut.When Dr. Michael Burch-Pesses arrived at Pacific University to teach music, he vowed every one of his conducting students would conduct in public before beginning their student teaching.

“You can’t provide that experience at a large university,” Burch-Pesses said.

Friday, five students from his advanced conducting class will make their debuts, baton in hand, and conduct Pacific University’s Symphonic Band at a spring concert.

On a recent sunny day, the students talked at length about what they’d learned to prepare them to read an entire score of music and make themselves understood to the band, most of it from Burch-Pesses, known affectionately as “Dr. B-P,” who often stands to illustrate some of his teaching methods.

“Though he can be stern,” said Emilee Buchanan, a student conductor at Pacific from Federal Way, Wash., “he doesn’t stop being a kid. No matter what, he’ll make us laugh.

“He skipped into class once to demonstrate a light-hearted piece of music,” she said with a smile, while skipping herself.

“He’ll stomp,” she said as she stomped across the floor, “to demonstrate pesante, a heavy aspect to a piece. He’s like a father, inspiring us to be better, to do better. He never flatters anyone. He tells you what he thinks.

"He’s the most inspirational guy. He’s the reason I came to Pacific.”

Donte Holloway, a Pacific student from Roseburg, plays the guitar and percussion. “He throws us into the deep end of the pool with floaties on,” Holloway said, standing up himself while talking about Dr. B-P. “He loves all the students equally, and he makes sure we know the music and how to manage the orchestra and make ourselves understood as conductors.”

There are the tough days too, Holloway noted. “Once we came to class without our program notes [about the music and composer]. He said, ‘This class never happened,’ and walked out.” At the next class, everyone had their program notes.

Damian Plancarte, a cellist from New Mexico and the only Pacific biology major in the bunch, said he chose Pacific over the University of Chicago in part because of meeting Dr. B-P on his campus visit. “The professor from the University of Chicago didn’t remember me from my tape. Dr. B-P did.”

Hannah Lee, the choral student in the group who hails from Boise, said Burch-Pesses provides them with all the tools they’ll need Friday night. “He exudes passion for music, and a love for us and our future. I excel in his classes. I want to work.”

Back on the business of conducting, “It’s pretty intimidating, at least for me,” Holloway said. “You pick up on the melodic line over time, with lots of practice, so you have all the parts [from all members of the band]. But he’s taught me all these skills to utilize: classroom management, to develop an ear. He makes videotapes of our conducting. He taught us how to bow.”

“The hardest thing for me to master about conducting is making my interpretive gestures clear to the band,” said Kevin Hummel. “The easiest thing about conducting is being nervous no matter how much practicing and rehearsing I have done.”

Hummel, a graduate of Hilhi, is a percussionist. “When we started this semester I was extremely nervous at the idea of being in front of the entire band,” he said. “After the first time we actually had a chance to rehearse our piece with the band I fell in love with the feeling of having all that sound coming back to you and I have been getting more and more comfortable conducting.

"This concert is a great way for all of us to show off the skills we have been learning all year.”

But there’s even more to it than that. “Dr. B-P has really emphasized that we practice the skill of score study,” Hummel said. “In score study we analyze the music note for note so that we have a clear idea of what the music is trying to tell us before we begin to rehearse with the band. I'm glad he taught us this skill because it would be very difficult to try to understand the music based solely on just what it sounds like.”

Buchanan is the only junior among this group of seniors, but she’s optimistic about the future. “There are not a lot jobs for music teachers. It’s competitive,” Buchanan said. “But we’re a worthy bunch. We can make it.”

Buchanan will conduct the “Symphonic Overture” and Hannah Lee will conduct “Lyric Essay.” Holloway will conduct, “The Winged Stallion,” Plancarte “Molly on the Shore,” and Hummel, “Triumphal March.” The program will also include other works conducted by Burch-Pesses. Bassoonist Amber Patton will be featured in “The Old Sorehead,” a light and humorous contest of wills between the conductor and the soloist.

Tickets will be available at the door. General admission is $7 and $5 for seniors. Students receive free admission. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. in McCready Hall.