In his second year of graduate school, Nate Pence (’12) is expanding on opportunities that began at Southern Virginia University. He has been chosen to conduct the men’s choir at the University of Florida, where he is currently pursuing his master’s degree in choral conducting.
The opportunity was actually inspired by a similar program Pence participated in here at Southern Virginia. Pence and fellow music major Kyle Nielsen were the first students to serve as choral conducting interns under the direction of Dr. La Rae Carter.
“There was an opening, and I wanted to conduct,” Pence said. “[Kyle Neilsen and I] took a proposal to Dr. Carter in the music department and she sent it to the Provost and got it approved as an internship. Basically we would conduct the choir and Dr. Carter would be there the whole time supervising.”
Working so closely with Dr. Carter gave Pence an opportunity most students don’t have at the undergraduate level.
“It was — I’ll say unique — but it just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It was an incredible opportunity because we had to learn in real time. It was something most undergraduates do not get the opportunity to do at any other university.”
Now, as a graduate, similar circumstances presented Pence with the chance to continue the experience he began at Southern Virginia. After securing an assistantship in the choral program at the University of Florida, a professor’s departure left positions for conductors available.
“The professor left to a university up in New York, and they had an opening for the men’s and women’s choir,” he said. “I went to Dr. Kesling, head of the choral program here and said, ‘hey, I did this in my undergrad.’ So I had Dr. Carter send me the proposal we took to the Provost and I showed it to Dr. Kesling and he said, ‘yeah, I think this could work. I think it’s a great idea to let students conduct.’ And they picked a doctoral student and master’s student, and I was the master’s student they picked. So now I’m conducting the men’s choir.”
Conducting a choir presents Pence with the chance to pursue his long term goal. Though he was involved in musical theatre and performance while attending Southern Virginia, Pence insists that conducting choirs is his passion.
“There’s something about taking a group of people and helping them realize the same goal,” he said. “Together, learning, and creating something that cannot be done on an individual level. It is a phenomenal experience and something that I don’t really have words for. It fills me with joy and hope.”
Pence describes the conducting experience as unlike any other. He says there is a careful balance between keeping the choir together during performance and bringing them together through the rehearsal process.
“In the rehearsal there is so much that has to come together,” he said. “Everyone in the choir is an individual and the point of these rehearsals is yes, to learn notes, to learn rhythm, to learn when to decrescendo and crescendo and yes, that’s a part of it. But we also have to learn to hear and feel things together. You can tell when a choir functions individually opposed to a choir making music together. That’s hard to do. That’s hard to make happen.”
Though he isn’t yet ruling out the idea of professional performance, Pence is hoping to make a career out of teaching music at the collegiate level.
“I love the idea of building a choral program,” he said. “Not just one choir, but creating a full program with several choirs that sometimes perform together and sometimes have their own concerts. It creates a choral tradition that gives students options of different kinds of choral experiences.”
(Post by Cody Ray Shafer ’14.)