An interview with MYSO’s Artistic Director, Carter Simmons, provided the foundation for this article. Mr. Simmons met Professor Tom Dvorak as an undergraduate in North Carolina, and followed him to UW-Milwaukee for his graduate work. The rest, as they say, is history.
Professor Tom Dvorak, MYSO’s esteemed Wind Ensemble Music Director, has been appointed as MYSO’s first-ever Conductor Laureate. In that role, he will be an advisor who helps with recruiting, rehearsing, and strategy. He cedes his day-to-day music director responsibilities to Mr. Nicholas Carlson and Mr. Andrew Hacker, his long-time assistant conductors, who will jointly succeed him beginning in 2018-19.
Prof. Dvorak began his affiliation with MYSO in 1979 (known then as Music for Youth), assembling the precursor to the Wind Ensemble which has evolved into the first-rate performing group it is today. However, his impact goes far beyond MYSO. During his tenure here, he impacted the broader national wind community in terms of wind instruction, band directors, private instructors, and generations of students and families.
What Drives Prof. Dvorak?
He absolutely loves music and maintains incredibly high standards. He loves working with young musicians and giving them opportunities they did not realize existed–this is what keeps him going.
Prof. Dvorak is always looking for an opportunity to learn when it comes to music. Like other great music leaders, he has insatiable intellectual and artistic appetites. He is always looking to introduce something new to his students because he finds it exciting, and always championing new composers. He has a curiosity that doesn’t quit.
What Makes the Professor the Professor?
Prof. Dvorak has this incredible presence about him. The kids in an ensemble can sense it when he walks into a room–his personality, his leadership, his charisma. Simmons says, “He is a wonderful blend of expectation and tenderness when it comes to working with the students. He calls them ’very precious kids,’ and he truly believes that.”
Caring can be defined in many ways. For Prof. Dvorak, high expectations are inherent in his way of caring. He wants to show kids the joy that comes from playing a piece well. While he is always looking for a positive musical result, he is also looking for a positive human result.
How does Prof. Dvorak communicate with all these kids to make them behave as one?
In a rehearsal, an extremely musical conductor like Prof. Dvorak can talk about a musical phrase, but is able to more effectively show it with his body. “He would teach that if you’re talking too much as a conductor, you’re really not doing your job,” Simmons recalls. The conductor should know not only what a sound should sound like, but also what a sound should look like. He inspires musicians through visual means to spark an imagination about a sound, or the momentum of that sound.
On Understanding Human Behavior to Change Human Behavior
Simmons notes, “All of us who are somewhat successful [as conductors] have the ability to interact [with our students], seeing who’s had a good day, who hasn’t, judging the reactions, leaving it alone or engaging with it, or just giving a little encouragement.” Prof. Dvorak artfully applies these skills. He’s been instrumental in creating the culture we have here.
Conductor James Conlan states, “You can discuss gesture and physical comportment endlessly, but ultimately some intangible, charismatic element trumps it all. No one has ever bottled it. To which I say, ‘Thank God.’’’ And to which we say, thank you…Prof. Dvorak.