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October 2013: Dr. Terry Austin

Terry_AustinFor many, the thought of packing up every possession you can think of, including your family and flying 6000-plus miles away would be a daunting task. That is not quite the case for Dr. Terry Austin.

Suspicion had not yet set in when Austin received an email from a friend that mysteriously said, “Send me your current resume and a picture. Don’t ask me why.”

Initially, he “thought it was [for] something completely different.”

 After this friend anonymously submitted his name, Dr. Austin was offered the opportunity to conduct the top ensemble at Musashino Academia Musicae, a prestigious conservatory in Tokyo, Japan, which he graciously accepted. He’d first seen their “remarkable group” perform at The Midwest Clinic 20 years ago, but the thought of directing them was never at the forefront of his mind.

“I was basically stunned,” he said when he learned of his selection. Only days before his departure did Austin state that it felt “real”.

The school, with a total enrollment of over 1500, boasts a reputation for an exceptional work ethic wherein its students strive for perfection. Each year, the school invites guest educators from all over Europe and the United States.

Its students have been known to prepare for two-hour sectional rehearsals with the conductor with a two-hour sectional of their own, Austin joked, noting their diligence.

The courses are set up in such a way that he will have very little time with the students throughout the week. The greatest luxury, Austin says, will be the amount of free time that he has. His only commitment in Tokyo will be to conduct, so that will leave more time for studying music and exploring the culture with his family.

It is the 100th anniversary of composer Morton Gould’s birth, and Austin hopes to perform the second movement of Gould’s Symphony IV, entitled “Marches,” while in Japan. VCU’s Symphonic Wind Ensemble performed the first movement, “Epitaphs” last year.

Having never been to Japan, the culture, of course, will be the most difficult part to navigate. Most notable is the language barrier. As any musician knows, quickly pointing out rehearsal terms and measure numbers is an essential key to efficiency with respect to large ensembles. To get a head start, Austin has already translated between five and six pages of musical terms to Japanese. He has hope, however, that music will bridge the gap when words escape him.

His time there will culminate in two December concerts as well as a professional recording session.  Austin hopes to form a special relationship with Musashino that would result in ongoing communication and symbiotic correspondence with VCU.

With this exciting stage of his life just around the corner, it may be easy to forget the wealth of accomplishments he accrued over the summer. Dr. Austin is now the Vice President of American Bandmaster’s Association. Founded in 1929, it is a collection of the “Who’s Who” of the band world, according to Austin.  Comprised of composers, publishers and of course conductors, its membership count exceeds 300.

According to Austin, the goal of the association has always been to make bands better.

Dr. Austin seems on the right path to do just that. In addition to this appointment, he spearheaded the creation of a two-decade wide collection of scholarly articles that reflect on the timeless masterpieces of wind band music. The idea came about when Austin realized that the abundance of band repertoire articles was too expansive to be practical. He read every article and selected the most powerful and relevant pieces. The Journal of Band Research: A Repertoire Anthology (1964-1989) is now currently available.

Austin will bring along his wife, Tracia, and their twin sons, Joshua and Seth who will continue to be homeschooled in Tokyo.  Unfortunately, due to the weather, he will not be able to hike the historic Mt. Fuji as he’d hoped. On the other hand, he has his hopes set on riding the infamous bullet train

“It was a fun year.” Austin says of his recent experiences and new opportunities.

With a return date set for Christmas Day, as he crosses the International Date Line he might add “two Christmases” to his extensive list of accomplishments for 2013.

–Elise Ridley