After thirty-two years of university-level conducting, Mr. Stephen Heyde's eyes still light up as he describes how rewarding it is to conduct an orchestra of students. What began for him as a childhood love for the violin has become a career conducting symphony orchestras at Baylor and all over the world. By taking a chance on a series of opportunities both during and after his undergraduate years, Mr. Heyde discovered a new talent and love for conducting. It is this same open-mindedness and daring that Mr. Heyde encourages all undergraduate scholars to have as they pursue their goals.
Mr. Heyde studied violin as an undergraduate and went on to receive his Master's degree in violin performance. After teaching at West Virginia University for nine years, Mr. Heyde came to Baylor, where he is the Mary Franks Thompson Professor of Orchestral Studies and Conductor-in-Residence at Baylor University and the Conductor/Music Director of the Waco Symphony. Mr. Heyde travels across the country and around the world as a guest conductor to work with professional and student orchestras and musicians. Eleven of Mr. Heyde's former students now conduct professionally and many others are professional musicians.
Ashley Ham is one of Mr. Heyde's most successful recent students. When she became particularly interested in conducting as an undergraduate music major, she sought out Mr. Heyde to direct her Honors thesis. Ashley prepared Haydn's Surprise Symphony and Gustav Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer and conducted these pieces in a performance with the Baylor Symphony Orchestra in the spring of 2005. Ashley's preparation included choosing the repertoire, conducting one movement at a time, deciding on bowings, musical interpretation, deciding how she would seat the orchestra, and conducting all rehearsals for the concert. In addition, she created the program and the program notes for the concert. Mr. Heyde guided her work by critiquing videotapes of her rehearsals and working with Ashley on how she would conduct each movement of the concert. As a result of this experience, Mr. Heyde said that Ashley “grew tremendously” and that she decided to change her graduate school path from viola performance to conducting. She is now working on her Master's degree at Florida State University.
The kind of experience that Ashley had through her thesis project is virtually unheard of at the undergraduate level in music, noted Mr. Heyde. However, he added that Baylor is the kind of place where enriching scholarly experiences are readily available. What the undergraduate scholar must do, he said, is to advocate for him- or herself and be willing to “step outside his or her boundaries, be persistent, and then accept the responsibility that goes with it.” It is important to remember, he said, that “it all begins with asking if things are possible. There are times when they might not be possible. But if you don't ask, then you'll never know.” By walking through an open door and seizing a new and unexplored opportunity, a student may discover that being flexible and daring produces a deeper and more exciting academic experience.