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robert.bolyard@gmail.com
Seattle, WA
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Conducting

 

 

Although I make music in many different ways, conducting has been and remains my primary vocation and calling. After many formative experiences at Occidental College, where a liberal arts education allowed me to connect concepts from various fields to enhance my musical life, my studies at the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music honed my musical mind and granted me unforgettable musical experiences. After moving to Atlanta, and later to Seattle, I sought to continue challenging myself in as many ways as I could, while continuing to enhance my musical life through varied experiences – both musical and otherwise. Below are the stories of some of the conducting and music directing opportunities I have been fortunate to have had:

 

St. Francis in-the-Fields Episcopal Church

More info about my latest position, Director of Music/Organist at St. Francis, coming soon!

 

Woodland Park Presbyterian Church


Being a church musician has long been a central component of my identity and my career path – upon moving to Seattle, I was extremely fortunate to find Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, and it was a tremendous pleasure to serve as their Minister of Music and Organist. I was excited to be once again be on the organ bench playing weekly services, and the choir was an absolute joy to work with and incredibly versatile to boot! Part of my job was spearheading the church’s relatively new concert series, which proved an invaluable learning experience for me as well as a great avenue of outreach to our community. One of the things I valued most at WPPC is working with our Pastor, Staci Imes, and our process of collaboratively creating and shaping worship – whether it was adapting services like Holden Evening Prayer, forming new special services out of whole cloth, or simply the week-to-week discussions of how to make Sunday morning worship meaningful, engaging, and relevant, it was immensely rewarding to be so deeply involved.

DigiPen Institute of Technology Vocal Ensemble

DigiPen vocal ensemble
In 2016 I started as an adjunct lecturer at DigiPen Institute of Technology – I taught music history and conducted the vocal ensemble. DigiPen offers Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees relating to interactive computing and digital art, music, and sound design, but the best way to explain it is: it’s a video game college. (See the Teaching page for more of my experiences there) The vocal ensemble is made up of students from multiple disciplines, but for students in the music department it is a required class (4 semesters minimum) – thus they sing a mixture of traditional music, Western Classical choral music, as well as arrangements of music from contemporary pop and geek culture and, of course, video games. As a long-time and avid video gamer myself, I never dreamed of an opportunity to combine my love of teaching choral music and my love of video games, so I was immeasurably lucky for this opportunity! Highlights from my time there included: “Eight Melodies” from Mother, “The Place I’ll Return to Someday” from Final Fantasy IX – sung with the text of the Gloria in excelsis Deo, and “Epona no uta” from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, the theme song to “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego,” and a mashup of the Tetris theme and the Russian folk song on which it is based, Korobeiniki.

Seattle Jewish Chorale

SJC at Herzl

From 2014-2016 I served as the Music Director of the Seattle Jewish Chorale, and it was such a rewarding and inspirational ensemble to work with! Not being Jewish myself, and not knowing much at all about Jewish choral music when I started, I was more than a bit nervous…but with a little elbow grease and a lot of great input from colleagues, I was able to give myself a crash course in my first year – in fact, I ended up creating multiple arrangements for our 2015 spring concert, from Israeli pop songs to a haunting early 20th-century Yiddish melody. I’m even teaching myself to read Hebrew! But I’m still a ways off from being ready for my Bar Mitzvah…

In the spring of 2016 we embarked on an international tour and collaboration! The SJC joined Orpheum Voices for a combined concert of Jewish-American and Jewish-Canadian composers, from Leonard Bernstein and Kurt Weill to Srul Irving Glick and Leonard Cohen! Not only is the prospect of embarking on this challenging repertoire exciting, but elevating Jewish music and bringing it to a wider audience is central to the mission of the SJC – I’m very excited about the project and about working with my good friend and grad school classmate Kevin Zakresky.

Morningside Presbyterian Church

In my last year in Atlanta I had the tremendous opportunity to serve as Interim Choirmaster at Morningside Presbyterian Church, temporarily filling the shoes of Walter Huff, who stepped down after twenty-four years of service there to become an Associate Professor of Choral Conducting at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. This experience allowed me to focus on maintaining an already thriving program while also granting me liberties to try new things, both inside and outside of worship. Gaining first-hand knowledge of the ins and outs of running a larger music program like that at Morningside was invaluable!

 

Epiphany Lutheran Church

When I started as the Director of Music at Epiphany in 2008 the music ministry consisted of one small (but dedicated!) choir – when I left in 2013 we had grown to two adult choirs, a youth choir, and regularly featured various instrumental ensembles throughout the year. When we found ourselves without an organist the fall of 2010, I stepped in as an interim replacement – I played two services a week from then on! While there, I expanded the music library and regular repertoire to include music from all periods of music history and in as many diverse styles as possible: from chant and Renaissance to motets to spirituals and 21st-century works. I even managed to convince this small parish choir to sing in Latin, Spanish, German, French and Church Slavonic, and in 2013 we sang an entire Haydn mass (complete with instruments) as the liturgy for worship! I found that not only was a unique musical challenge (and one I was not completely unprepared for: I studied organ during most of my time at Occidental) but a great way to be more connected to liturgy and worship.

Uncommon Practice

up group photoWhat began as informal meetings of like-minded musicians singing both obscure and familiar choral pieces for fun has become a collective of singers who come together to perform pieces outside the so-called “Common Practice” period (~1600-1900). Rather than just another chamber choir or pickup group, my vision for UP has been to bring singers together who were looking for a unique experience of singing together as peers and colleagues rather than the usual top-down conductor/singer relationship. We perform most of our pieces acapella and one-on-a-part – not only because this is more true to early performance practice, but because it is much more challenging and requires a much deeper connection to the music and to each other. In 2011 we presented our first concert, “There is No Rose,” followed in 2013 by our second, “A Hope…A Prayer…A Concert,” and then “#tidings of great #joy” in 2015 and “Tyme after Time” in 2017. Sample recordings can be found at our website www.wesingup.org.

In June 2014 Uncommon Practice made its debut at Spivey Hall as part of the Georgia ACDA concert series, and later that same year we collaborated with the High Museum of Art to record and perform music from 15th-century choirbooks that were displayed in the “Make a Joyful Noise!” exhibition.

We also enjoy a continuing fruitful collaboration with Lauda Musicam, Atlanta’s early music community ensemble, with whom we perform regularly as part of their concert series. More information can be found at the Lauda Musicam website.

Clinician

A few years ago on a whim I shadowed a friend of mine – a high school chorus teacher – for a day to get a small sense of that experience. I really enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of her students, and was excited about the possibility of working with them again! Since then I have been a guest clinician for the choirs of McCleskey Middle School and Kell High School in Cobb County, which have been great and productive experiences for me and the students! It also put into sharp focus how becoming a better teacher has made me a better conductor. Since moving to Seattle I got the chance to adjudicate a festival for area middle/high school choirs, which was another wonderful opportunity to work with youth choirs as a clinician – I hope this is the first of many chances I get to do this!

In the summer of 2011 I attended the Mountain Collegium Workshop as a viola da gamba player, and while there was asked to lead part of one of the evening playing sessions in a choral piece – this proved popular enough that the following year I was brought onto the faculty to teach a voice and choral methods class, and 2016 will mark the my fifth summer on faculty there.

 

Yale

While studying for my Master’s degree at the Yale School of Music I had more life-changing musical opportunities than I can relate in a short paragraph: conducting my recital chorus and orchestra (recordings here!), working with the Yale Glee Club as assistant director, conducting in masterclass with Helmuth Rilling, sharing jokes with Nicholas McGegan, singing at Carnegie Hall for the first time…I could go on and on. Needless to say, I learned more than I thought possible, and the experiences I had there and the wonderful people I met continue to enrich my life every day! If I had to pick one highlight, it would have to be the preparation for my Master’s recital – we performed three pieces, each a highlight in their own right. First, the Bruckner mass in e minor: I fell in love with its haunting colors and beautiful melodies and, thanks to great assistance from a renowned Bruckner scholar, was able to understand the workings of the piece to a level I had not theretofore achieved. Second, the premiere of The Blue Room: even though it was a choral conducting recital, I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do an orchestral piece, and I was able to convince my professors to allow me to commission a new work by Reena Esmail, who is not only one of the most brilliant young composers around, but also one of my longest and dearest friends. While working on the concerto we shared a lot of “firsts,” and both the process and the end result were thrilling in the extreme! Lastly, the Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs served not only as the big finish to the recital, but was also the basis of a research project on which I collaborated with Jason – the soloist – and Jamie Dunn – a student at the divinity school. Not only was the work performed twice: once at my recital (with orchestra and chorus) and once on Jason’s (with piano), but the presentation of our work at the Colloquium of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music was awarded the Director’s Prize for Best Student Presentation. All in all it was a lot of hard work – just retelling it here is making me a little tired! – but it proved to me how much you can get out of a project when you give everything you have.

 

Oxy
© C BROWN

Photo © C BROWN

I was drawn to Occidental College not only because of its strong liberal arts principles and its academic excellence, but the opportunity to sing with the Occidental College Glee Club and its director, Jeffrey Bernstein. While the Glee Club was my primary musical outlet at Oxy, I explored many other avenues of music-making: from playing chamber music on the cello to taking up organ – thanks to a scholarship that granted free organ lessons to the “most promising organ student” (full disclosure: I was always the only organ student and, therefore, the most promising) – and later even taking harpsichord lessons and accompanying voice lessons! I also began making my first steps in my career as a church musician: first as assistant director of the choir at Canoga Park United Methodist Church, and eventually the children’s choir and handbell director at Grace Lutheran Church in Culver City. Additionally I became active in the local community opera scene, performing in choruses and small roles for a number of shows. Arguably my biggest achievement at Oxy was single-handedly producing and directing a performance of Bach’s St. John Passion on Good Friday 2002 as my senior recital project. Thanks to a grant from the Occidental Interfaith Center and putting up much of my own money (I moved back home to save up) I hired professional players and soloists, while the choir was made up of my musical friends and colleagues. While a school with a larger music program would most likely have balked at the idea of a senior putting on such a large production, I was encouraged and motivated by my professors at Oxy to take it on (truth be told – I opened negotiations with the idea of doing St. Matthew, so St. John was easy by comparison) and I learned so much about what it takes to make something like that happen: not only musically and artistically, but logistically. In the end it was one of the defining moments of my life, and I’ll never forget all the people that joined me to make it happen!

LACHSA

I was fortunate enough not only to attend Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, but to have my first conducting experience there! At the beginning of my senior year, the chair of the music department created a chamber vocal ensemble by hand-selecting the top musicians in the voice program and made me the director! Although I got help and advice from the music faculty, I was more or less on my own to come up with repertoire and rehearsal strategies – so I chose pieces that I loved and that I knew would work and tried my best to recreate the rehearsal conditions that I had experienced in the many, many ensembles I’d been in up to that point. Even with my very limited experience, I knew that it was important that this small group of sixteen singers liked each other and were committed to making the best music possible together. I even convinced them (and I’m still not sure how I managed to do this!) to do a run-out concert with the San Fernando Valley Youth Chorus – the ensemble I had been in since middle school and, perhaps, the primary inspiration for the choral leaning of my musical inclinations…