Stan Eby is the president of Valor Summer Conservatory which previously operated in Whitewater, WI. He is now endeavoring to establish a full-time conservatory named Valor Conservatory. For more information, please visit the website.
C. Stanley Eby was born in Kaimosi, Kenya East Africa. An indomitable passion for music has been a defining force and a key to achievement.
For ten years he conducted the BJU Chamber String Orchestra and in March, 2012 he conducted his fourth major opera production, Il Trovatore, at BJU. For a review of the production, click here. The production won 3rd place in Professional Division of National Opera Association Production Competition, 2011/2012. To view NOA posting, click here.
In his long and varied career Dr. Eby has conducted bands, choirs, string orchestras and opera orchestras. He tells his interesting story of becoming a maestro in his own words.
When I was a little boy, every youngster was acutely aware of people like policemen, firemen, doctors, nurses etc. because of their visible roles in our culture and their singular, striking uniforms. One of those–when I grow up, I want to be one of them–kind of people. Regarding a conductor as such a person, didn’t happen for me until the third grade—something on which I will expand in a few moments.
I think a conductor is not one who just likes music as an object d’art, but in whom the music makes a sort of incarnation. There’s a wonderful old movie, schmaltzy or sentimental in all the best and worst ways that characterize 1930’s movies, entitled One Hundred Men and a Girl, starring Deanna Durbin, Adolphe Menjou and Leopold Stokowski. One hundred, hungry and out of work orchestra musicians, have tried over and over to get Stokowski to conduct them, believing that if he will do so, they can create a financially viable organization they are in such dire need of. At the climax, in a last desperate attempt to convince him, they sneak into his mansion and begin to play. At first he is quite perturbed by the invasion of his privacy, but then as they continue to play Liszt’s “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” he is unable to resist the inexorable power of the music. First the fingers begin to tap reluctantly. Then, it isn’t long, permeated by its power, he begins to conduct the orchestra with unbridled involvement and passion.
My mother had played classical recordings for me from infancy, but I distinctly remember a few recordings, that entered our home when I was about four or five, that had a tremendous physical and emotional effect on me. One was “Songs for Little Cowboys” (it had all the favorites: Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett, San Antonio, Cheyenne, Running Bear etc.) Ravel’s Bolero, and the sound track to the movie, Exodus. I would cavort about our living room to all that music until I would collapse out of breath, or until someone else in the family couldn’t take it anymore.
When I was in the third grade, we moved from the poorest area of Flint, Michigan to an idyllic little village in central Michigan named, Ovid. Mr. Don Thayer was the high school band director and the marching band in their practices used to turn a corner at our house. We loved it when they came down the street. When we would first hear them coming we would run outside to watch them led by their flamboyant drum major. During that first year in Ovid I went to my first concert where I can remember there being such a person as a conductor. I watched each sharply dressed group of musicians enter single file to their seats on the platform in the Gymnasium. I wanted to play each instrument I saw. I especially thought French horns looked beautiful. But nothing was more memorable than when Mr. Thayer gave them the cue for the first note. It not only filled that echoey gym, it filled up the soul of a little boy who couldn’t quite believe what was happening to him. It was a powerful and transformative experience.
I watched Mr. Thayer in awe. He had that grand, quintessential concert band style of directing. His third beat (in four) had a wonderful sweep out and above his right shoulder that I was especially impressed by. Watching him, the die was cast. Throughout childhood and early adolescence, with no formal training in conducting whatsoever, I would stand in front of our stereo and pretend to conduct everything from Sheherazade to Brahms’ Symphony No. 1.
I was fortunate to have a great high school band director who was not just a fine musician but a compelling individual—a real character builder and mentor—Mr. Howard Woods. It was he who first showed me some basic conducting patterns and worked with me a bit.
There was no youth symphony in Pensacola when I was in high school, so the Pensacola Symphony Orchestra would allow a few high schoolers to play with them. Dr. William T. Gower, an oboist, would come over from University of Southern Mississippi to conduct. I can still remember him once asking the first violin section to breath with the oboe solo. I think that’s when I first started really listening to the whole orchestra and not just my own section.
The thought of becoming a real conductor took a back seat, however, as in my late high school and college days I tried to find where my best performing gifts lie. Lung problems convinced one doctor that a brass instrument would not be wise, so that left me trying to choose between voice and violin, with voice by the end of my undergraduate years emerging the victor.
In college I took basic conducting from a fine conductor named John Reinebach. He was not only a good technician but an inspiration. Then I took instrumental conducting from a teacher who demanded a concise, classical baton technique, Jan Young. I was fortunate to have that early influence.
After finishing my masters in voice performance, I returned to violin studies with a fine old gentleman named Mr. Miklas. I worked intensively just on technique. Afterwards, I played for a brief time with the Alamance Chamber Orchestra and also with an orchestra in Raleigh, North Carolina conducted by the concertmaster of the RSO.
I did a lot of conducting of church choirs from my high school days onward, but had little opportunity to conduct instrumentalists until an opening came up in the middle of a school year at a local high school. I spent the next two and a half years conducting elementary, jr. high and high school band. I also started a marching band even thought I had never been in one. What an experience.
Conducting took the back burner again while I worked on my doctorate in voice, but I did have the opportunity to take an independent, one-on-one, study with conductor, Michael Charry. He was a very brilliant and kind man. We didn’t study conducting directly but made a study of musical and performing style through a vast body of orchestral and operatic literature. I owe a great deal to his insights. I also picked up tidbits here and there in coaching with conductors such as Thomas Dunn and John Balme.
The next several years found me doing a lot of choral directing in churches. Then, in the 1990’s I had the privilege of heading up the string program in a small, private school, teaching classroom strings in the elementary and conducting all of the string groups through senior high. It was not at the level I wished compared to a college or professional ensemble, but it was a very good experience in music education and personally rewarding.
When I returned to the voice faculty at Bob Jones University in 1998, the opportunity soon presented itself to conduct the Chamber String Orchestra. I have Joan Mulfinger, who had mentored the group, to thank for that privilege. Sometimes we were able to have brass and winds join us in order to perform symphonic works on our concerts.
When I had done my doctoral work at Boston University, many of my friends in the opera institute told me I should conduct opera. I wish I had taken that advice seriously at the time and I wish that I had actively pursued that idea. The opportunity to do that came almost unexpectedly at Bob Jones University in 2002 when I was asked to conducted Lucia di Lammermoor. Way back in my undergraduate and master’s degree days I had played violin in the orchestra under the sagacious baton of Dr. Dwight Gustafson. Now he became my beloved mentor through several major opera productions at BJU.
I continue to study. In 2003 I took part in a week-long opera workshop for conductors with Donald Portnoy. Christmas vacation 2010, I went to New York to have private lessons with a conductor at the Metropolitan Opera Co., the luminescent Steven White.
Opera provides preparation for a wide variety of conducting. Many other scores seem somewhat straightforward after having had the scrumptious palate of opera under the baton. What variety! In an overture one has an orchestral set piece. Constantly on one’s toes guiding the orchestra as accompanist is often as challenging as conducting a concerto. Inherently there is choral conducting as well. The conductor earns his pay conducting recitative alone, not to mention the challenge of cueing moving targets on the stage.
I’ve always been interested in every aspect of music and in every instrument and every consort or blend of sound. My baton is alive in my hand and the music reverberating in my mind and heart. A swirl of creative ideas are waiting eagerly to be unleashed.