Saturday, January 8, 2011

Karan Morrow: 'Forging New Ground - Part II of interview with Joseph Conyers'

[Joseph Conyers]

On August 15, 2010 AfriClassical posted: “'Forging New Ground: Joseph Conyers' From an interview conducted by Karan Morrow (Editor, Reverberations).” Today we post Part II of Karan Morrow's interview with Joseph Conyers, Assistant Principal Bass with The Philadelphia Orchestra:

Joseph found out about The Curtis Institute of Music ( during the summer of 1998 through a student horn player at Boston University’s Tanglewood Festival who had been admitted to the prestigious institution and everyone was so impressed. Joseph wanted to know what all that buzz was about. Joe Holt was his bass instructor at Tanglewood and told him more about the school. By the time Joseph was finalizing his college choices, it was well into the fall of his senior year. Others, such as his teachers David Warshauer (principal bassist for the former Savannah Symphony) and Paula Swart, further encouraged him to audition for The Curtis Institute. The rest is beautiful music to everyone’s ears.

When asked about who or what influenced him to audition for the Sphinx Organization Competition (Joseph was in the 1998 Inaugural Sphinx Competition ~, he credits Paula Swart, currently the string teacher and Director of Orchestras at Savannah Country Day School, and one of Joseph’s former instructors. Ms. Swart attended the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, earning a bachelor of music in viola performance and another in music education. She studied viola with Masao Kawasaki and string pedagogy with Dr. Gerald Doan. She currently performs as a violist in the Savannah area.

Joseph does have other interests outside his music. He sincerely enjoys generally helping people; getting them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and assisting in providing the means for them to do so. He also is passionate and enthusiastic about connecting to the world through music and through his art. When asked if he has a hobby, that wonderful laugh was heard again. Oh, yes - Joseph absolutely loves meteorology and would be a meteorologist if he were not a bassist. He is fascinated with all things hurricane - especially the power of and behind these impressive storms.

Since he’s performed so much rich repertoire, he was asked about his favorite composers and compositions. After a few moments of rumination, he revealed that his first favorite composer was Maurice Ravel. Mahler and Brahms are also high on his list. It took him a while over time to decide on favorite composers, as so many certainly bring their own to the musical table of choices. He really favors Brahm’s music - saying, “’s a perfect union between harmony and counterpoint.” One of his all-time favorite compositions? Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major (Op. 78).

While Savannah does have a Philharmonic Orchestra in place (, Joseph was asked about his personal outlook for his hometown reviving a major orchestral ensemble. He enthusiastically replied that “I would love nothing more than for a full time symphony orchestra to return to my hometown. This will occur when the city recognizes the transformative possibilities that classical music can bring to the Coastal Empire through education and community engagement.” As long as the music and musicians in Savannah show the value and excitement of classical music, the people will demand a larger ensemble. Local and regional string and orchestra programs need to flourish; the financial value of having a major symphony orchestra in the area has to be appreciated. Make no mistake, however; Joseph emphasizes that “...the ensemble cannot be particular to just one part of the city - it belongs to the community at large, and this certainly won’t happen overnight.” This zeal for his deep-set belief that music is a part of the fabric of society and builds strong communities is part of the reason Project440 was started.

Speaking of Project 440 (, Joseph was queried about his plans and goals for the organization. Joseph immediately said, “Send the readers to the website!” The organization’s website is a full, comprehensive and valuable source of information on the history of Project 440, its mission and objectives. One can volunteer to assist, and you can follow Project 440 on Twitter (@P440) and become a fan on Facebook ( One of the goals was to implement a blog on the website - since this interview took place, the blog has been established. Project 440 has also partnered with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and hopes to continue that relationship. Formerly called Da Capo, the Project 440 Institute is a program mainly aimed for high school and college-aged students that talks about the dos and don’ts of the classical music industry. They also discuss how easy it is for classical musicians to share their art and to make it part of their surrounding communities. “The Project 440 Institute was a huge success with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program (there are photos on the Project 440 Facebook page), and Project 440 is currently in the process of marketing the program to other youth orchestras and college programs.” Project 440’s next engagement will be for the semi-finalists of the Sphinx Competition in February. Everyone is welcome to contact Project 440 for additional information.

It was then time for some reflective questions - first, “What is the greatest joy of your career?” After a low “wow” and a pensive sigh, Joseph stated that his greatest joy is his enjoyment of “drawing people in and connecting to them without saying anything - conveying a message through music.” He reiterates that sharing his musical gift is not about him; he works to keep his humility and humor so that he can continue to inspire others who look to him.

The interview was closed with the following - “So much has been said about you. Describe who you are in your own words.” Joseph says that he has a hard time with that question. After some careful thought, he quietly replied, “I see myself as the ‘proof in the pudding.’” Well said.

Joseph Conyers is currently the
Assistant Principal Bass with
The Philadelphia Orchestra.

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