David Glosz is the resident conductor of St Andrew’s Secondary Military Band, St Patrick’s Secondary Military Band, Nan Chiau High School Wind Orchestra, Catholic High School Symphonic Band and SMU Symphonia.
(This interview was conducted in October 2010)
Tell us about yourself, how did you become a clarinetist and then a band director?
I became a clarinetist when I joined the St. Patrick’s School Band in Secondary 1 in 1973, where I became drum major in 1976. After I left school and entered National Service (NS), I was posted to the SAF Navy Band, now known as the SAF Central Band. I involved myself a great deal in band activities and really enjoyed my time there. I was given opportunities to improve myself under the guidance of Captain Peter Yan, a great influence to me. I rejected an offer to sign on and finished my NS in 1981.
After a brief stint at The Straits Times, I was asked to accompany St. Patrick’s Band on a tour to USA in 1982. The tour covered California, New York, Chicago, Washington D.C and I saw wonderful bands in the parades and fringe performances. It was an eye opener. Upon returning, I continued to assist St. Patrick’s Band until the end of 1982.
In 1983, I was asked to assist or even taken over the directorship of Beatty Secondary School, by Mr. Anthony Chew, who was the director at the time. Mr. Chew is also my senior from St. Patrick’s who taught me to play the clarinet. The offer led to my first official directorship; Beatty Secondary School, which I instructed and conducted until 1987.
Are there anyone in particular that constantly influence and aspire you?
I was greatly influenced by the early band scene in Singapore. Those were great times, especially the marching bands. There were outstanding bands like Raffles Institution, Raffles Girls, Crescent Girls, ACS, SJI, Buona Vista, Tanjong Katong Technical, Tanjong Katong Girls and Victoria. The stuff they displayed on the field was amazing for its time. The people who directed those bands influenced me, among them Harold Rozario, Chan Tong Ser, Lee Seck Chiang, Arthur Tan, Irene Joseph and Nasir Ibrahim. These people are the legends and the keepers of the band history in Singapore. If not for them, bands now would not have reached the current standards.
What is your teaching style like?
I have no particular teaching style. Each band is different and I adapt accordingly. The theory and practical elements are common to all. There really is no magic formula for the success of a band program, only common sense and practice, practice, practice. Learning to manipulate a machine (musical instrument) takes repetitive practice, just like driving a car or flying a plane. The more you do it the better you become.
I believe in personal responsibility of the student and the self-discipline that accompanies this responsibility. A band is only as good as its weakest player. Teach (inspire) the weakest and you will have a great band.
What kind of wind band literature do you always program for your bands?
I have always enjoyed music with wonderful melodic lines: music that inspires and says something, where the composer’s intentions sing through the melodic and harmonic lines. I tend to program performances that cater to the audiences’ experience and genre. After all, they buy the tickets. Usually, it is 50% educational literature for the band members’ experience and 50% for the audience. So it’s something for everyone, the young and the old.
How do you define a good sound in the wind band context?
All bands should work to achieve a generic band sound that complies with established practices. What evolves that sound is the composer. The more inspired the composer is when combining sounds, the more different the band sounds. Generally composers and arrangers know the generic tone that new sounds produces in different combinations. This balance and blend in harmonic tones makes the “WOW” in the band.
Having good instruments helps but even a band with intermediate instruments can make a good sound just as long as the students know what the instrument should sound like. Tonal memory allows students to know if the sound they make is correct. Students should listen more to classical or wind band tone to establish this tonal memory.
In your opinion, how much understanding does a musician needs to have of a piece to really play it well?
The musician should have as much knowledge as possible, starting with the history of the piece, the composer, his intentions and the composition tendencies. All these, alongside the technical and skill requirements will help the musician perform the piece in a concert. Every piece of information helps in getting a better understanding of the music.
By far, you have an impressive record of Gold awards across all your schools, what do you have to say about your achievements?
The achievements are not mine alone. Based on my principles of personal responsibility, everyone in the orchestra has a part to play in the success of the group. The students practice individually and put in the necessary time to achieve the skill levels in negotiating with the music. This eventually allows me to do my work of conducting and orchestrating the music into an aesthetic performance. Without the musicians, the conductor would be out of a job.
These “achievements” bring great satisfaction, knowing that we have presented a great performance. I always tell the orchestra that the SYF is a performance. Give it your greatest effort, give that “WOW” performance of your life, and always remember the audience’s reactions.
What was your most memorable SYF?
There have been so many performances but I will always remember the first Gold award achieved by Beatty secondary during the SYF Outdoor Finals in 1987. The judges remarked that the band sounded like a symphonic band on the field, and this was the start of my transition over to the concert band scene.
What advices do you have for anyone thinking of pursuing a career as a conductor?
A conductor must have all the necessary knowledge and skills to convince the musicians that he/she is the one leading and the person to follow. A conductor is a leader, an inspiration and a personality. For anyone pursuing this career, my advice is study your music and know your world. A great friend once told me that the pinnacle of the conducting experience is to know how to “feel”. Balance of character and knowledge is fundamental.
Apart from a busy schedule in teaching, what do you do in your free time?
I work out on a treadmill, climb mountains, canoe, and rollerblade. I like cooking, eating food, drinking wine and hanging out with friends.
Do you have any word of encouragements for all your students from the past and present?
For my current students, I say practice, practice, practice. Playing in a fantastic band is one of the greatest experience you can ever have and it will only happen while you are in school. This is your one opportunity to see the world through your involvement in band. For my past students, please come to your alumni concerts.
I have 35 years of experience in teaching school bands in Singapore and made many friends who are also my students. There were many weddings, births and unfortunately deaths as well. The brotherhood of the band is forever.
To conclude, what do you expect in the local band scene in 10 years time?
I think the band standard will remain the same. The higher the grade of music performed, the more exponential the amount of time and effort needed. Time is the thing to conquer. If we want to gain greater heights, greater efforts must be put in.
I foresee that we will face many new challenges ahead and we have to be prepared for this. With good leadership and character, the band movement will continue to expand and evolve. Remember, No pain, No gain. If you want it, fight for it.