Making Music in Strasbourg

Conservatoire de Strasbourg’s wind ensemble in concert
Professor Bradley Ethington applauds the Conservatoire de Strasbourg’s wind ensemble.

Professor of Music Bradley Ethington’s first visit to Strasbourg, France, to conduct the Conservatoire de Strasbourg’s wind ensemble, was a five-day whirlwind trip. Ethington conducted two evening rehearsals with the Orchestre d’Harmonie, made up of the Conservatoire’s graduate and undergraduate students, who had been practicing the music for a month. The rehearsals were followed the next day by a concert performed before a full house, with Ethington conducting. “The students were fantastic to work with and played extremely well,” says Ethington, director of bands and co-conductor of the Setnor School of Music’s Wind Ensemble. “The day after the concert, I served on a jury panel for the final conducting examinations at the Conservatoire.” He is the latest Setnor professor to teach in Strasbourg and participate in a faculty exchange with a Conservatoire counterpart.

While Ethington, a professor at the College of Visual and Performing Arts for 25 years, speaks a little French and only some of the Conservatoire students spoke English, they managed to overcome the challenges presented by the language barrier. “Many musical terms are in Italian, German and French, and familiar to all musicians,” he says. “We were able to communicate very well through the music.”

The pieces chosen for the program, including wind ensemble music by American composers and a clarinet concerto by the Spanish composer, Oscar Navarro, were difficult, but Ethington was pleased with the performance. “The students were very fine players and eager to become even more advanced musicians,” he says. “They handled it beautifully.”

Ethington and his wife, Pam, were guests of his friend and colleague, the Orchestre d’Harmonie’s conductor Miguel Etchegoncelay, who came to Syracuse University in 2017 to lecture on conducting and to work with the wind ensemble on European and South American literature for winds. According to Etchegoncelay, the exchange of conductors is a plus for the professors as well as the students. “My students benefitted directly by getting to work with someone coming from a different culture,” he says. “Brad taught in English the whole time and it was challenging for my students, but I think they got the most out of the experience. Teachers benefit, too, by challenging themselves to approach a class with completely different mindsets, experiences, and expectations. The language barrier can be tricky, but makes us communicate efficiently and in a comprehensive way.”

A beautiful city renowned for its architecture and culture, Strasbourg is a popular destination for students through SU Abroad. Each year, as many as 10 sophomore music students from the Setnor School study at the Conservatoire in the spring semester. In exchange, the Conservatoire sends one student full-time to Setnor for the entire semester. “Our study abroad program is one of the few available to American music students,” says Raymond Bach, director of the Syracuse University Strasbourg Center. “It encourages them to broaden their horizons and envision future careers differently. Music education students can observe how music is taught to children in the Conservatoire.” He adds that the exchange students who come to Setnor from the Conservatoire make a real contribution to the musical life of the college, with some of them staying on to earn a master’s degree.

Elaina Palada ’20, a senior music education major with flute performance honors, studied at the Conservatoire in Strasbourg during her sophomore year. For her, the opportunity to study abroad was one of the most appealing factors of the Setnor School of Music. “I knew that I wanted to study abroad and sometimes that’s difficult to work into music education schedules,” she says. “I was excited to be accepted into the program because I wanted to learn about music in Europe—it’s the foundation of classical music.” Upon arriving in Strasbourg, she found she already had a connection to the Conservatoire. As a first-year student, she played flute in the wind ensemble conducted by Etchegoncelay on his visit to the Setnor School. “It was such a great experience to play for him,” she says. “Really so cool.”

–Paula Meseroll