Shira Samuels-Shragg (pictured above) attended Eastman Experience: Summer Classical Studies in 2015. After graduating with her masters from Juilliard last May, Shira assumed her post as Assistant Conductor of the Plano Symphony Orchestra and joins us again to share some of her thoughts on learning and growing as a musician.
Q: What do you remember most about your time at Eastman (Summer Classical Studies)?
Shira: I vividly remember walking up to the podium to greet the orchestra we’d assembled for a Beethoven reading, and how the wonderful Dr. Lauber made me leave, re-enter, and re-introduce myself several times in a row until I did it with enough confidence and poise. I also have fond memories of staying up late into the night with newfound friends in the dorm’s common room, talking about the Big Scary Future, laughing and sharing thoughts on music.
Q: Most Summer Classical students have a wide scope of interests and abilities. How did you manage to combine and nurture your different talents and skills after high school?
Shira: I loved musical theater, dancing, reading, cooking, and yoga. As a music major at a liberal arts college, I got to be the music director for a musical and a new opera, two projects I loved that combined so many of my favorite things. I also took dance classes in all sorts of styles and was co-president of our Jewish student group that cooked together every Friday.
Q: If you could use magic, what advice would you send to a Shira in 2015?
Shira: I would love to tell my seventeen year old self to take some deep breaths and stop panicking about getting into college. I’d also tell her to please work on sight singing the transposing instruments!
Q: If you could express your full workload in percentages (out of 100), how would you break down your current activities/duties?
Shira: I’d say about 50% of my workload is score study and the other 50% is short and long-term administrative tasks.
I typically spend around 4 hours a day studying scores for Plano Symphony Orchestra, including its education and joint project concerts as well as upcoming guest conducting jobs and professional development workshops. On the administrative end, I spend time on emails, staff meetings and small administrative tasks. Periodically I meet with symphony donors and volunteers or do public relations interviews. The administrative work is more intense when I’m involved in big initiatives, like launching PSO’s new youth orchestra festival. On days I have a rehearsal in the evening (whether conducting or cover conducting), that takes up about 20% of the work pie, and everything else gets recalibrated based on what’s most pressing.
Q: If you were starting a summer program for high school students interested in conducting, what skills/topics would you place at the top of importance for their future success?
Shira: Like Eastman Experience, I would definitely include music theory, ear training, sight reading and as much podium time as possible. Student conductors would be videoed and learn how to constructively analyze their work. They would share in responsibilities like orchestra set up and break down and hear from experts on the administrative side of conducting. Ideally, there would also be technology free time spent walking in nature or doing mindful exercise such as yoga as well as shared concert viewing experiences, live or on film, with a chance to debrief in a relaxed setting.
Q: The future of music is in the hands of young people. How do we keep music of the past relevant to a younger demographic?
Shira: I love this question, as well as its inverse: how do we make orchestral music of the present relevant to older people? Music is a powerful medium for storytelling and compassion building. Orchestral music in particular, by the very nature of its enormous toolbox of instruments and genres, allows us to access and process emotional experiences in a deep and unique way. I think the more we bring people, young or old, into the context of a piece, the more we can ensure that they are making connections with the art and stories we’re presenting as institutions, whether they’re from the past or present.
Eastman Experience: Summer Classical Studies runs July 8-29, 2023. Registrations must be received by April 30, 2023. Visit our website for more information.
About Eastman Experience: Summer Classical Studies:
This internationally acclaimed Classical Studies program is a three-week program for academically inquisitive performers, conductors and composers currently in grades 9–12 (ages 14-18 only–student must turn 14 and not be beyond 18 years of age before the first day of the program) who are seriously considering a career in music. Our highly individualized program emphasizes solo performance (strings, winds, brass, piano, voice, classical guitar, harp, conducting, and composition) and chamber music. This program is for mature students of advanced performance levels who can work well in a focused collegiate-type environment.