At a moment's notice: A conductor at the ready
Meet Jacob Joyce, Associate Conductor of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, who has to be prepared for anything and everything
“Being an associate conductor is like being a perpetual understudy.” That’s how Jacob Joyce describes his role as associate conductor with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. Not only does Jacob study the music being performed at each concert, but he also is there for every rehearsal, ready to help if asked.
His background has prepared him well for this career. At the age of three, Jacob began violin lessons and continued playing until his early 20s. He knew in high school and during his early college years at Yale that he was interested in conducting more than being a professional violinist.
“I was really drawn to the bookish style of analyzing and studying a score,” he explains. “But I came to realize that conducting is more about your social skills and leadership skills, which I also love.”
As an associate conductor, Jacob has to be ready to fill in for the conductor on a concert, with little or no time to prepare. In February 2019 during his first season at the ISO, he received about 36-hours-notice that he needed to be the conductor for a subscription concert in place of conductor Bramwell Tovey. Though Jacob had only studied one of the pieces thoroughly, he got to work, “pulled an all-nighter” as he put it, and stepped up to the challenge. “That was one of the most whirlwind weeks of my career,” he says. “It was a great experience, though. I learned more in that week than in many other weeks combined.”
Working with all ages
In addition to preparing all the music for the DeHaan Classical Series, Jacob has another very important role: conducting the Community Health Network Discovery Concerts that are performed for thousands of students in grades 3–6 every spring. Unlike the concerts aimed at an adult audience, Jacob has to play the role of emcee and conductor, speaking to the kids about the music and keeping them engaged, and then taking the ISO through a piece. He even took an improv class at a local comedy bar to help with his on-stage bantering skills.
“I feel exhausted after these shows!” says Jacob with a laugh. “It’s like an hour of sprinting because there are so many demands on my attention. There’s lots of energy involved and I rotate between speaking to them, then showing a video, then conducting, then more speaking. A Discovery Concert demands full concentration and attention. But I love conducting these concerts for the kids.”
Outside the concert hall, Jacob is the creator of the podcast Attention to Detail: The Classical Music Listening Guide, which provides people basic techniques and strategies for listening to classical music. “I saw this podcast as a way of reaching more people who might be interested in learning a little more about listening to classical music, and my goal from the beginning was to target it toward relative newcomers. It is one of the things I most enjoy doing and working on, because I feel that it might make a difference.”
He also works with educators, music teachers, and orchestra directors to provide career advice and instruction to students across the country. For all that he does and strives to do, Jacob recently received a Solti Career Assistance Award.
“I was very excited to receive the Solti Award,” says Jacob. “One of my greatest passions in life is working to expand the reach and accessibility of classical music, and the funds that I receive from the Solti Foundation will be instrumental in helping me to continue on that path.”