Matt Conaway
Matt Conaway

Year of Graduation – 2010

Current Position – Assistant Professor of Bands at Purdue University

Time in current position – Four years in August.

What was your background before ABC?

I grew up in Woodhaven, Michigan, and earned my Bachelor of Music Education degree from Indiana University (Bloomington) in 2001.  After one year as a graduate assistant for the Purdue University Bands, I took the position as Director of Bands for the West Lafayette Community School Corporation (West Lafayette, IN), where I taught for ten years in grades 5-12.

Name some other accomplishments or awards since graduation.

While still a high school director, the NAMM Foundation named the West Lafayette schools as one of the “Best Communities for Music Education in America” in 2011 and 2012 (we were also recognized in 2006).  I have enjoyed some success in the music publishing field, as I have had over 75 original compositions and arrangements published by the C.L. Barnhouse Company and the Hal Leonard Corporation.  My music has been well-represented on the J.W. Pepper “Editor’s Choice” lists, the BandWorld “Top 100” Compositions, and many other similar publications.

How did ABC help prepare you for these?

ABC provided a stunningly strong foundation in teaching fundamentals. The methodology behind beginning instrument instruction greatly impacted the way I taught my students. Even things like time management became much more focused after seeing the ABC approach. Of course, everything I learned about teaching the instruments greatly impacted my writing; I became much more developmentally aware of each instrument, which made writing educational literature MUCH more effective.

What was your most memorable ABC experience?

I have two.  Sorry. 🙂   The first was on my first concert, on a piece that I didn’t play.  Bruce Dinkins was conducting “Ave Maria” by Biebl, and the band was playing (and singing magnificently).  I was seated in the percussion section just watching the sheer joy on his face as the band was perfectly in sync with him.  When the band arrived at the final chord (a glorious, pipe-organ-esque C Major chord), he just mouthed the words “don’t stop” to the ensemble, as they found every last bit of air in their tanks to keep that beautiful moment alive.

The second was in my final year as my great friend (and now marching band co-writer) Jack Holt and I were practicing frantically for the upcoming premiere of Johan de Meij’s “At Kitty O’Shea’s” suite.  We were practicing outside of the band room while not needed for the main rehearsal inside.  We launched into a final runthrough of the fastest mallet section with my metronome going.  At the end, Jack is looking my way with a really funny look on his face.  I turn, and Johan is standing right behind me (having watched our last runthrough).  He said “sounding good!  Was that the right tempo?”  I showed him my metronome, and it was accurate.  He just smiled and went into rehearsal.  Jack and I looked at each other and started laughing… we knew we’d be just fine for this performance.

Who are your biggest influences/mentors?

As a conductor and educator, I greatly admire many of the great leaders I’ve played for and worked with… Ray Cramer, Stephen Pratt, Dave Woodley, Bill Kisinger, Jay Gephart, to name a few of the most prominent.  As a publishing composer and arranger, I was (and am) fortunate enough to work with many amazing people who helped make sure my music was as good as it could be: Robert W. Smith, Andrew Glover, Andy Clark, Michael Sweeney, and Paul Lavender have had tremendous influence on my work, and I am so grateful to all of them for their help.

What advice do you have for young directors?

Devote yourself to your craft at the highest possible degree without sacrificing your family life.  This is not anywhere near a 9 to 5 job.  If you get home from work and you’re not exhausted, you’re doing it wrong.  Your students deserve the very best you have to offer, and your best is NEVER good enough… you need to spend a lot of time and resources to continue your education however you can.   Is this intimidating?  You bet it is!  Over your career, thousands of lives will be made better (or not) because of the experience and education you provide in your rehearsal room.  If you’re not willing to devote yourself totally to this effort, why are you doing it??  It will never be easy, but you will never be involved in anything as rewarding except your time with family and faith.

Where do you see yourself in 10-20 years?

I’ve learned never to answer this question!  Five years ago, I don’t think my answer would have included working with a Big Ten band department or releasing 15-18 publications a year.  I certainly couldn’t have expected traveling to Colombia, Spain, or Ireland with large performing groups, or conducting honor bands all over the country.  The only answer I can really give is that I see myself still heavily involved in teaching and writing, but beyond that, I’ve learned to take things as they come and to embrace the opportunities that present themselves.  I’ve had a very successful career on many levels, and for the next 10-20 years, I want to prove that I’ve been worthy of the success that has come my way.