Why Conducting
October 19, 2017 Pierce O'Brien
In Conducting
Pierce Griffith O'Brien

In May, I was diagnosed with ADHD. It is unusual for ADHD to go unrecognized through childhood. However, I wasn’t the kid who had trouble in school, acted out, or couldn’t sit still. I breezed through school. Maybe no one noticed my inattention because I didn’t have to pay attention. Most everything I learned came to me intuitively. It wasn’t until music school that my inability to give attention to or focus on anything became detrimental to my progress and growth. For a while I was really hard on myself. I went through a period of depression. Why can’t I just stay organized? Why do I keep forgetting things? Why didn’t I study for longer before that test? When my counselor recommended I be screened for ADHD, I suddenly became acutely aware of all the symptoms I was experiencing constantly. Many of my personality traits suddenly explained themselves. It was difficult for me to make important decisions. I was impulsive. I finally discovered the reason for my wide range of interests. Everything was interesting, but nothing was more so to the point that it was worth fully committing to…

As a kid I had explored just about everything. I was a boy scout who loved everything the outdoors had to offer – backpacking, canoeing, kayaking, archery, wilderness survival, among others. I tried so many sports – soccer, basketball, football, but most of all I loved skiing and martial arts. I also studied music, of course.  I studied piano from the age of seven before I learned trombone, euphonium, and tuba. When high school band stopped challenging me, I learned the clarinet and bassoon. Currently I’m learning cello. I was our scout troop’s bugler. One of my favorite things to do at home was listen to orchestral music and follow along with the score. I enjoyed most every subject in school. Are you getting the picture? I couldn’t decide what to do with my life.

Finding out you have ADHD at the age of 21 is kind of a curve-ball. I came up with strategies to combat my symptoms and also started taking stimulant medication. This has made a significant difference. There is no “cure” for ADHD but I wouldn’t want to be different than I am. After a long summer of self-reflection and personal growth, I was met with revelation. ADHD has advantages too.

Conducting is seemingly such a specialized field yet it combines so many different disciplines. One must have a deep understanding of gesture, score study, the repertoire, musicianship, piano, musicology, and more. One must have leadership skills, know efficient rehearsal technique, have charisma, be an arts advocate, and be the public face of a musical ensemble. When I think about sitting in the back of an orchestra playing tuba for a career, I know that I would enjoy it, but I don’t believe it to be my true singular passion. I have an ADHD mind – I can’t decide with certainty one specialty in music that would make me happy all my life. I love all music. I want to perform Beethoven and Mozart – things you don’t get to do as a tubist. I have such a wide range of interests in music that dedicating myself to a 30-foot-long metal tube seems unfitting.

There is an old saying that I’ve always felt described me: “Jack of All Trades.” A lot of people don’t know that there is a longer version: “Jack of all trades, master of none; better than being a master of one.” I believe that conducting is definitely a position that requires a jack of all trades personality, but I reject the notion that because one does not focus on a single discipline they cannot become a master. Conducting is objectively a singular discipline but to me it doesn’t feel like one. I want to be the master of being a master of none. I aim to channel my love of every aspect of music into being a conductor. I want to enter that ethereal realm where music is elevated to the highest quality. I will pursue a career where I can show the music world what I have to offer. I will not let the word “disorder” carry any sort of connotative meaning. I will bring my individual talents – my impulsivity, creativity, energy, and hyperactivity – to the table and become one who stands out among peers as unique. I will be a conductor.