SRU music majors score Mu Phi Epsilon conducting scholarships



Wes Woodward is one of two Slippery Rock University students to have earned a $7,000 Mu Phi Epsilon scholarship to pursue conducting opportunities. Photo by Benton Palermo, a senior communication: digital media major from Beaver.

Sept. 21, 2017

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Many students at Slippery Rock University earn scholarships because of the exceptional way they conduct themselves, but two SRU students earned a combined $14,000 for conducting in a more vocational sense, as music conductors.

Josh Bonnici, a senior music major from Grove City, and Wes Woodward, a senior music major from Erie, each earned $7,000 scholarships from Mu Phi Epsilon, an international professional music fraternity with more than 75,000 members.



Mu Phi Epsilon awards 42 scholarships and grants each year for a variety of music disciplines and studies, but only two, the John and Mary Virginia Foncannon scholarships, for conducting or coaching. SRU swept the conducting/coaching scholarship category this year with Bonnici earning the Foncannon Choral Conducting or Sacred Music Scholarship and Woodward winning the Foncannon Conducting/Coaching Scholarship.

"They've achieved something that people who are tenured professors don't necessarily get to do until mid-career," said Jonathan Helmick, assistant professor of music and director of bands. "This says a lot about their work ethic and it says a lot about this music program that our undergraduate students are here winning significant amounts of money."

Earning the scholarships completed nearly a yearlong process for Woodward and Bonnici, who, in addition to meeting the academic criteria, had to submit a project budget and recordings of contrasting works that demonstrated their conducting skills.

"Conducting is a very specific art in music," Woodward said. "It's something that people at some institutions study very rigorously. For two people to sweep the category from one institution is rare. It shows that SRU students have the chops to conduct both instrumentalists and vocalists at a high level."

Woodward used most of his money to commission an original score for wind ensemble composed by Luigi Zaninelli, a renowned Italian-American composer and former faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi who has published more than 300 works. Coming soon will be his score for Woodward called "3 Divertimenti."



As commissioning agent, Woodward has artistic input on "3 Divertimenti," which he will premiere as conductor at SRU's Symphonic Wind Ensemble at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 5 at Swope Music Hall. An opportunity that is rare for an undergraduate student, Woodward will have the rights to "3 Divertimenti" for a year before it is published and others can purchase it to perform with wind ensembles.

"I'm bringing this work into the world; that's not something I would've been able to do without the scholarship," said Woodward, noting that composers often ask for thousands of dollars and are booked years in advance. "It's an honor working with composers and creating new music because a lot of it, especially in the orchestral world, is very antiquated."

Woodward describes Zaninelli's work as a melding of American aesthetic with an Italian influence, and it will be Woodward's job to learn the nuances and conduct the SRU wind ensemble to perform the score as Zaninelli intended.

"Conducting is all about telling the story with your conducting patterns and gestures to show what the music is supposed to envision," Woodward added.

Bonnici draws a similar comparison as a conductor for choral performances.

"Conducting is a form of communication, especially for me as a teacher," said Bonnici, who directs the SRU men's ensemble. "It's really an art to communicate and show what the music means and tell a story while music is being played, like a dancer."

An aspiring music teacher, Bonnici will use his scholarship money to pursue professional opportunities at conducting workshops and music festivals, both nationally and internationally, where he will learn from other conducting instructors.

"(The scholarship) means a lot," Bonnici said. "I'm going to further my conducting skills which I will use to be a better teacher."

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