Evan Harger in his third year of his DMA in Orchestral Conducting at Michigan State University where he serves as Director of the MSU Concert Orchestra. Guest conducting engagements have included the Oregon Mozart Players, the St. Petersburg State Symphony, and the Riverside Chamber Orchestra. Evan has a deep passion for wind repertoire in addition to orchestral repertoire, and is extremely excited to be a part of this year’s Maryland Wind Festival. With a passion for representation in music, his dissertation focuses on developing undergraduate students’ awareness of music written by historically-marginalized composers.
Additionally, Evan has a well developed interest in philosophy and the philosophy of music. In the summer of 2018, he presented at the Oxford Conducting Studies Institute on John Dewey’s Metaphysics and how it can inform our rehearsal culture. In the fall of 2018 he presented at the Lansing Center on the reception of Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN among classical music aficionados. He has also given presentations in Georgia and Oregon on the pedagogy of contemporary music and early music respectively. In the summers, he works as a production assistant for the Oregon Bach Festival’s Berwick Academy – an orchestra committed to historically informed period instrument performance. Evan is extremely excited to be assisting this summer’s Maryland Wind Festival, and is looking forward to meeting the many wonderful audience members in this community.
When was your first encounter with music?
Wow, I love this question. Not sure anyone has ever asked me this. My earliest memory of music is probably my babysitter Cathy taking me to the Pittsburgh Symphony Children’s Concert Series. I don’t remember anything they played – but I remember they passed out chocolate milk, and for some reason I still have that memory of that chocolate milk! It must have been good!
The first memorable experience I had playing music would have been in one of the many District Bands I played in as a high school student. I remember playing a transcription of Danse Bacchanale by Saint-Saëns, and I just was so incredibly excited by that. To this day it remains one of my favorite pieces.
What instrument(s) did/do you play and when did you start?
I was largely taught piano by my father, although I didn’t learn to read music until I started on the trombone in fourth grade. Then I picked up the cello briefly in my senior year of high school – but I didn’t continue with it. I also played drums in a metal band and a more pop/rock band in high school. And for the past two or three years I’ve sung quite a bit, and have gotten a few gigs as a singer. Nothing fancy. But no really . . . trombone is the only thing I’d comfortably perform in public.
When did you decide you wanted to choose music as your career and why conducting?
I remember thinking I wanted to be a writer or an English teacher for quite some time – definitely up until my third year of high school. But at the end of the day, I just could not NOT do music. I would spend upwards of eight hours a day practicing at home as a high school student, and I used to listen to old vinyl recordings for hours on end as a high school student. It just felt so intimately part of my life, I never wanted to let it go. I’ve still retained my passion for writing, but music was what I knew I wanted to be doing for a living.
Why conducting? Well I suppose it’s because I was a dancer all throughout middle school and high school. I took tap and jazz dancing lessons, and I REALLY loved that. And I think I just made this natural association between movement and music that has never really left me. It just feels really good to move to sound. Obviously, conducting is much more than just moving to sound – it’s much different than dancing. But I remember in those early years of conducting, just really enjoying the feeling of it. I still do experience that joy on the podium, every-time I’m up there – and I credit my first dancing teacher Miss Barbara to helping me experience the joy of moving my body. She used to say, “Anything worth doing – is worth doing right.” And when I get frustrated, I still hear her saying those words.
What is your favorite memory of a performance?
Hmm . . . well one that I personally played in? That would be Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra. The final two or so minutes of that score are just incredible, and it was the first orchestral work I ever really played in my life. Life changing experience.
Favorite performance I have witnessed? Definitely Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. It’s not to everyone’s liking – but it absolutely transformed the way I see music and art. It’s a six hour opera without intermission, and it’s entirely plotless and largely minimalistic – but I just remember it so vividly. It was a very brave and courageous production, and I’ve never seen anything like it since.
What do you like to do outside of music?
I’m an avid collector of progressive rock albums. I have listened to almost everything Yes, Rush, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, and Genesis have released. I just love the complexity of it all.
I also am a HUGE reader. I usually get through 40 to 50 books a year, and I’ve even started keeping tabs in a phone app to make sure I read more. It’s one of my big existential fears to not read enough books in my life – so I really try and fly through them as quickly as possible. I love this quote by George R.R. Martin, “Reading is vicarious experience.” I feel like reading gives me the possibility to live not just one life – but like 50 lives. I love it. I read mostly fantasy and sci-fi as a guilty pleasure (I’m a HUGE Tolkien and C.S. Lewis fan), but I also read a lot of philosophy and religious-studies/theology. I’m particularly fond of Descartes, Dewey, James, and Kierkegaard for all you philosophy nerds out there.
Lately I’ve been getting into Yoga, and when I have time I really like boating. Apart from that, I adore traveling. I just got back from this incredible cross country road trip. I really believe that driving across the country is one of the most spiritual and life-changing things an American can do, and everyone owes it to themselves to do it at least once in there life.