Almost anyone can name a famous female athlete or a famous female pop singer, but how many Americans can name a famous female orchestra conductor?
Only four readily come to my mind: Sarah Caldwell, Marin Alsop, Eve Queler and JoAnn Falletta.
I first met JoAnn Falletta when we were both students at Mannes College. I was a clarinet major and JoAnn wanted to be a conducting major. The Conducting Department discouraged her from being a conducting major since there were “no known female conductors” at the time. JoAnn was also a brilliant classical guitarist, so they encouraged her to be a guitar major.
She went on to study conducting at Queens College. Again, we were classmates as I was taking graduate music courses. We actually collaborated on a project together where she conducted a chamber group that I organized. There was an important musician in the audience at this concert who later hired JoAnn to be a guest conductor of the Westchester Philharmonic.
When JoAnn called me to thank me for the results, she also encouraged me to teach an intro to music course at Queens College. After teaching my first class, I was so energized by the process of teaching that I decided I wanted to teach full time. Within two years, I was teaching band and orchestra at a New York City high school.
JoAnn went on to get her doctorate in conducting from Juilliard, won the Leopold Stokowski Conducting Award and began to guest-conduct major orchestras, including the ASO, Long Beach (Calif.) Symphony Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony. Today she is the music director and conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic. She maintains her AFM membership in Local 125 (Norfolk, Virgina).
While JoAnn was making a name for herself, our paths crossed again and I asked her if she would like to spend a day conducting our orchestra and band classes at my high school. She agreed and it was an event that the students of 1997 will remember forever. Having a world-class conductor work with our students gives them an experience that extends outside the walls of our classroom in room 218.
JoAnn’s birthday was Feb. 27, right on the eve of Women’s History Month.
Happy Birthday, Maestra Falletta.
Local 802 member Joseph Rutkowski is a clarinetist and a music teacher at John L. Miller-Great Neck North High School on Long Island.