Keith Lockhart : Surviving in the Music Industry

Adam Olenn
December 4, 2009
Keith Lockhart has been conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra since 1985.
Keith Lockhart
The clinic was Lockhart's first at Berklee.
Alumnus Rob Wheeler '99 (left), a public school teacher, and Lockhart chat after the session.
Photo by Adam Olenn
Photo by Adam Olenn
Photo by Adam Olenn
Photo by Adam Olenn

Considering the laid-back demeanor and candor Keith Lockhart exhibited during his November visit to Berklee, you might not guess that he's conductor of one of the country's most well-known orchestras. For more than an hour, he held court in the David Friend Recital Hall and gave students valuable advice about forging a successful career in today's music industry. Afterwards, he lingered for a while, talking to students, alumni, and faculty. Here's a sample of what he had to say:

On versatility

I conducted Carmen last night, I fielded a call from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir this morning about a Mahler piece, I evaluated three Amanda Palmer videos and one by Lady Gaga for possible orchestral adaptation. I never imagined that in back-to-back moments, I would be answering questions about Mahler's Resurrection symphony and considering a Lady Gaga video. If I were to come up with a mantra for your professional career, it would be, "Specialize and die." You need to be able to do a lot of different things with virtuosity.

On fear

The worst thing classical training teaches us is to be afraid of making a mistake. Great music is not made by people who are afraid to screw up.

About breaking in

You will all be given an opportunity at some point, but this profession is so unforgiving that you may not be given a second one. So be ready when it happens.

How to be a good conductor

You need to have something to say, and you need to have the a skillset, a craft, some tools to communicate that message.

On the Boston Pops repertoire

As my predecessor—the man whose name is synonymous with the Pops—Arthur Fiedler used to say, "We only play one kind of music at the Pops: the interesting kind."