Clarinetist measures future

By Bill Schwingel

There are only one or two black conductors of major symphonic orchestras in the United States and Chelsea Tipton II would like to become another one.

Tipton, who was born in North Carolina, has a bachelor’s degree in music from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. He is a graduate student at NIU, currently studying for his Masters of Music in conducting, and is a graduate conducting assistant for Carl Roskott and Stephen Squires at NIU. He also conducts the Rockford Area Youth Symphony Orchestra

Tipton likes DeKalb because there is “nothing else to do but what you are here to do,” he said.

Tipton began his music career in fifth grade as a clarinetist. His father played the clarinet and his mother and brother played the trumpet.

As a clarinetist, he discovered a few instances when his race was an obstacle to his goals. “I tried not to think black and white,” he said. “I tried to do the best that I could.”

Tipton learned that, as a clarinet and bass clarinet substitute for the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, “the greatest teacher is to listen and to listen to other people play,” he said.

Tipton first became interested in conducting during his senior year at the Eastman School of Music.

“I was tired of being told how to play,” he said.

He has found as a conductor that “if you respect the musicians and love the music, everything tends to work out.”

In the summer of 1988, he went to Sand Point, Idaho, to study under Gunther Schuller, a prominent conductor. He was one of 17 conductors chosen to study under Schuller.

In the two weeks of “intense” study, Tipton said he learned that the musical score and the composer’s intent comes before the conductor’s interpretation.

His other conducting teachers include Roskott, who conducts the NIU Philharmonic; Squires, who conducts the Illinois Chamber Symphony; and David Effron.

As a long-term goal, he hopes to conduct a major symphonic orchestra, but he said he needs more conducting experience. He also hopes to include at least a year of study in Europe within the next three years.

“You have to experience life, love and pain and transform it into music,” he said.

Tipton said he will try to make a living at a university. An occupation as a conductor will take “a lot of talent and a little bit of luck.”