The High Note of His Career

05/23/2008
By From the Lowell Sun

By Michael Lafleur

LOWELL -- Daniel Lutz, director of bands for UMass Lowell, last month was inducted into the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association Hall of Fame in recognition of his 20-year career at the university.

A Dracut resident, the 52-year-old Lutz and his wife, Vicki, have four children: Katie, 19, Abbey, 13, Anastasia, 11, and Danny, 9. His job at UMass Lowell involves overseeing the 84-piece university concert band, the Jazz Rock Big Band and the school marching band.

Q: What is your reaction to being inducted into the MICCA Hall of fame?

A: Honored, astounded, humbled. It tweaked my Catholic guilt, in the feeling of not being worthy. The people who are in the Hall of Fame are some of the finest in the profession, people that I've always looked toward as role models. To be even considered in that group of people is just an extraordinary honor.

Q: What is your musical specialty?

A: I'm a composer. That was my road in. I started playing a brass instrument, the trumpet, when I was 6 years old. My father was a frustrated musician. He pursued music as his passion. He was a composer and taught brass ensembles. That's how we got involved with music, me, my brother and sisters. Because my father wrote (music), that's where I came to the writing piece. I started doing musical arrangements when I was 14 years old, writing for a variety of different groups. By my late teens, that's what I was doing for a living.

Q: Did you go to college for music?
 
A: Yes, to the Berklee School of Music (in Boston), Northeastern prior to that. A couple years at Northeastern (studying pre-law) and then to Berklee to study composition. One of the best things that happened was the co-op program at Northeastern. I discovered that, though I was capable, I didn't enjoy the work. I was paying for my education with the writing, and I loved that.

Q: I have to ask, what is the significance of the baton a conductor waves? Does how he or she waves it even matter?

A: Oh, yeah, in a huge way. A conductor's real role is to have predetermined in their head what the sound should be. So they're really the glue for the group of musicians to determine the sound, the mood, the tempo. It's the unifying point of all those musical minds.

Q: Are there baton signals that musicians are taught to understand?

A: Yes, there are pre-set patterns. In its most basic function, the right hand (which holds the wand) has its role: ... to show the beat and tempo, or speed of the music. The left hand is really for expression and cues and nuance.

Q: Musicians follow those cues in their performance?

A: Absolutely. There is a standardized language, but like everything, all rules are broken in every way, shape or form. But from a broad-based standpoint, that is absolutely true. ... A fine conductor will basically convince musicians, 'We have to all see this this way.' Otherwise, like the old expression, too many cooks spoil the stew.

Q: Could you elaborate?

A: With a young group, they're really trying to hold the glue together, but with say, the BSO (Boston Symphony Orchestra), you could easily give them a downbeat (the initial signal) and they'll go. However, a great conductor will unify all those other musicians to create something brand-new. Therein lies the difference. They don't have to worry about them playing together. They'll play together. Those people are phenomenal.

Q: Do you write your own music? What inspires you to write?

A: Yes, I do. Life (inspires me), I suppose. I'll hear seeds. I'll hear little melodies -- I don't think there's anything more important than a beautiful melody. Almost always, the music starts there. That's the seed. Now, the melody might be inspired by a mood or where I was at emotionally or physically. But the music comes out of the melody for me.

Q: Is there a type of music that you prefer?

A: It's really contemporary jazz, or more correctly, Third Stream, which is really an eclectic combination of jazz, classical and rock. I'd have to say it influences everything I write in some way, shape or form.

Q: What do you think of the state of music today, particularly the opportunities created by the Internet?

A: The possibilities are extraordinary. ... There's a ton of potential for young musicians. Now, via the 'net, the ability to self-produce is extraordinary. You can do on a dime now something that was unavailable in the past. It's not the traditional performance and writing venues that existed in the past. I don't think it's bad or good. It's bad to somebody who's not willing to change. I am extremely concerned with the lack of support for music in the schools. That's where it begins for so many students. It has been proven to affect the intellectual development, but the fact remains that the first programs to get cut are the music programs.