This has been quite the year for BGSU’s doctoral program in music, and for one of its students in particular. Katherine (Kiki) Kilburn of San Jose, Calif., a first-year student in the DMA program, has won the prestigious Thelma A. Robinson Scholarship Award from the Conductors Guild.
It is the second time in a row that a BGSU student has taken home the biennial award. Kilburn will receive a $1,000 prize, which will be presented Jan. 11 at the Annual Conference for Conductors in New York City.
In 2006 her fiancé, Octavio Más-Arocas, also a student in the University’s DMA program, won the Robinson award. Both he and Kilburn study with Dr. Emily Freeman Brown, director of orchestral activities.
The two will be married Dec. 27 near San Jose, where the globetrotting Kilburn’s family lives. “It’s where I think of when I think of home,” she said. The couple will be joined by members of Más-Arocas’s family from Spain.
The Robinson award is given to someone who has participated in at least one Conductors Guild Conductor Training Workshop. It is sponsored by the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) and endowed by the Ohio Federation of Music Clubs. Thelma A. Robinson was a past president of NFMC.
The Conductors Guild, with a membership of over 1,850 representing all 50 states and more than 30 countries, is the only music service organization devoted exclusively to the advancement of the art of conducting and to serving the artistic and
professional needs of conductors.
“Following each Conductor Training Workshop, faculty members submit one nomination for the scholarship, making it an incredible accomplishment to be nominated out of the pool of over 100 participants in the 2007-08 season,” according to the guild.
Kilburn was nominated for her achievements in a workshop that was held at BGSU last year with Detroit Symphony conductor Leonard Slatkin. “The orchestral conducting program at BGSU is extremely strong because of the talents and teaching of Dr. Emily Freeman Brown,” said Richard Kennell, dean of the College of Musical Arts. “Emily has a gift for training young conductors. I am proud of our student orchestra conductors and their teacher.”
Conducting workshops have been lucky for the couple both personally and professionally. It was at a 2005 workshop in Denver that they first met, then met again at another seven months later and “the rest is history,” Kilburn said.
But the peripatetic life of a conductor makes it difficult to maintain a relationship. Since graduating from college, Kilburn has been in St. Louis, where she was assistant director of the St. Louis Symphony Chorus for three years; London, where she studied at the Royal Academy of Music; Boston, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island and elsewhere. Meanwhile, Más-Arocas was working in Europe and North and South America as well as pursuing a master’s degree at Bard College.
After two years of living apart, Kilburn finally decided to follow him to BGSU. “I was very fortunate to be accepted into the program. There was a lot of competition, and it was tough to get in,” she said. “I’m thrilled at the amount of conducting I’m getting to do here.”
Having a doctorate in music increases job opportunities, she said. “To teach in a university, it’s pretty much required now,” Kilburn said.
Both she and Más-Arocas are interested in contemporary music, which is one of Bowling Green’s strengths. She has guest conducted the college’s New Music Ensemble and conducted Composers’ Forum concerts and for Praecepta, the student chapter of the Society of Composers Inc.
Kilburn has two master’s degrees: in choral conducting, from Indiana University, and in orchestral conducting, from the University of Michigan. She received a bachelor’s degree in music and French from Wellesley College.
It was during her years in St. Louis, where she was able to attend all the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s performances, that she decided to pursue orchestral conducting as well as choral. “I realized that if I wanted to be able to conduct that great repertoire, I’d have to study orchestral conducting,” Kilburn said.
Más-Arocas has recently been appointed conductor of the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra, in Michigan, but still plans to complete his doctorate here. Last summer he also received the Robert J. Harth Conducting Prize from the Aspen Music Festival, which allows him to return next summer.
Kilburn and Más-Arocas take turns commuting the five hours between Interlochen and Bowling Green on weekends, “which is a huge improvement over our ten and a half hour commute between New Haven and Bowling Green last year,” Kilburn said.
While the schedule might make the average person dizzy, she says, “I feel really blessed. I have a great family, really great friends, and I’ve been in some places to have really great experiences.”