​Leal Leaving Home

by Bailey Basham, Messenger Staff Writer
César Leal was recently named director of orchestra activities at the Gettysburg College Symphony Orchestra in Gettysburg, Pa.
Leal has served as assistant professor of music at the University of the South and as artistic director of the Sewanee Symphony Orchestra (SSO) for the past six years.
“After I finished my doctorate in musicology, I was looking for a places where, as a historian and conductor, I could combine my fields. Most universities require you to be in one track. I was never aligned with that particular way of being a musician. Sewanee was somewhere that resonated with that,” Leal said.
Before he came to Sewanee, Leal said his experience with student musicians was limited—he was used to working with professional musicians. Being among the students who showed so much passion and drive for their work inspired him to create something new.
Over the last six years, Leal has developed a complete program around the SSO, allowing the students to gain experience in all aspects of orchestra.
Through the Artistic Leadership Program, Leal has created a space for the students to learn what it takes to work with an orchestra and put on a concert. He has also worked with students in sororities and fraternities who do not play in the orchestra to extend the involvement beyond the orchestra members.
“I invited professionals from different universities and orchestras to teach the students how to run an orchestra, about management and leadership, how to plan a program. The students do everything at this point. They are in charge of the social media presence, of creating contracts. They do announcements, they are managers and librarians,” he said.
Barbara Carden, a cellist in the SSO and one of the orchestra’s founding members, said it’s that student-centered approach Leal employed that she thinks served Sewanee so well.
“At the very beginning the orchestra was very adult-heavy, and professional musicians were essential to making the orchestra work, but the whole focus has changed,” said Carden.
“Over the years the dependence on the professionals to make a concert possible has changed. The adult professionals teach and work with their instrumental section rather than simply showing up to save the concert. César has taken that point of view very seriously by empowering the students to take charge of the orchestra,” Carden said.
Leal said through his work with the SSO, he wanted to provide the student musicians with in-depth looks at the professional experience, about what it’s like to be an artist in the world and about the importance of a diverse ensemble.
“On average, every student that stays with us, they play around 20 concerts, and that’s a lot. These are concerts in which they interact with their peers, collaborate, play different styles, embed themselves into musical life. The Halloween concert is something I’ve been very proud of. It shows the students that what they do has an impact and that they can create something that makes a difference in the community,” he said.
At Gettysburg College, Leal will have the opportunity to direct a program of roughly 400 music majors and continue to combine music history with music performance.
“After the last concert of this season, the students gave me a beautiful speech. I was telling them that I’m going to keep an eye on Sewanee. Sewanee is a place that has many second parts. It’s a place where people return,” he said.
“This is a place I love, and it will always be home.”