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Music professor awarded prestigious American Prize in Conducting

Portrait of Jamal Duncan, associate director of bands and assistant professor of instrumental conducting at ASU.

Jamal Duncan

August 23, 2022

Jamal Duncan, associate director of bands and assistant professor of instrumental conducting at ASU, has been awarded first place in conducting (band/wind ensembles), 2022 by The American Prize, the nation's most comprehensive series of nonprofit competitions in the performing arts.

“This award would not be possible without the talents of the students and colleagues that I have been fortunate enough to work with at Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas,” Duncan said. “I’m blessed to be surrounded by incredible humans.”

The American Prize is awarded annually to recognize and reward the best performing artists, ensembles, conductors, composers and directors in the United States.

Duncan, who teaches conducting classes and conducts the Wind Symphony, said he applied to the competition in summer 2021 after teaching online all year due to COVID-19 and with few opportunities for live performances.

“The emailed notices about the upcoming competitions came at the right time when there just wasn't a lot going on,” Duncan said. “I decided to throw my hat in the ring and hope for the best.”

The application process included a resume, a personal statement and video recordings that demonstrated skill and artistry as a conductor. A panel of judges reviewed all the submissions for the different categories of awards. Prizes include first, second and third place, as well as honorable mention.

Duncan submitted materials from his time as assistant director of bands at University of Arkansas, he said, because it was the most pre-COVID time where there was no real effect on the performance standards. He said much of his work during his first year at ASU was restricted due to COVID.

“This award is important to me because it is nice to be recognized professionally by a jury,” Duncan said. “The recognition is also a way for me to pay credit to the people who have taught me along the way, especially to one pretty significant conducting mentor and friend, Kevin Sedatole, and to ASU as well.”

He said that as a performer, he feels it is important to check in with the broader profession.

“I think it's important to be humble and to not feel that you have to place yourself above others,” Duncan said. “It is also important to look at the currently defined ways we can stand out in the profession.”

The winners receive comments from the jury, which Duncan said is beneficial because you hear from people who are not so closely attached to you giving you honest observation and feedback.

He said that many times performers talk themselves out of competing because of fear of not winning or fear of how they might be portrayed if they do not win the top prize.

“For me, the competition was an opportunity to showcase some performances that I was very proud of,” Duncan said.

Duncan has conducted and adjudicated middle school, high school and collegiate ensembles throughout the United States and internationally in Canada, England and France.

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