“I quite literally never listen to music, in the car or at home,” Jeffrey Dokken said. This might come as a surprise to people who know of Dokken’s career as an accomplished orchestra and choir conductor. However, the newly appointed music director and conductor of the Rome Symphony Orchestra (RSO) views music as a collaborative, communal experience and therefore doesn’t get much out of listening to music alone.
“There needs to be other people around for me to get the experience out of music that I need to get, which is why I am so exuberant and passionate in my conducting,” Dokken said. “I want everybody to get to experience what I’m experiencing.”
Dokken comes from a musical family: his mother is an accomplished amateur flautist and he and his sister are both professional musicians. Dokken began playing the euphonium in fourth grade and music has shaped his life ever since. He has known since high school that he wanted to be a musician of some kind, but it was his high school graduation that cemented his love for conducting. His senior year of high school, the band director left before graduation, so the administration decided to use recorded versions of the traditional marches at the ceremony. Instead, Dokken asked if he could conduct the bands.
“I was always a perfectly mediocre performer but realized that what my passion was was creating music with other people,” Dokken said. “Fortunately, that job exists in the form of being a conductor.”
Since graduating from the University of Redlands with a Bachelor of Music in vocal performance, Dokken has earned graduate degrees in conducting and music education at Shenandoah Conservatory and California Lutheran University, respectively. He believes that his training in euphonium and voice allows him to approach things differently as a conductor.
“Being a vocalist is enormously helpful,” Dokken said. “Being an instrumentalist and a vocalist allows me to know how to work with both sections individually and then collectively to bring the piece of music together.”
One of his most pivotal performance experiences was his first time conducting abroad. At 26, he guest conducted a concert of American music with an orchestra in Ecuador. He has since found a love for conducting abroad.
“I’ve developed a deep love of sharing the classical music of my country with a lot of other countries,” Dokken said. “I think that American orchestral music does not get anywhere near the credit that it should on the world stage, because our history is so young.”
While Dokken currently serves as the music director and conductor of the Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia and the artistic director of CoroAllegro in Wilmington, Del., the past decade has also included a variety of guest conductorships for him. It is one of these guest-conducting opportunities that led to his appointment as the interim and now full-time director of the RSO.
During the 2017-18 season, Dokken and a friend conducted a concert called Symphonic Magic for RSO. He then spent the first half of the 2018-19 season as the interim director and was hired as the full-time director in January of this year. He has loved his experience so far and looks forward to the future of RSO.
“We’re so close to the 100th anniversary that I feel a responsibility to continue to grow the organization and help us thrive into our next century,” Dokken said. “I want to build on the history that we have and then keep taking us forward. Not only are we an old symphony, we’re a really great symphony.”
For Dokken, building on that history includes recording projects and travel, both national and international.
“I have a vision for where I want us to go,” he said. “I feel like more people outside of Georgia need to know about the Rome Symphony.”
Dokken resides in Washington, D.C., but enjoys his opportunities to get out of the city and spend time in Rome. Outside of his work with RSO, he kayaks and golfs in town.
“Rome is such a lovely place,” he said.
Favorite piece to conduct? Candide overture
Piece conducted most often? Hoedown from Rodeo by Aaron Copeland
Favorite well-known composer? Beethoven
Favorite musical genre/time period? Early Romantic
Like to listen to but NOT conduct? Baroque music
Conducting bucket list: Berlioz Requiem and Carmina Burana