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5 Questions: Music Alumni Alexander Kahn ’08

Credit: Rick Peckham

Alexander Kahn graduated from UC Berkeley Music with his Ph.D. in 2008. After a stint at Gettysburg College, Kahn now serves as Director of Orchestral Activities at Sonoma State University.

1- You note your father Eugene was a big influence on your passion for music. How did he and your family nurture your interest?
I come from a long line of musicians. My father was a professional violinist and high school orchestra and youth orchestra conductor. His father was a violist in the Philadelphia Orchestra, under Eugene Ormandy. Other relatives include the composers Erich Itohr-Kahn and Roy Harris (by marriage), and the cellist Julian Kahn, who fled Nazi Germany and played in the Hollywood film studios.
2- You studied French horn as an undergrad (as well as comparative lit) at the University of Indiana. How did your background in performance influence your scholarship once you started working on your Ph.D. at UC Berkeley?
Like many college students, I changed my mind regarding “what I want to be when I grow up” many times. As an undergrad I first leaned towards French horn performance, than towards comparative literature, and finally towards musicology. By the end of my college career I realized that I could combine my knowledge about music with the critical theory and analysis skills that I gained as a student of comparative literature. At Berkeley, I continued to perform on French horn and studied conducting with David Milnes; these activities kept me grounded in music as a living, breathing art form.
3- How did your time serving as Assistant Conductor for UCBSO under David Milnes influence your approach as an Orchestral Director/Conductor?
David Milnes was quite simply the best conducting teacher I have ever had; although I went on after graduating from UC Berkeley to study with more “big name” conducting teachers I owe David an incredible debt of gratitude for giving me a rock-solid background in musicianship, aural skills, score study, rehearsal technique, and rhythmic acumen.
4- You’re active as a scholar as well as a conductor, and your thesis at UC-Berkeley focused on a community of musicians who fled to L.A. during World War II. Where has your research taken you lately?
These days my professional life is mostly focused on conducting; while during graduate school I had intended to have a career as a scholar-performer I find that I simply don’t have time to pursue both scholarship and performance at a professional level in addition to my heavy teaching load and the demands (and pleasures) of family life. However more and more I am in demand as a lecturer on the benefits of mindfulness meditation for musicians, and am hoping to write a book on the subject when the time is right.
5- What drives your passion for music?
The desire to connect with others through beauty.