A Day of Music, and Movement Therapy, for a Conductor

Julian Wachner
The New York Times

By John Leland
Was it really just two years ago that Trinity Wall Street church scaled back its music program in what an article in this newspaper later called a “seeming brush with death”? The church’s music and arts director, Julian Wachner, 44, is now rushing to erase such memories. Austerity is out. In its place: a four-month festival of Benjamin Britten’s music, Bach cantatas every Monday and a series celebrating the 12 nights of Christmas, which runs from Dec. 26 to Jan. 6. That’s between Mr. Wachner’s side gigs conducting at the Brooklyn Academy of Music or the Juilliard Opera Theater and as music director of the Washington Chorus, all while he recovers from a summer shoulder injury that temporarily stilled his baton. Mr. Wachner lives in TriBeCa with his wife, the Rev. Emily Wachner, the church’s priest for welcome, liturgy, hospitality and pilgrimage, and the couple’s American bulldog, Sophie, and cat, Rowan. 

We wake up some time between 6 and 7. We always make breakfast. That’s very important to us, to make coffee and have some time together. It’s usually berries and French press coffee and some kind of egg concoction. 
Sunday is the day Emily and I both take the dog out. I have this big Hawaiian mug that I put my coffee in when I walk the dog, and Emily thinks that’s very strange and weird. Embarrassing, actually, is what she’d say. 
At Trinity there’s an 8 o’clock, a 9 o’clock, a 10 o’clock and an 11:15 service. And I usually am the person that’s doing the music at the 11:15 service, but I have to be a presence at the 9 and 10, because the 9 o’clock has the youth group. It’s a new program and we’re excited about it. And on the Sundays when Trinity Choir is singing, I’ll do a rehearsal at 10 a.m., and then the service will start at 11:15. I will either conduct that or play and conduct or just play. 

That service usually finishes at 1. Then the typical thing, Emily and I will go home and cook. We like to cook stuff that will last a few days, so we organize things that way. The last six Sundays, one week I was doing orchestra rehearsals for BAM’s Next Wave Festival, one day I was conducting an opera at Juilliard at 2 o’clock, another day I was doing the “War Requiem” at the Kennedy Center, so my Sunday afternoons have been quite sporadic. But the thing that we like to do is go home and cook, and then I’ll study scores as well. 
The other part of my ritual, which might be in the morning or in the afternoon, I’m a student of the Feldenkrais Method. I spent 27 weeks over four years training to become a Feldenkrais practitioner, in the South of France. It’s neuromuscular re-education. With my shoulder injury, I had to learn different ways of moving my arm so I could still do my job. After I was weaned off physical therapy, it was this neuromuscular re-education through the Feldenkrais Method that got me able to conduct. So on Sunday I’ll do one of those sessions. It would look somewhere between a private Pilates session and a massage. 

Then I go back to St. Paul’s Chapel around 7 p.m., where we have a rehearsal for our evening compline event, which is improvised. There’s a couple of real pieces of music written down, but we pretty much just have words on a page, and the Trinity Choir and I improvise this beautiful service, which is done at 8 o’clock, all by candlelight. 
Then at 8:30 we usually end up with a bunch of people over at our house. Friends will show up to compline and we’ll all show up to the house. Occasionally the orchestra will be over or the choir will be over. We’ll often order ribs from Mudville 9. Or we’ll cook. More often than not, we’ll cook. 
Some of our parties can get fairly raucous. We have a vase filled with old recorders, so at one point, at 1 or 2 in the morning, everyone was improvising on the recorders. Lots of music happens there. I’ll often get on the piano and play. 
My tactical meeting for my staff is at 8 in the morning, so we try to get everybody out by 11. We might watch some TV. We’ll definitely take the dog for a walk. 
We go to bed probably about midnight. The last thing we do before bed is snuggling.