David Runnion wrote:
>For an orchestra musician, a good conductor is one who clearly and
>effectively communicates the piece to the musicians, then lets them play.
>This is more difficult than it sounds. Just as there is a technique to
>playing the cello, there is technique for conductors too. How does he beat
>time? Is it clear and consistant? Does the stick go to the same place for
>every beat, or do we have to watch it wave around, go behind his back, and
>indulge in crowd-pleasing histrionics?
As a musician who frequently attends concerts, I can tell you that the
histrionics annoy the hell out of me. Andrew Litton, chief baton twirler
here in Dallas is notorious for his overwrought gestures and his maddening
habit of coming off the podium fifty or so times a piece. Around here we
call him "Air Litton." I will never forget the first time I conducted as
a young grad student at the University of North Texas. I was full of the
grand sweeping gestures trying to prove how "into" the music I was. My
teacher came up to me afterwards and said,"Well your choir sounded pretty
good, but you looked like an ass up there." There endeth my days as a
flambouyant baton hurler!
>I was talking to a friend tonight, a talented young pianist with
>aspirations to be a conductor. I told him: The downbeat must go down
>(with the stick) 2 goes to the left, after a "click" at the center, 3 to
>the right, and the upbeat goes up. You'd be amazed how many conductors
>ignore this. The left hand is used for expression, cues, and dynamic
>indications. A good conductor shouldn't have to talk much, because he (or
>she, there are some very fine women conductors indeed, Marin Alsop springs
>to mind) can show everything that is necessary with his hands, face, and
AMEN! Entirely too much rehearsal time is wasted gabbing! And no one
loves to talk more than I do. In professional music, however, time is
money, and I don't have any to waste. I like to think that Helios
rehearsals are fun, but as efficient as a Swiss watch!
>A good conductor knows the score intimately and has the ability to teach
>it to the musicians. Many, many lesser conductors will simply repeat to
>the band what they already see on the page, i.e. dynamics. This doesn't
>teach us doodly, and an orchestra will quickly become impatient with this.
>But a conductor that can point out things that we might not notice, give
>us perspective on the piece, make us listen to each other, and communicate
>his feelings and knowlege of the work is one that will get an orchestra to
I would hope that a professional ensemble would know the core rep already,
but you are correct that there are many details that an orchestra or choir
cannot know about a piece and it is up to the conductor to convey these
>Finally, a good conductor has a very special rapport with the musicians,
>and will make the orchestra want to play at their very best. This involves
>not talking down to the orchestra, not telling them "how" to play, but
>"why" to play a certain passage a certain way. He is the leader, first
>among equals, another member of the orchestra.
This is of absolute vital importance. No one wants to treated with
condescension, and everyone is more comfortable is someone whom they
can trust is in charge.