Bard Week 1


It has been a very powerful week here at the Bard College Conservatory of Music Conductors Institute. This is the first time I've done any kind of Conducting Institute/Workshop/Seminar. I've taken a variety of conducting classes and lessons at BW and Penn State but now that I've exhausted the classes I can take as a non-conducting-major it's time for new opportunities. I was accepted as a Conducting Colleague. I spent 3 hours every morning listening to rehearsal with the symphony which the Fellows led. I spent 3 hours every afternoon listening to and participating in rehearsal with the string quintet (plus a few extra wind players who stuck around). I spent the week engrossed in Mahler 9, Tchaikovsky 6, Brahms 2, and Elgar's Enigma Variations. How awesome is that!?! This was my first time conducting original symphonic rep - and it was terrifying most of the time. I was far from perfect, but I learned a lot. The mantra here was to "try something new!" This is the place to fail. Fail, learn, and improve. I definitely failed, learned, and am still working on the improvement. :-)

It was wonderful to learn from Mark Gibson, from CCM, and get feedback from him this week. Here are a number of things we discussed this week that I totally agree with. Further below are "points for consideration."

I agree (but you certainly don't have to):

  • When your hands go all the way up it's like jumping on a trampoline, you loose control at the top and there's no where to go but down. 
  • There's nothing wrong with giving a 2-beat prep. But make sure the 1st of those two is a neutral beat.
  • Don't neglect the basses! Analyze the bass line and when they're moving the harmony along stay with them.
  • Conducting is the intersection between gesture & pulse.
  • He who lives by the beat, dies by the beat.
  • Don't just do patterns - show the music. But do beat the pattern when it might be helpful to someone in the world.
  • All instrument playing involves something going down (fingers/bow/etc) so jerking your hands *up* while conducting does no good.
  • Don't use more hands to conduct than there are people playing. Why would you conduct a solo with two hands?
  • When the music is more complicated, do less.

Now, points for consideration:

  • There were 25 men conducting this week and 5 women. Sadly typical... but glad there were 5 women!
  • Don't teach from the podium.
    • I understand that "teaching" professionals from the podium can come off as patronizing. However I am a firm believer that being a conductor also involves being a teacher, at all levels.
  • Know at least 3 pieces that go at all common tempi to use as a reference (make a book).
    • I agree this can be helpful. I do not agree that you *always* have to have a reference piece that is different from the piece itself.
  • Never make eye contact with orchestra members - it scares them. Look at their shoulder or instrument or in the space next to them.
    • I disagree pretty firmly with this. I understand "don't stare at professional musicians, especially during solos." And perhaps that's what my teacher meant. But what he said was "never make eye contact." I think eye contact is an incredibly powerful tool and connects the conductor to orchestra members. I've told my students before that one of my favorite moments is locking eyes with them as we make music.
  • I had opportunity to talk with my conducting teacher before classes started on Monday. When he found out I'm a Ph.D. student in Music Ed he asked why I wanted to conduct. I think he was honestly just trying to understand my goals but it was so curious to me that he didn't instantly see a connection between teaching & conducting.
  • Similar to my last point, I was struck repeatedly by the "convention" of it all. Our teachers this week were both older, white-haired men. We were allowed to dress more casually in front of the quintet but when in front of the symphony we were expected to honor the "post" and dress appropriately. I was warned I would be fussed at for wearing open-toed shoes (just awful to have an excuse for a quick shopping trip to Kohl's). One of the gentlemen was fussed at for wearing a short-sleeved shirt and another was fussed at for not wearing a black shirt. I realize that most of the people conducting here would like to be professional conductors someday and that's what they are being trained/prepared for. But will the world end if I conduct in open-toed shoes? Nope. Do all conductors need to be stern, stiff-faced, white-haired older men? No. Can I be me, bubbly and teacher-y as I always am, and still conduct effectively? Yes!

Now on to week 2!