I recently had two experiences which reminded me that conducting musical ensembles is a rather unique way to earn a living. The first occasion was when a member of my congregation approached me after our Easter service and said he had been watching my conducting for several weeks. He mentioned that he had become interested in the different types of information I seemed to be imparting to my choir through my hand motions, e.g., entrances, tempo. dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and so on (he didn’t actually use all those terms, but still described rather clearly my actions). He suggested that until recently it had not even crossed his mind what a conductor was actually doing in front of an ensemble, but had seen a concert on TV (my guess is that it must have been on PBS) and had wanted to learn more about these odd motions used by conductors! First of all, I was impressed that he observed all these things I was trying to impart in my conducting gestures (I wonder if my singers would identify as many!), and it also reminded me what an odd thing it is we conductors do. We are in charge of producing a beautiful musical sound from a group of individuals, yet we are the only one not making any sound at all!
The other occasion which led me to consider the role of the conductor was an interesting article I saw in the New York Times entitled “The Maestro’s Mojo.”
The author of the article, Daniel J. Wakin, interviewed seven conductors who passed through New York in recent seasons and asked them to describe what it is they try to convey in their conducting. A number of fascinating comments were made by the conductors. One of my favorites, offered by James Conlon of the Los Angeles Opera was “You can do everything right and be of no interest at all, and you can be baffling and effective.” I won’t give anything else away about what is said in the article. It’s a fascinating article and I encourage you to click on the link above and read it for youself.
In the meantime, how about using this blog to suggest what it is you want to see from a conductor, and also what you don’t want to see? I’m all ears, especially since I’m not allowed to make any sound!