Originally Posted by Blader54
Thanks for the insight, D! I kind of figured that during rehearsals the conductor would work with the orchestra to get the piece to sound the way he or she wanted, but I was't sure whether the players would really be able to follow his movements during a performance, but turns out they can and do. Cool. I'm guessing that thanks to rehearsals and excellent memory they can play some (maybe a lot) of a piece the way they learned it, but at certain points they are attending to the conductor. So let me ask you this: which do you prefer, playing or conducting?
And yeah man, sign me up for wanting more ride reports!!!!
Also....sent you a PM about a possible mutual music acquaintance....
You ask great questions which my seem simple on the surface, but actually probe at some deep musical/artistic principles. I guess that's what makes them great questions, eh?
Conductors are a funny breed, that's for sure. I enjoy conducting occasionally, and I think I have a good personality for it, being a natural musical leader and having a "strong" personality (not bragging, just comparing myself to other musicians throughout my career and training), but I'm a violist first. Being a serious pro conductor requires a lot of study, and here's why: You have to know "how the music goes" so thoroughly BEFOREHAND that nothing can shake you, distract you, or otherwise derail your concentration. There are a myriad of things trying to do just that in an orchestra, and a skilled conductor can manage all the little things and somehow guide a group of 60-80 eccentric artists to a common goal in real-time. It's really kind of a miracle that it happens at all. I'll put a sample page of an orchestra score here for an example. A conductor has to make sense of all that, and can literally read it like a book, and know about all of the individual instruments' quirks and capabilities, and how to coax out some "music" from the players. Even with good score reading abilities it would be difficult to decipher everything on the fly (or as we call it: sight-reading), so most conductors have to spend a LOT of time studying these tomes so they have an informed interperetation, in addition to just "knowing how it goes." Could you read aloud a Shakespeare play convincingly on the first try? Probably not, even though most of know how to read quite well. The same is certainly true for the great symphonic works.
If you look vertically at this page, the entire "block" connected by the solid vertical line on the left is happening simultaneously (except for the last 6 staves which have their own solid vertical line, that is a new "paragraph" of musical time). Imagine looking at a page of text in a book, and reading each LINE on the entire page at the same time, like a scanner or copy machine does. That is how conductors read a score.
The physical act of conducting is really not hard, I look at it as acting in a way: you "pulse" or "beat" time by waving your arms, sure, but the body language and even facial expression takes on the character that you believe the music has at any particular moment, so you are in effect doing an interpretative dance a SPLIT SECOND before you want the orchestra to mimic that character, so that they have time to react to your subtle commands. So my hypothesis is that many successful conductors are indeed "larger than life." They are so animated that it is natural for others to pick up on their exaggerated cues, and they have the confidence and/or lack of inhibitions to put it all out there.
When you/we listen to music, live, on the radio, MP3s or whatever and hear a song we like, we are reacting to it. "Hey yeah! I know this one! How's this part go? Oh yeah, yeah, that's it!" Sound familiar? For the music makers, we have to be a few steps ahead, making first the mental calculations of tempo, color, "how it goes," etc, and then sending the messages to our bodies in advance to make that happen at JUST the right moment. So the conductor has to be a few steps ahead of even that, to give the whole ensemble a chance to send those individual commands to their instruments. He/she is in fact "playing" the whole orchestra like a singular instrument, that is, if it is all going well...
The thing is, an orchestra can "smell" how good or bad a conductor is within SECONDS of when they take the podium in the first rehearsal. I mean it's kinda freaky how obvious it is to us trained professionals who live and breath this stuff, and how the audience really has no idea, even the educated ones (critics included!). It can be vicious and downright ugly when a mediocre conductor is up there, the orch. will walk all over him/her, or just tune out because they are bored, or even resort to artistic sabotage in extreme cases. Keep in mind, the instrumentalists know WAY more about sculpting a phrase on their particular instrument than the conductor every will. BUT, somehow, the conductor must find a way to reign everyone in to ONE common inspired version of the piece. We instrumentalists like to say that it must be frustrating to be a conductor, because they don't actually create any music or sound at all! They have to rely on US!
BUT! When a GREAT conductor is on point, it is MAGIC. Everyone's concentration focuses to a razors edge, and time seems to melt away for both performers and audience alike. And all this has NOTHING to do on weather I/we like the conductor as a person. He/she is the general. There are good ones, bad ones, inspiring personalities and lame folks, just like any other profession, eh?
that's the long answer.
So yeah, I'm just a viola player. I enjoy the act of conducting when it comes up occasionally, but not so much the study. I would miss making the sound. I've considered going into conducting more, and that isn't off the table. We'll see. They certainly get paid better. It's easy to look at mediocre conductors and think "I could do better than that!" But could I? That podium seems awful high when you actually get up there in front of all those great musicians...