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Old 10-18-2012, 08:38 PM   #766
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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....
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Old 10-18-2012, 09:50 PM   #767
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This ride report is never far from my mind, but life has been coming at me pretty fast and hard this year, and not always in a good way. I’ll try to keep it going, there is much more to tell! I’m flattered that somewhere in this little corner of cyberspace there really are people who want to follow my whacky travels! Thank you all, it’s a boost. Back to it:

Mmmmm, it feels good to sleep in this morning. The sun is high in the sky after chasing away most of the midnight storms by the time we rouse ourselves. Even now, after sleep we still feel full from the decadent meal last night, which I suppose is tribute to the quality of ingredients and the leisurely pace at which we consumed them.

Our Harley-Riding-Waiter insisted that we should check out the Red-Rock Canyon Loop scenic drive. Seems like after we pack up the tent we should mosey on over and check it out, eh? It IS chilly, and my trigger finger doesn’t want to pull the shutter button outside of the glove, but I snag a few snapshots. I’d like to come back sometime with the purpose of photography.

At only thirteen miles it doesn’t take us too long, even with the low speed limit for sightseeing. West, west we must go.

My kind of “sinning.” }:-)

Lonely highways.

We stop to help a broken-down biker. What a colorful character this guys is...

He’s only from the next town over, out for a spin, so after borrowing our cell phone we leave him to wait for his buddy with a truck. When he learned that we had heated vests he threatened to take them from us by force, only half joking... Wild West folks, Wild West.

We stop at a casino in Parump for an all-you-can eat buffet for a late hot breakfast. I’ve kinda been looking forward to riding this part of the country where you can utilize other people’s misfortune at the gambling tables to score cheap eats during a motorcycle adventure. More bacon? Yes please, don’t mind if I do...

Oooo, a private motorsports track! I hadn’t heard of this one, but I’m tempted to rocket in there and take a few laps, passenger, luggage and all! But alas, no, we press on... I also understand Jimmy Lewis trains adventure riders near here somewhere. I really need to live in the mountains someday.

And then we arrive at our "ultimate" destination for this ride: Death Valley.
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Old 10-18-2012, 09:55 PM   #768
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Old 10-18-2012, 10:46 PM   #769
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Originally Posted by Blader54 View Post
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...

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Old 10-19-2012, 07:38 AM   #770
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Diek thanks for the very insightful view of a conductor. Really helps to further appreciate the difficulty of what they and all you instrumentalists have to do to pull off a great performance.
ADV'ing from America's fine Crapital...
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Old 10-19-2012, 10:00 AM   #771
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Thanks for sharing the insights! That page of the score is really wild. I"m imagining that a conductor has to be able to "hear" all of those channels in his head, together, and separately in order to fully grasp the piece and to decide how he wants to interpret it with the orchestra. And yet, as you point out, the conductor can't really "know" the degree to which the musicians can provide ultra-fine acoutic detail to their playing....but I guess that's what rehearsal is all about, where the conductor must have a very active interchange between him/herself and the various sections and then listening to how the different sections sound together.

And yeah, plenty of your readers are still here. I think we all respect that you have other things going on besides the RR and sometimes they have to take priority.
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Old 10-19-2012, 02:14 PM   #772
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Puke Tough Times

Sounds like it is tough times for musicians these days. Here in Minnesota they're on strike.
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Old 10-20-2012, 06:28 AM   #773
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Originally Posted by erockmapquest View Post
Sounds like it is tough times for musicians these days. Here in Minnesota they're on strike.
A lockout (not a strike), a little different, but same effect. That is/was a good gig, I've auditioned for the Minnesota Orchestra a number of times. I hope it all works out, but yeah, times are tough, and the arts are finally showing the wear-n-tear of the economy in general. My freelancer tax return bears that out very clearly too!
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Old 10-23-2012, 12:20 PM   #774
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I'm still lurking and enjoying your report. I went the money route (engineering) and keep the music side for military. So I have quite a few friends in the music biz and am in awe of your career. Most of my friends make a living at teaching rather than performance.
Thanks for the work you put into this.
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Old 10-23-2012, 08:59 PM   #775
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Thanks for the update. I miss the sound of big real music. I have not heard that in a very long time. Now with my hearing the way it is I miss a lot. Still there is nothing like it. My wife and I got to attend an event once where a chamber orchestra made up of DSO members, (Denver Symphony), and they played waltzes. Anybody who knows of thw old KVOD and the "Friday Waltz" would know exactly what this was. costumes and all.
They held this at an unoccupied mall that later became a church. We bought tickets as support for the DSO. We were once able to do that.
The valet parking was fun with our old SuperBeetle but we were dressed to the nines in period gear, powdered wig and all. We got to sit at a table with a German couple. She had been a dancer/dance teacher her entire life and he an engineer. It was a perfect fit and we danced the night away.
I will never forget that couple of the artists who gave of their time to take us back to a time long ago when waltzing and powdered wigs and stinged instruments were all the rage.
It was magic.
The old DSO and KVOD were such a great part of our lives in Denver.

Thanks for the report and the insight into a musicians life and how it all works.

Why isn't this thread on PBS, or NPR?
Man this is good stuff.
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Old 11-05-2012, 10:06 PM   #776
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Hey Viola-tor, thanks for the good words about my questions. Their quality is due to the pondering your ride report induces. Thanks again for sharing your experiences, whether motorcycling, musical, or life with us.
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Old 11-07-2012, 05:30 AM   #777
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I am thoroughly enjoying this thread. I stumbled on it, and was hooked with the sight of El Capitan in the Guadelupes. I grew up in El Paso, went to Tech in Lubbock, and have seen the Cap under almost every condition possible--sunrise, sunsets, full moons, nothing but stars, storms, and I never get tired of it. I also went to grad school in SA, so am familiar with your local terrain. In fact, I have family there and in Corpus, whom we visit a couple of times a year. I don't know if you were familiar with Hipp's Bubble Room, but it was a favorite hangout to maw on Shypoke Eggs, and quaff Gimmiedraws. Alas it closed sometime in the 90's. And, good tips on BBQ and TexMex. I've enjoyed both your physical and metaphysical journey, and am relishing the musical education as well. Best of luck, and I'll continue riding along.
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Old 11-08-2012, 07:44 PM   #778
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All this talk of conducting, then I come across this little article tonight, thought it would add to the story here (the last bit is great!):

Opinion: Conductors and the cult of charisma

In his Gazette review of two recent Orchestre symphonique de Montréal performances (“Perahia finesses, Vengerov is feisty,” Oct. 27), Lev Bratishenko writes: “The concerto was played with, or perhaps around, Nathan Brock on the podium. I have rarely heard him, but the [OSM]’s Conductor in Residence does not seem to have [Kent] Nagano’s seniority and he does not have [the soloist, violinist Maxim] Vengerov’s physical intensity” (italics mine).

Rarely heard him? A conductor is seen, not heard. A conductor does not make any sound. As Zubin Mehta once said during an interview on the Charlie Rose show: “You have to realize that it is the musicians that are making the music.”

Unfortunately, the current image of a symphony-orchestra conductor is all about glamour and charisma, and that is what the audience now expects. People view the conductor as the only one who produces the sound and the music, as if he or she could do this by a magical wave of the baton.

The conductor’s role has taken such a place of importance that it dwarfs even that of the composer whose work is being performed. Album covers and concert-hall marquees put the conductor’s name in larger letters than that of the composer. But which of the two is more important?

In the beginnings of orchestral music, when Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) worked at the court of King Louis XIV of France, the conductor’s role was that of timekeeper. He would hold a large pole, five or six feet long, in one hand, and raise and lower it to keep the music in time.

Conducting took on a more dramatic role with the music of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler in the 1880s. Silhouette caricatures of Strauss and Mahler conducting showcase their contorted body movements.

Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) refined the conductor’s role and was a master of the art. Toscanini’s ability to communicate his musical desires with a baton was clear and concise, devoid of extraneous movements.
Today, however, there seems to be less of a taste for that understated style; conducting has turned into a show in itself. People go to a concert to see the conductor. My neighbour recently told me that she would love see (insert your favourite conductor here) conduct — rather than saying she wanted to see and/or hear the orchestra.

Bratishenko’s review refers to Nathan Brock as “not [having] Nagano’s seniority [or] Vengerov’s physical intensity.” Why should he? The soloist was Vengerov; Nathan was simply following the soloist and keeping the orchestra together with him. Any extraneous motions would have detracted the audience’s attention from Vengerov. Nathan used the only motions needed to complete a well-done job.

Bratishenko continues: “it was an uneven match, though I suspect there are few conductors with the determination … to bring this soloist to heel.” Is the suggestion that the conductor should try to control the soloist? I hope not.
Seiji Ozawa, the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was fond of saying that the most important thing for a conductor to do is to “stay out of the way of the musicians.” The less the conductor does, in other words, the more effective he or she becomes.

In the same issue of The Gazette, classical-music critic Arthur Kaptainis writes about a dedicated arts lover he had met in Philadelphia who told him that she had hoped the Philadelphia Orchestra would get as its conductor Gustavo Dudamel, conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, citing “that beautiful hair, all those curls.” Kaptainis says, “Critics are probably united in wishing such criteria did not matter. But they do, and (orchestras’) boards of directors are aware of them.”

Things have changed since the Toscanini years of straight-ahead conducting with substance. Now what we get is the show of charisma and glamour that audiences expect. Leopold Stokowski was one of the pioneers of this commercial approach, always wanting to be in the spotlight. Toscanini had such a distaste for Stokowski that he was quoted as saying that he didn’t “wish to see his stupid face again.” But then again, Toscanini was the best known and highest-paid conductor in the world.

This brings us to the story of a pet-shop owner who had three parrots for sale: one for $2,000, one for $6,000 and one for $50,000. Shocked by the prices, a customer asked for an explanation. “The first parrot can sing a Mozart aria,” the shop-owner said. And the second, asked the customer? “Well, he can sing all the Mozart arias!”
Impressed, she asked what the third one did. The response: “Oh, he doesn’t do anything, but the other two call him Maestro!”

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Old 11-08-2012, 09:32 PM   #779
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"sounds" to me that conductors are beginning to become their own "brands" in that boards of directors will hire them and people will attend concerts because of them alone. Don't sell the bacon, sell the sizzle. Simpler to sell one person, the conductor, to the audience and the more they boys and girls in marketing can make him the star of the show, the better. The music and the musicians then become mere accompaniments to the Conductor. Yuk. And in that one review about the conductor and the soloist ("bring him to heal") I see parallels with the way NBA and NFL games are touted: "Kobe Bryant takes on LeBron James" or "Michael Vick versus Eli Manning this week on CBS", hyping the stars and making a game seem more like a boxing match. I can see a future headline now: "This week at the Symphonie de Montreal Nathan Brock takes on "the wildman of the steppes," Vengerov. In their last battle Vengerov bested Brock, but now "Le Conducteur," as he's known, is out for revenge. Or maybe we should say reVengerov."

Deliver me.....

On a happier note....great to hear from you Viola-tor! Whatcha been up ta?
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Old 11-09-2012, 08:48 AM   #780
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It is interesting to learn that not all that many people died in Death Valley. Some wagoneering pioneers lost a couple or three folks (not uncommon) then uttered a passing comment on the way out that went something like “Good-Bye Death Valley!” which stuck. Not that I’m disappointed that so few died, I was just imagining something more, uhhh, monumental, or gory is all!

We gas up and hit the visitor’s center and are greeted by Beagles and one chewed up rim. You do what you gotta do in the desert...

We are here in the chilly times, but getting stuck in the backcountry out here during summer could turn into a survival situation in a hurry.

We set up camp at Furnace Creek across from the visitor’s center, and simply grab some RV site that is far enough away from generators and close enough to walk to the showerhouse and restaurant. We will get plenty of scenic views from the bike and on foot, we plan on only sleeping at the campsite. We’re gonna take the next couple of days to explore, so no need to pack up and move each night as this is our final destination and turn-around point for this adventure.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, this season has been unusually wet, and the area has been HAMMERED with record rainfall. Back-country exploring is not advised, in fact it is pretty much forbidden as they aren’t issuing permits and have CLOSED nearly every dirt road/trail in the park. Desert my arse! Oh well, this trip is about pavement exploring anyway, I’ll just have to come back again sometime with my knobby tires.

We gather as much intel as we can from the rangers (who think my SPOT messenger is really cool after noticing its blinking lights on my jacket), then take the rest of the night off to plan our assault of Death Valley. There is a cantina involved...

Gotta stay warm somehow!

There are so many things right about this picture!

The next morning we rouse ourselves when the sun comes up high enough to heat the low-earth atmosphere a bit, then hit the road for Scotty’s Castle. We have a big day planned and need to get moving!

Built by a 1920’s railroad tycoon and managed by his eccentric wild-west counterpart, this oasis in the desert is a unique destination acquired by the National Park in later years. Totally worth the trip and tour!

The palace, which was never completed, boasted a pipe organ, evaporative air-conditioning (in the 1920’s!!!), and diesel electricity generators, all over one of the few water sources in the area. There are may stories told by the costumed tour guides and it’s up to you to decide which are “true” and which are flamboyant fabrications.

The temperature has risen significantly by the time we are done with the castle tour and it is just beautiful outside, so after a snack we tool over to the “exit” of Titus Canyon. Apparently this canyon is an adventure motorcycle destination in and of itself, but the park rangers have closed it to vehicles because of the rain. I can imagine why! It’s a slot canyon with a one-lane gravel road in the bottom... However, the last couple of miles (it is one-way for vehicles) are open to hikers, and I wanna see it.

I wasn’t very successful at photography from the bottom. It was really neat to see in person, but just didn’t “pop” through my viewfinder and the lighting was all over the place. Photography is hard!

I’ll be back to ride this thing for sure, it looks like fun carving for miles and miles! Judging from what I saw in those last few miles I think it could be done on my street tires, but of course dirt rubber would be better.

This place is huge, and it seems to me that standing water is probably a rare sight in Death Valley, so we pull over from time to time to try to capture it. Did I mention that photography is hard??

Reluctantly Lady Firebird agrees to ride up a short section of real “adventure” dirt trail to Aguereberry Point. We voted to NOT seek out rough trails on this trip, mainly because she takes little pleasure in bouncing around on the back of the KTM and feeling out of control, but she concedes to this one because there is a prize at the end: a panoramic view of the majority of Death Valley from above!

Of course I have a blast. It’s a little bit muddy with a few small puddles, but we are up high enough that getting bogged down isn’t too much of a worry. It’s only a couple of miles with a few rocks, bumps, and switchbacks thrown in to keep it interesting, and I think it feels good to “let loose” what the KTM is really made for. She’s mildly impressed, and does admit that it is cool to have the ability to get to these cool kinds of spots that most people will never see.

And what a spot!

There’s still a bit of daylight left, so we dash back down the trail into the valley to check out some dunes where there are loads of Asian tourists. When we finally hit the pavement L.F. breaths a sigh of relief as I whip it up proper sport-bike speeds again. I find it interesting that 20 mph on dirt can feel so uncomfortable for her while 90 mph leaned over in a turn can feel like home... Both are good for me! We stomp around in the sand for a while before suiting up to head back to Furnace Creek.

It’s nearly dark, but there is one more activity I want to accomplish today: a stop at Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the continental U.S.

I've taken my mighty KTM to some of the highest navigable points in the country, and now the lowest too. Mission accomplished! It has been a big day so we decide to treat ourselves to a fancy dinner at the Furnace Creek resort/hotel thing, but after trudging into the lobby/restaurant and perusing the menu it doesn’t look like we’d be getting a fancy meal worthy of the price tag, especially after our meal in Vegas (how can you really top that?), so we opt for the Cantina again. Hot pizza and cold beer will be just fine in our bellies.

Death Valley blitz tour success!
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