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It’s that time of year again!

August 30, 2011

It’s that time of year again! Orchestra seasons are firing up, classes are beginning at the university level, and summer is leaving us. Most of us conductors have had our first rehearsals of the year, and most of us who teach conducting have had our first classes, too.

I really enjoy teaching basic conducting. The type of students I typically have in my class are:

  1. Music Education students who are starting to feel the “rubber meet the road” with their education. (Translated: “Oh no! I have to conduct somewhere for a paycheck in the near future!”)
  2. Aspiring young conductors who are really anxious to get their first lessons.
  3. Interested music students who are not really interested in becoming a conductor on any level, but are performance majors, music therapy majors, and more.
  4. Uninterested music students who filling in their undergraduate course checklist. They are there because it is a required course.

If you teach conducting, you might have some of these types of students, or you might have a variation of above. The classes I have taught usually have students in the four categories above.

I begin the first class with introductions. I tell the students a few paragraphs about my background. (I figure if I was taking the class I would want to know the credentials about the person teaching it.) Then I have the students introduce themselves and tell the class their primary instrument or voice, their major, and their current career goal. I say “current” because, as many of us in the music business know, things can change and often do.

After introductions we dive into the definition of conducting. Because, it seems like if you are planning on teaching something you should be able to define it, preferably in one sentence. This is the point at which it occurs to most students they’ve never really thought about it.  So, after we stumble through a brief discussion I assign them a task: go to the Grove Dictionary of Music (most music departments pay for the online access) and look it up. As a side note, Ralph Vaughan-Williams wrote the definition in the very first edition of the Grove. Read it if you get a chance, it’s interesting and pretty neat. I tell the class I have a one-sentence definition of conducting I am willing to amend, but they have to read the Grove article first in order to have an informed discussion.

Class number two involves the Defintion of Conducting session and then a discussion about what makes the Ideal Conductor. This is one of my favorite class discussions of the semester. The first time I participated in a discussion like this was during my undergraduate degree with Gary Hill teaching the course. I still have my notes from back then. I was captivated by the discussion, and it permanently changed my point of view, for the better, of what tasks we are trying to accomplish as conductors. So, below is a summation of various classes responses to my query, what makes the Ideal Conductor?

  • Play every instrument/sing at a world class level
  • Speak every language fluently
  • be immortal (so you could have lived in the times of Bach and Mozart and Shostakovich to better know some style issues)
  • be universally likeable
  • have flawless communication skills
  • have a photographic memory
  • never sweat
  • be versatile enough to adapt to the group you are conducting
  • 100% control of technique
  • be able to inspire everyone you conduct
  • be good looking
  • perfect sense of tempo and time
  • perfect sense of styles
  • perfect sense of balance/blend
  • be able to process and assimilate all aspects of the score simultaneously

I am sure there are more I am leaving out, and I am betting you have some of your own to add. (Please do add some thoughts! We’d love it!)

I will address how I teach to numbers one through four in the student demographic list above in a future post.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Allen permalink
    September 1, 2011 3:11 pm

    you forgot 5, Students who want to become better at what they do.

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