Wednesday, June 9, 2010

quick thoughts on conducting

It has been a while since my last blog post, and rather than look for a good long stretch of time when I can write, I will be brief (more brief than usual).  Perhaps Twitter has helped me realize that the value of a blog post is not automatically related to its length. 

I have been preparing for some conducting performances that I have coming up in July.  I studied conducting as a kid, but didn't really stick with it and found I needed to focus on my piano playing.  But slowly over the last few years I've been having a few opportunities and I've enjoyed it.

I want to make a quick observation or two about the process of preparing to conduct.  I have noticed that I spend a relatively larger portion of my time figuring out *how* the piece is supposed to sound (in as vivid detail as I can - I play at the piano through every section's part, sometimes alone, sometimes with other parts, and when I can manage it I play everyone's part at once; and I also try to imagine my mind exactly the sound I would hope for in the piece, from each instrument).  I do spend some time also figuring out how I expect to convey my ideas (baton technique, rehearsal strategy - I definitely need more experience to learn more about both of these!), but compared to my work as a pianist I spend much less on the "actualization" and much more on the "idea."  That is, I probably spend 40% of my time as a pianist focusing on ideas and 60% on conveying those ideas (for example making sure I play the right notes).  As a conductor, I spend 90% of my pre-rehearsal hours on making sure my ideas are clear (this is more pain-staking than it may sound).  Of course, when I get to the actual rehearsal, I have to spend about 100% of my energy on getting the ideas to actually come out from the orchestra. 

But I think many pianists (and other instrumentalists) focus too much on the "conveying" of ideas and not enough on what the actual ideas are.  They sit down and start practicing, but it's not clear even to themselves what they are trying to achieve.  I am much more efficient and effective with my practice time when I practice with a purpose, when I know what sound I have in mind. 

Just one more quick note: Youtube is a fantastic resource for a conductor who wants learn from (or steal from) the great conductors.  


ckoh71 said...

Hey Max: Good to have you posting again. What you just described also applies to writing. I'd say most good writing is the result of many hours of tortured thinking and re-thinking to refine and clarify ideas. The best writers probably spend the majority of their time thinking about ideas, and then the rest executing those ideas. But we probably shouldn't underestimate the time spend refining/revising - which in a way is a mixture of thought and execution of ideas. I personally deplore the revision process - which is probably why alot of my writing is sloppier than it should be. When, where, and what are you conducting by the way?

violinhunter said...

An orchestra plays for its conductor - regardless of technique - the same way an army fights for its general. I have played for many, many conductors in many different orchestras and my feeling regarding the cause and effect relationship between the final results and the conductor and the baton technique has not changed. The orchestra can ALWAYS tell when the conductor doesn't know what he is doing or when he is only doing it for the money.