What does conducting actually mean? I’ve been teaching it for many years now, and as time goes by, it is become harder and harder to find a convincing, all-encompassing good answer. Last year I was lucky enough to participate in a conductor’s panel in Spain, with distinguished colleagues and friends, all led by Douglas Bostock. The exercise was actually very simple, but tricky! Douglas asked us to summarize in a couple of minutes our thoughts about what would be a good definition of conducting. Here is more or less what came out that time:
“The very act of conducting consists basically of recreating the sound world intended by the composer, by means of your gesture and your body language. In order to recreate that sound world, you will need creativity, good taste, excellent ears and a good deal of score analysis. Once all the elements of the score have been thoroughly proven, you will have to take decisions on how you are going to make them interact. This is a moment of creativity, which we call, as a matter of fact, interpretation. Through your conducting you will strive to create the necessary listening atmosphere and try to show to your musicians not only where to play but also how to play.
Sometimes, not being technical is much more technical…Conducting is something physical, for instance, it’s about getting a psychical reaction. It’s the way the music should sound and not how it looks on the page. There are some contemporary scores or opera where you need geographical gestures, that’s another job. Otherwise, conducting is only a physical activity to get a physical reaction.
Connect with your breath, which means you’re sound. That’s the most important thing. Every musician will breathe the meaning. Embrace the breathing and the people will know how the piece goes. It is all about the music and not about yourself. You will need to find your own language of gesture and strive for clarity of intention rather than clarity of beat. Your ears should take over, and the imagination will quicken. The ability to listen while in the act of conducting is crucial. This delicate balance between generating sound with one’s gesture and hearing what is actually being played, is one of the most decisive aspects of the conductor’s art. Max Rudolf put the whole thing in one sentence “the first beat in the bar goes down and the last beat goes up, the rest is experience”.
During many lessons, workshops and hours of practice back at the time when I was a student, I compiled this short technical routine which I’ve been using ever since. You can freely downloaded if you wish. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need further explanations. Practice your chops!
There are many ways to approach a score, therefore I don’t usually like to speak about A method, but rather of methods. Score study is a personal thing, still you have to strive to make sure that no detail gets lost, therefore a certain organization is needed. The whole process from selecting music, through its analysis until the interpretation is condensed in a short document here below. I discuss this a lot with my students, to make sure that the whole process is respected. Score study is time consuming. If you are not willing to invest a huge amount of hours reading music, you’ve just chosen the wrong job…
Last January, I participated on behalf of WASBE (World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles) in the 2nd edition of the Internationaler Blasmusik Kongress (IBK) held in the city of Neu-Ulm, Germany (See link below). On this occasion I presented Wind Ensemble literature from South-America. I thought that a good presentation should not only feature the music being composed today in that region of the world, but also to revisit the most important works in the literature. Most of them are classics of the repertoire, like Villalobos, Revueltas or Brouwer, but fairly unknown to world of wind music here in Europe. You can follow the presentation here below:
During a short discussion with the attendees at the end of the lecture, many asked me to give them sources and tips about where and how to find new music from Latin-America. The answer is not simple. Beside the fact that the great majority of composers are self-published, there are not enough public policies to stimulate the creation, diffusion and publication of new music. Some governments are better organized than others, mostly in projects related to the rediscovery of cultural heritage. Initiatives like this are being undertaken for example in Brazil, Colombia or Argentina. It is also important to mention that the culture of photocopying protected property in many of these countries, makes it impossible for the publishing sector to compete with clear rules…
I’ve put together a list of Selected Latin American Original Works for Wind Ensemble/Band and added some transcriptions and arrangements of well-known folk tunes, because they are integral part of the Wind Band tradition of that part of the world. You can download the list here below: