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The Art Of Conducting - No 1
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The Art Of Conducting  -  No 1

Picture yourself in the most beautiful large auditorium of the world listening to one of the major symphony orchestras playing a magnificent piece. You are transported to a different world. It is true magic. The orchestra plays and moves as the magic wand of the conductor waves. You don't really understand how it all works but it does and the result is amazing. Extraordinary experience. It transforms the listener. It is a cathartic experience. You come out from the auditorium as a better human being. And if you keep going back regularly or get involved yourself, you permanently become a better person by music. Such is the power of MUSIC.

Have you seen a conductor in front of an orchestra or a choir? To the eyes of an uninitiated, they just flap their arms and all players and singers seemingly ignore them. So what's the point? I have been asked this question in Australia a lot. Many don't seem to grasp the concept of a conductor because in some countries being a conductor is not a field that music students specialize like in flute, violin or piano. Conductors become conductors out of necessity. Any instrumental player can do it...or so they think.

However, if you ask me, conducting is an ART. It has to be studied, mastered, practiced and taken to the highest standards. By this, the standard of orchestras would improve and attract more audience to concerts. For this to happen, we need to improve teachers' education to produce better teachers to run higher quality Music Programs in schools. We can't have musically illiterate population. It can be one of the richest First World Countries of the world but if the population don't read and write music, don't sing in choirs and don't play instruments and participate in orchestras and bands, they are uneducated. Their minds, hearts and hands are not well trained, as the famous Hungarian composer and music educator, Zoltan Kodaly would put it. Musically literate people attend more concerts, support The Arts, make sure that their children study music as well and have an outlet besides work, family and daily duties that enriches their lives. They are better balanced and more compassionate people. They are more in touch with their feelings and relate better to others.

In Europe and America being a conductor is a prestige. It is a well-respected profession within the field music. To become a conductor you need to be an outstanding musician and go through one of the Conducting Courses of an Academy of Music or a major university and get under the mentoring of one of the Maestros of a major symphony orchestra. Then become Assistant Conductor of the orchestra then maybe if you are lucky, with time, when the big old Maestro collapses on the stage at the age of 99 you might have a chance to take over the orchestra!

Even when I was at the Academy studying, female conducting students were not common, although things started to change around that time in Hungary. May I say, in Equal Rights we have been ahead of Australia when it comes to women. Maybe this is due to WWII and some cultural differences but I have only started to notice differences and feel disadvantaged as a female after I moved to Australia. Never before in Europe, while living in Hungary, traveling the world and during my time living and working in Dermark, Finland or even in Singapore I became aware of any issues. However thing hit me pretty hard here.

Let's look into the work of a conductor! Conducting is a 'language'. It is a way of communicating without words. The gestures that a conductor show to the players of the orchestra have meanings. Unfortunately, not 100% precise and agreed on what it means as my many years of conducting and teaching conducting proved. However, the more precisely the conductor and the orchestra agree on what means what and how he wants that specific gesture to be interpreted and executed musically, the more satisfying the collaboration will be. This is a process that takes place during rehearsals.

Let's have an example. A section of a piece is played through. The conductor is not perfectly satisfied how that section was performed. So he explains verbally, what he wants differently and works with a section of the orchestra on those bars. The conductor might even sing to demonstrate that crescendo and the phrasing he wants to hear differently. While he/she does that also shows the gesture that goes with that phrase. They polish the playing until he/she gets what the original idea he/she had in mind. Most conductors hear the music in their head so they can match their ideas with the sound the orchestra produces. The closer the two get to each other, the more satisfying the collaboration will be.

There is a pretty fascinating fact about orchestras and conductors. The same orchestra will sound very differently under the hand of another conductor. What's more, if you put five conductors in front of the orchestra playing the same music, it will be five different interpretations and five different sound! All five of them have different ways of interpreting the same notes, rhythms, expression and marking that are recorded in the same score. They will leave their mark, personal experience, intensity, energy and emotional capacity to approach the same music with the orchestra. Of course, there is the human response as well! We, as people, does not matter in a role of an orchestra player or conductor, respond to each other differently. Therefore, we play for the other differently.

In the long history of orchestras, there are numerous stories when conductors applied for positions and the management of the orchestra auditioned many conductors. Major orchestras give a period of time for selected conductors to work with the orchestra and get to know each other before being appointed to make sure the orchestra's long tradition and success is in the best hands of the successor.

There is so much involved in being a conductor, leading an orchestra, being in charge for the musical execution of the thoughts of a composer genious. It is a wonderful and huge responsibility to lead fellow musicians to this great adventure of musical discovery. Humanly, when you conduct an orchestra you bring the members to a certain higher vibrational level and create an incredible unity and communicate through telepathy. Music opens up channels that are usually not accessible in ordinary life or only for those who practice meditation and engage in studying Eastern Philosophies. Music takes people to a higher level consciousness. More about this topic in another article.

The Art of Conducting - Legendary Conductors of a Golden Era Enjoy a wonderful, almost two-hours long video of the world's most famous Maestros conducting and being interviewed. Not many orchestras play so well and sound so good as these orchestras on this old video recording! There are many reasons for this. One might be that we simply don't seem to have such extraordinary conductors with musical talents and strong characters anymore. I leave you with this thought and elaborate about these changes in a future article.

To be continued...

Cheers, Piroska


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