For my (past) conducting students

Today was the last day of the semester for me at Temple.  It’s that time again— time to shake hands with some of those students, saying good luck.  I’m usually very proud of my students leaving my classes as better musicians.  I wish if I could keep track of their progress, each one of them.

There are a few things I repeat in my class.  Thought I’d collect them here so that my students could come back to them if they want to.  Most of those tidbits are about music, not just about conducting.  Perhaps I’ll keep updating this post to keep track of my own progress…

For My Students:
On
Preparation

Some of you will study advanced conducting and learn more about the score study/preparation.  Perhaps some of you will advance to the graduate programs and take helpful courses like Stylistic Analysis along the way.  Perhaps eventually you will learn to make an extensive graph or a chart of the music you are preparing.  Your knowledge will hone your musical intuition.  But remember— knowing the context of the music is the foundation of your preparation.  If you were a chef, you would be keener on mastering your knifing technique or knowing your herbs and spices, but what if you don’t know how to pick the right ingredients at a grocery store?  Know about the dish you are preparing, especially if the dish is from an established cuisine.  Why do you want to use this meat instead of that meat?  What kind of onion do you need?  If you want to be truer to the music you are preparing, start the preparation by diving into the environment/circumstance (including performance practice) in which the piece was conceived.  The more you know, the more plausible and convincing your interpretation will become.

Music making as group experience

Remember that our judgment is easily swayed by out sentiment.  We find comfort in familiar territory.  Perhaps you love your home cooking even when it isn’t really good.  You still like the song you shared with your best friend even when the song is extremely dull.  You are going to see the Disney Star Wars movies anyway even when you don’t doubt that you’ll be disappointed.  Why?  It’s the sentimental attachment.

Take advantage of it in your music making.  If you are leading a group, show how much you love what you do and how much you love the piece (or just psych ʼem out).  Let them attach their sentimental value to what you do together.  And if you can get your ensemble excited about the music making, the audience will love it too, just by seeing that your ensemble is into it.

It’s about the process, and it’s about the experience.  So, even when you get frustrated in rehearsals, be patient, my young padawans.  If you are conducting, don’t enforce your ideas to the musicians.  Instead, help them understand what you want to do, and ask them to help you.  Always know what you want to hear thoroughly and in detail.  Among the musicians, try to have mutual respect, and trust them to do their part.

If you are conducting, it is your job to let the players and/or singers do their things to the best of their abilities.  Unify the spirits, but don’t get in their way.  Provide the environment/situation for them to do well.  Aim for collective happiness!

Art of performing [.. or small part of it that young musicians may want to remember]

Time is on your side.  The time expressions are what make you true artists.  Agogic accents, cadential gestures, between musical events/phrases, after the cut-offs, at your solo sections…. take your time.  Don’t rush.  You know that I’m not talking about tempo.

Notice irregularities, surprises, and oddities in music and expose them as such!  Deceptive cadences are supposed to be deceptive, and execute them as such.  The notes that hint an upcoming modulation should be presented in the way that the audience can take the hint.  Don’t go automatic.  Be a good storyteller.

Recognize what’s beautiful in music and pay attention to it.  Love it.  Again, don’t go automatic.  Savor and enjoy those delicious dissonances, and tastefully resolve them.

Guys, the sky is the limit— go out there and enjoy music or whatever you do!

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