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One of the questions I asked most frequently in the beginning of my conducting study was, “How do I study a score?”  I never got a straight answer (because there isn’t one), and my question morphed into many more:

  • What edition of the score should I buy?
  • Is it OK to listen to recordings?
  • How do I mark a score?
  • Should I do a full Roman numeral analysis?
  • Bowings?
  • “Hier ist das Zeitmaß durch die vorangegangene unmerkliche Steigerung bereits “Energisch bewegt” (ohne zu eilen) geworden; dasselbe ist noch immer weiter zu steigern bis zum Eintritt des a tempo (Più mosso)” …do I need to know German?

The beautiful part of this is the more you learn, the less you realize you know.

While searching for answers is the way we learn, I decided to draft up something a little more practical – a one page document that doesn’t give all the answers, but it does offer a good place for a young conductor to start.

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orch-recording-titleWhether you’re applying for a conducting position with a professional ensemble, a graduate program or a summer festival you’re going to need to produce a high-quality video recording.  You can Google “how to make a good conducting video” but the results are…well, you know, not that helpful.

Let’s start with the end goal:  You need 20-30 minutes of total footage, at least 10-15 minutes of rehearsal footage, and  15-20+ minutes of performance footage. The application verbiage goes on with the attributes the ideal candidate should possess, but no one tells us how to make this video.  It’s like we should just know…so here it goes:

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Do you remember the first time you encountered a quintuplet?  I was practicing a solo in high school that was far too difficult for me, and I encountered this passage:

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I remember feeling so proud of myself, wiggling my fingers and aiming for the next beat.  “Wow – listen to all those notes I just played…sort of…”

Fast forward almost twenty years: I found myself working with a student orchestra on Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture, and we got to this passage:

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Now, these were very bright college students I was working with, but what do you think they did?  They wiggled their fingers and aimed for the next beat.

Things elsewhere in the overture were going well, so I chose to dig into the details and spend some time on this passage so we could hear the each tuplet cleary, and once we achieved that clarity, we could then hear the resulting polyrhythm.

The root of the problem was that there was a lack of evenness within each tuplet, resulting in the next measure arriving asynchronously.  My first instinct was to give students words with syllables that corresponded to the 5s and 7s: I taught university for 5s and barbeque potato chip for 7s.

Well, hooray it worked.  We achieved evenness, but did I actually teach the students how tuplets are structured?  Not at that moment, but that’s what I’m going to do now…

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So you want to be a conductor?  You’re crazy – stop now, and go on enjoying your life.  Psshh, conducting…why would you want to do that?

Oh, you’re still here?  Good for you.  You must love music as much as life, itself.  You’ve probably played under the batons of great conductors and been inspired by their musicianship, imagination, aural acuity and artistic vision.  Or perhaps you’ve played under the baton of too many poor conductors – those that waste time, talk too much, are inefficient and uninspiring.

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