Thursday, February 25, 2010

Conducting the Phrase and not the Pattern

Many young conductors spend time learning to conduct patterns. And, rightly so. With a single glance toward the conductor, a musician can see the current musical location within the measure just by recognizing where the baton is in the beat pattern. This is nice, clean, and simple.

However, once musicians get past the basic skills of ensemble playing, simple beat patterns from the conductor are no longer required at all times. Some challenging mixed-meter sections certainly dictate a due diligence in showing patterns, but skilled musicians no longer need to see patterns at all times. So, what does the conductor show when working with a higher level ensemble? This blog is perhaps not long enough to allow for a complete answer. However, the most important element to remember is to show the music. Huh? I thought that's what the beat pattern did? A pattern just shows one simple construct of the music. Conductors must lead the ensemble in a musical journey in a clear visual display indicating not only dynamics, articulations, and instrumental cues, but phrases that tell the musical story. Understanding and showing the phraseology of works is essential in conveying the meaning and interpretation to the orchestra and ultimately, to the audience. This means conducting the phrases in the music while showing the technical aspects of dynamics, articulations, and instrumental textures.

Get past the beat pattern and look at the bigger picture. What do you really want to convey to the ensemble? Is it where beat 3 falls? Or, is it where the apex of the woodwind choir leads to a dovetailed connection with the violas? You can see this by looking at the phrases. Where is the drama and excitement of beat 2 versus the drama of letting a melody unfold magically from a soft dynamic to a more prominent foreground position? The conductor can foster this by helping the instrumentalist lead the melody by showing it visually!

Drop the pattern and adopt the phrase.

Musically Yours,

D. Oertel

PS - On a personal note, I just got engaged to be married!! Wooohoooo!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Who's skin is this anyway?

Who's skin is this anyway?

It's interesting as conductors we put on different "skins" so we can be everything we can be for the orchestra so we can aptly present a good show for the audience. Different skins are what people "wear" when speaking to the board or to the audience or even to the orchestra. Who are we, ourselves? I think it is important as people and as musicians to be true to ourselves and wear our own skin and not pretend to be anything else at anytime. Wearing your own skin means learning to be comfortable with your own personality with your own interpretation of musical works. Whether the interpretation is supported by research, by balance of the concert program, or whether you just decided to do something on a whim. Either way, you must be comfortable with yourself and how you present yourself. Forget about what people are thinking about you. Be yourself and be true to yourself and your own personality.

Wear your own skin.