Thursday, January 17, 2013


Bill Eddins, who maintains the Sticks and Drones blog, has offered a fairly extensive list of do's and don't's for those of us in the music industry. Not only does he take aim at Boards and Administrators, but also at musicians and conductors (which he intentionally separates).

The complete list can be found here, but I offer a few of my favorites (with my own comments in bold):

Particularly contemporary for the NJ Symphony: do NOT hire a resume-padding pedophile as your orchestra President. This cannot end well.

Aimed surely at the Minnesota Orchestra: do NOT embark on multi-million dollar renovations of your hall while simultaneously complaining about how much ‘the help’ are paid.

For all of us: do NOT allow your Music Director to program Overture/Concerto/Symphony for an entire season. Fire that person.

do NOT hire a Music Director based on one set of concerts. Ever. The only thing worse than making a rush choice is making a bad rush choice. Take your time. You are turning the reins of your orchestra over to someone who needs to be able to go from Bach to (God forbid) Bieber and everything inbetween. And fergodsakes, please make sure that person is at least old enough to shave. (an interesting thought).

To musicians: do NOT be one of those people who show up, sit in the back of the section with a sour look on your face, and complain all day about your job. No, for the vast majority of us this music thing is not an easy life but it beats the hell out of working deep sewer. People pay us to make music. We are running the greatest scam in the history of the world.

do NOT put anyone into your orchestra who cannot play Mozart. Period.

To Conductors: do NOT constantly program overture/concerto/symphony. If you do, you deserve to be fired.

do NOT become Music Director of 5 orchestras simultaneously. One is enough. Pay attention to that one and do your job well. It was good enough for Ormandy, it should be good enough for you.

For the greater good: DO love what you do. If you don’t love it, get out. Please. Music is too beautiful to be taken for granted.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reflecting on the dissertation, part 1

I am slated to complete my doctoral research, which has been dramatically altered, this semester.  The original project was intended to be the creation of a critical edition of the fourth symphony of Portuguese composer, Joly Braga Santos.  However, events in my personal life as well as the general upheaval in the composer's native land, have proven to make that an impossible task.  Thus, I have changed the project into a conductor's guide to the Variaciones Concertantes of Alberto Ginastera.  Much of the "descriptive material" is completed and now I find myself reflecting on the actual process that goes into the study of any score.

These days it seems as though there are as many texts on conducting as there are conductors.  Still, a limited number of these are considered to be the "Bibles" of the profession.  These include Elizabeth A. H. Green's The Modern Conductor and The Grammar of Conducting by Max Rudolf.  There are few who would discount the impact that both texts have had on subsequent generations of the wielders of the baton, amateur and professional (or those of us who try to straddle both worlds).  Still, while many of these texts are long on technique, most are lacking in more than a cursory presentation of what could be the most important part of the conductor's art:  the actual study of the score.

Green, in its seventh incarnation (released in 2004 by Mark Gibson nine years following Ms. Green's death) devotes a great deal of time, effort (and pages) to technical aspects.  Part I: "Technique" encompasses fully 140 of the approximately 215 pages of text.  Part II, which is entitled "Score Study" actually includes little in the way of significant instruction a comprehensive approach to the score.  Chapters include:

  • Clefs and Transpositions (maybe I'm a dolt, but aren't those a given?)
  • Instrumental Conducting: Orchestra and Band Scores (discusses more the structure of these)
  • Choral Conducting (my pet-peeve, as though the approach to a choral score is any different than any other kind of score.  My motto Conducting is conducting).
  • Applied Musicianship: Orchestra, Band, Chorus (and this mean?)
  • Conductor as Collaborator: Concertos and Operas.
  • Memorizing the score (I certainly wish that there was little emphasis placed upon this "skill."  Some of us have the ability; some of us don't.  I conduct certain pieces in my personal repertoire without looking at the score, but it is always there).  Of course we have Toscanini to blame for this but his insistence on memorization was born out of necessity: his eyesight was so bad that he couldn't read the score on the podium!
The most profound thoughts on score study in Green are actually found in the opening essay by the late Philadelphia Orchestra Conductor, Eugene Ormandy, entitled "The Art of Conducting."  Herein the author separates the "art" into three parts: personal study, rehearsal and performance.  And he approaches these concepts in a concise and cogent two pages.  Besides a knowledge of the relationships of the notes on the page, we are reminded to continually understand works within the context of their time (Ormandy uses the Eroica Symphony as an example. We are told to listen and study objectively, remembering Richard Strauss's dictum, "...You are making music not for your own pleasure but for the joy of your listeners."

An examination of Rudolf, now in its third edition (1994) notes a completely different text than "my father's"--actually my own--Grammar of Conducting.  Whereas the original was, in the words of the author, more of a "primer," the book is now "a general guide and source of pertinent information."  It is now divided into four sections, with a significant amount of material aimed toward study and interpretation.

Part III: "Execution and Performance," focuses on:

  • Score Study and the Preparation of Orchestra materials (no delineation of band music here).
  • Rehearsal Techniques
  • Opera and Choral Works with Orchestra
The entirety of Part IV is devoted to Interpretation and Style and includes:
  • Aspects of interpretation
  • Choice of Tempo
  • Performance Practice 
  • Aspects of Musical Style
Which is the better?  It would seem as though Rudolf has surpassed Mme. Green in the "score study" department, but still, her contributions to our art cannot be discounted.

One thing that I have learned today is that I need to visit the revised Grammar.  There is much more there than in the old.  I may actually learn something.