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ConcertinaChap



Joined: 20/07/05
Posts: 2698
Loc: Bradford on Avon
Books on conducting
      #991377 - 05/06/12 02:49 PM
Another question: My partner's opera was staged yesterday for the first time with some success. She had a lot of support in achieving this from the conductor, a fellow student. We would like to buy her a present and as we know she is about to start an MA in conducting we thought that a book or books on conducting would be a good idea. Unfortunately the course tutors aren't responding to their emails right now, so I wondered if anyone here might be able to make suggestions.

TIA,

CC

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Remember: Tidy wires are happy wires!
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ConcertinaChap



Joined: 20/07/05
Posts: 2698
Loc: Bradford on Avon
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: ConcertinaChap]
      #991487 - 06/06/12 08:56 AM
Ah, bug*er it! We'll just have to give her an Amazon token.

CC

--------------------
Remember: Tidy wires are happy wires!
Mr Punch's Studio


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tacitus



Joined: 04/02/08
Posts: 963
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: ConcertinaChap]
      #992130 - 09/06/12 07:36 PM
Hi, CC,

I missed this post for some reason so I'm probably speaking too late to help you. My experienced with conducting books has been a bit up and down; most are better for bedtime reading than for serious study, and to be honest I think you need to look at a lot of them and pick out the bits that either apply to you and your situation or happen to chime with your way of thinking.

The fact is that conducting technique is something honoured more in the breach than the observance; most great conductors have had either appalling stick technique or eccentricities that make them poor role models for students of conducting. The thing that's most crucial is that you know the music in detail, understand how it fits together and how you want to put your own view of it over. As long as you know what you're doing and the orchestra believes you know what you're doing you can get what you want with the most basic stick technique. Serious score study is the foundation for that.

I don't have a major problem with what any given book about conducting says, but you need to understand it's only going to be one person's opinion of something that worked for him or her self. That's why you need to use multiple sources.

Physically, you can acquire a serviceable stick technique by conducting in a mirror and video recording yourself conducting bands and then fixing what you see to be wrong. Beyond that, you need to conduct as much as you get the opportunity to do, and you need to learn not to overconduct either musically - most musicians work better if you let them get on with it, or physically - if you work too hard you'll just strain yourself to no avail. Also some aspects of technique are not totally intuitive; for example, if the band is dragging, the last thing you want to do is beat bigger and harder, and that's the first thing most beginners (including me at one time) do. As long as your technique includes some sort of preparatory stroke to your beat there won't be too many timekeeping problems.

Another point is that conductors often subdivide beats unnecessarily, in my opinion. Good musicians subdivide in their heads and bad ones ought to - although technically that's band training rather than conducting technique. No matter, you need to do training unless you're lucky enough only to work with the best musicians. Your beat is never going to be exact becasue you're usually slightly ahead of the beat and shaping the music, so if you subdivide the beat physically (and that includes beating 4 in 4/4 when beating 2 makes better sense, or beating 3 when beating 1 works better) all you're doing is working harder for LESS precision.

Incidentally, a very rough rule of thumb as to whether your players are 'good' or 'not so good' is whether they can play without you. Even in bands where I'm convinced nobody watches me at all, they can't continue together if I stop beating. Better musicians can deal with conductors who want to stop beating so they can do shaping stuff or just have a bit of a break.

The other big issue people have problems with is bands playing behind the beat - most pros do because if they're a cohesive unit it works better. Personally, I feel some conductors overdo this but a) you need to be prepared for it to happen, depending on the group vibe of whichever ensemble you're conducting (and the music, of course) and b) you need to take it as it comes. It's pointless trying to change an orchestra's way of doing that beyond what you can achieve in the normal course of waving your stick at them. Watch as many conductors as you can and you'll get an idea of what might work for you and also what you think you'll look a total prat trying to copy.

I find it really helpful conducting smaller groups like wind octets. They often work without a conductor, so you need to be able to bring something special to the table, but to make up for that you can do it without having to shout at trumpets a mile away from you and you can use 'chamber music skills' on them which is absolutely the best way to learn what you can do with your stick (or, as I prefer for this size of group, your hands).


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ConcertinaChap



Joined: 20/07/05
Posts: 2698
Loc: Bradford on Avon
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: tacitus]
      #992290 - 11/06/12 11:29 AM
Tacitus, thank you very much indeed for this. As you say, it's too late to answer the original question (we did buy her an Amazon voucher) but it will help greatly with another problem.

Both performances of the opera having been very successful our next step is to take it out of the university environment and, working with some of the original performers plus additional amateur musicians, take it into other places such as folk festivals where it should do well (the first performance was at Chippenham Folk Festival and they cheered it to the rafters). However our original conductor is moving on to take a further degree in conducting so my partner will need to acquire some of the skills. Your notes should help her avoid some of the pitfalls.

Many thanks,

CC

--------------------
Remember: Tidy wires are happy wires!
Mr Punch's Studio


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Exalted Wombat



Joined: 06/02/10
Posts: 5844
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: tacitus]
      #992326 - 11/06/12 01:50 PM
Quote tacitus:

The other big issue people have problems with is bands playing behind the beat - most pros do because if they're a cohesive unit it works better.




They do it in some circumstances. It's not inevitable, and it isn't always appropriate. Remember "Maestro" on the telly? I always felt it was unfair of the BBCCO to play that game with an inexperienced conductor who had given them a perfectly clear beat.


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tacitus



Joined: 04/02/08
Posts: 963
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: ConcertinaChap]
      #992367 - 11/06/12 07:13 PM
Yeah, I agree it isn't always appropriate. It's fun to watch orchestras doing programmes of music from different eras and seeing them go much further behind the beat for Beethoven than they do for Stravinsky, say. But I hate it when I get players who sit right on my beat because it doesn't give everybody else a chance to line up together as a group and it doesn't give me a chance to use my stick expressively. Players who do it are also, in my experience, more prone to get ahead of the beat. Most bands get much closer to the beat as the music speeds up anyway. The problem that does occur with the ensemble being behind the beat is that there's a terrible temptation, conscious or not, to make the upbeat the focus of the energy to get things lined up in your head. That's fatal. I've never actually given instruction to a group as to how far behind i like it but I certainly have regularly conducted different groups with noticeably different delays. If I have to tell players to keep to the beat, I'm not necessarily insisting they play exactly on the ictus but that it all happens in a controlled way. Explaining it in detail almost always results in chaos because the (inevitably amateur) players start thinking about the only thing they've actually being doing automatically.

If you're guesting for a band with an ingrained 'sense of delay' you can probably tighten them up a bit but not usually that much. There's bound to be something more important you need to do. Just hope you don't have to do Beethoven 5, Coriolanus, or the opening of La Boheme!

Incidentally, I had a major altercation with a band over the Jubilee as they wouldn't play the Queen at my speed (about 96 bpm) and insisted collectively on doing it at about 60 bpm which then slowed to about 50 bpm as I stopped conducting. They'll pay for that next week in rehearsal (in the nicest possible way, of course!). This was the beginning of the concert, where I like to have the National Anthem, and the rest of the time they were unusually responsive, so I can't be too hard on them.


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Daniel Davis



Joined: 10/03/06
Posts: 873
Loc: Edinburgh
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: ConcertinaChap]
      #1008676 - 16/09/12 11:42 AM
Books about conducting??? to steal a phrase its a bit like dancing about architecture.

Conducting is a profoundly physical skill which is best learned by immitation of a gifted practitioner, with feedback from a real person. A book cannot show you, nor can it correct you.

A book can give you amusing anecdotes (Beecham is very good for these) and the rationale behind various techniques, but on balance it will always be a nice-to-have addition to real instruction.

--------------------
Daniel Davis
Edinburgh Recording Studio Windmill Sound


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tacitus



Joined: 04/02/08
Posts: 963
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: ConcertinaChap]
      #1008697 - 16/09/12 03:29 PM
Daniel,

I was just about to agree with you wholeheartedly when I suddenly thought I should point out that the most important thing, beyond technique in my opinion, is to know the music intimately and to know what you want to do with it. Getting that over to the players is not necessarily profoundly physical despite the need for some physical dexterity. But I've seen conductors being 'profoundly physical' to no effect and being almost in a coma to great effect. But yes, books are a good read and may contain gems of wisdom that lead you to consider or reconsider what you do on the podium. They certainly won't substitute for learning by doing.


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Daniel Davis



Joined: 10/03/06
Posts: 873
Loc: Edinburgh
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: tacitus]
      #1008761 - 17/09/12 09:45 AM
I've played for conductors who thrashed about wildly and others who made a tiny metronome and little else. Funny thing is I've played for excellent and aweful conductors of both varieties.

My favourite conductor that I played for was Adrian Brown and he often conducted with his eyebrows. There isn't a single correct method, rather there are as many styles as conductors. As you say you must know the music intimately and know what you wish to communicate, which you then must communicate physically.

--------------------
Daniel Davis
Edinburgh Recording Studio Windmill Sound


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David EtheridgeModerator



Joined: 10/04/02
Posts: 1014
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: Daniel Davis]
      #1010956 - 01/10/12 02:31 PM
There are books on conducting and books on conducting.
Some are dire, some are authoritative.
The very best one still remains Sir Adrian Boult's small book on the Art of Conducting, which was originally produced for the conducting class at the R.C.M. AB's technique was derived/inherited from Artur Nikisch, one of the great 19th century conductors, who in his day was of paramount influence amongst musos. When I was at the R.C.M. Tod Handley (Boult's protege) was at the helm and his conducting (and AB's, unsurprisingly) was a revelation of clarity and economy; the point of technique was, and remains the art of getting results with the minimum of effort -which is true for all instruments.
Boult's book gives a wealth of advice on techniques, including how to beat, subdividing (you can subdivide ANY combination of beats this way quite easily) and also line of sight for musicians. Flailing away without a baton and trying to conduct using the force of your personality may (and I stress the term MAY) work with the first desk of the strings, but for the percussion, brass and bass sections who are yards away it's not only irrelevant, its invisible.
Norman Del Mar (himself a protege of Beecham) had a brain the size of a planet and rehearsals were never less than entertaining and enlightening, but his beat was murderous and could disappear at any time-and it was like watching St. Vitus. As a result, you can hear on some of his recordings somee very sloppy ensembles.
The point here is that Nikisch/Boult's/Handley's technique gives a very clear indication of exactly where the beat is and should be. To say that players who play exactly on the beat are liable to rush is a total red herring -if you know exactly where the beat is at any time, it's exceptionally easy to get a very tight ensemble, and there's no room for confusion.
By contrast, the BBC fad for playing behind the beat can be clumsy, and points up the fact that some orchestras play to their own beat and not the conductor's. I've seen conductors having to wait for BBC orchestras to catch up before they can give a new downbeat. Boult's click beat makes 1 or 2 in a bar very clear and precise even at fast tempos; the current fashion for windmilling conductors where a beat is an upward swoop makes it impossible to place the beat accurately every time. Just where on the 'swoop' do you play the note?
Likewise, subdivision. There's a trend to beat 5s and 7s as unequal 2s and 3s (if you see what I mean) because a conductor is either too lazy to beat each beat out, or doesn't know how to beat 5 or 7 in a bar. Musos don't like it and the music suffers, even more so if they're 'swoop' beats -death in Stravinsky or Copland, just to name two.

Here are two contrasting examples:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxL5kkkhEwQ

Vernon Handley showing his economical and above all clear beat; notice how the orchestra play right on the beat, with no BBC style delay.
Now try this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEDrO35p7Hs

Mark Elder flapping around like a demented seal, the Halle (all looking rather unhappy) playing monumentally behind the beat and in a very lacklustre way. (Old style Halle aficionados would say that Barbirolli -the Halle's peerless maestro- would have been horrified at this).
To my mind the results speak for themselves. Give musos a clear and economical beat that can be seen 50 yards away (in big concerts in cathedrals you can easily be that far from the conductor) and in your line of sight above the music and they'll love you for it. Flap around with a swirly beat that you can't see and the results will be dire.

Here's the master at work:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRXkISjm97U

Again, the musos are right on the beat, and look at the easy and relaxed way he indicates everything. One other point of note is the long baton, which is very helpful is indicating beats (the movement comes from the fingers and wrist avoiding semaphore like flailing) and easily viewed from yards away. The modern trend is for small short batons or -in the case of Elder- very often no baton at all and when its there its use is almost superfluous.

So: the right book can show you the basics and how to be 'muso friendly' Remember that there's no reason at all why an orchestra should not play on the beat. If you say that it doesn't give the others the chance to line up (what does that actually mean?) it implies that they're physically incapable of playing on the beat or are bolshie enough not to follow the conductor.

Then when you've got a good clear stick technique, you have the right to insist that an orchestra plays exactly on the beat rather than behind it. The poor sods on 'Maestro' weren't told that, and things might have been so much easier for them if they had been so informed!

Best wishes,
Dave



--------------------
Lots of Ataris which keep on going, 12 Kurzweil 1000 modules, a bunch of hardware synths. Still recording to tape -the old ways are best.....


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tacitus



Joined: 04/02/08
Posts: 963
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: ConcertinaChap]
      #1011438 - 03/10/12 01:36 PM
Well, I expect the poor sods on Maestro were told whatever it took to make the thing 'exciting'. Couldn't agree more on 99% of what you say Dave, and there's no doubt your analysis is spot on. I do find with amateurs, though that being 'on the beat' needs to be a tad flexible and with amateurs there are of course any number of ways they can confound common-sense and logic. And it varies according to all sorts of circumstances - I know one player who will play ahead of the beat given half a chance (glaring round as if to suggest he's right and everybody else is wrong), and when he's sitting at the front of a group it's quite a problem. When he's playing one of his other instruments at the back it's not nearly as bad. Admittedly this is not strictly a conducting issue, more a training one.

But yes, one of the best ensembles I play in has a conductor who always gives us beats in, but we do play to the beat and we don't go off it very often.

I'm not totally sure I can conduct accurately enough for a group to stick like glue to my beat. I caught Elder doing some very strange stuff in the Leeds Piano the other day and I saw Owain Arwel Hughes so far ahead of the band once that they're probably still playing. Definitely showing off, as it was all Dambusters and stuff like that anyway.


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Pauly99
member


Joined: 11/11/03
Posts: 41
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: tacitus]
      #1011527 - 03/10/12 07:46 PM
As a regular gigging jazz, rock, pop & blues musician myself and keen orchestral & classical fan, I have always had various degrees of difficulty following orchestral conductors at live performances.

In some cases I have found it hard to believe the orchestra is even paying any attention to the conductor at all. If you watch the the links in Dave E's post above you can see why - hardly any of the musicians ever look at the conductor. Ok, they make make occasional glances, but they are mostly consumed with sight-reading the material. Peripheral vision may account for some of it, of course, but I suspect there's a auditory follow-the-leader element to a lot of it. Which is fine if it works.

At the last concert I attended at The Festival Hall, the conductor Karl Jenkins, gave a solid indication of the pulse from where I was sitting, but I had fun spotting those in the orchestra who were actually looking up to him for guidance. Not many - most were following the crowd.


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Dino4t5



Joined: 07/07/07
Posts: 15
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: Pauly99]
      #1011545 - 03/10/12 09:51 PM
"Peripheral vision may account for some of it, of course, but I suspect there's a auditory follow-the-leader element to a lot of it."

Dont dismiss peripheral vision so lightly, it is probably the most important link between musician and conductor. As a muso reads his part, it is the central part of the eye which picks out the static notes on the page, often scanning and rescanning multiple bars together, while peripheral vision - which is very poor at distinguishing colour and shape but the most effective field-of-view at spotting movement, can pick out even slight movements of a conductors baton, or hand movement/indication etc.

As to the follow-the-leader syndrome, this is a fact, although rather than follow the leader it could be because the orchestra/band have rehearsed the shite out of the piece, and like trek ponies, follow the familiar path home each time. It is up to the conductor [IMHO] to address this by planning rehearsals better, and by creating small "surprises" throughout to keep the musicians more attentive and agile. Don't forget, being a musician IS a job, and like any job it can become boring and monotonous, even playing the most exciting of music.
-my two cents

--------------------
That wasn't a wrong note, just a bad choice!


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Exalted Wombat



Joined: 06/02/10
Posts: 5844
Re: Books on conducting new [Re: David Etheridge]
      #1011589 - 04/10/12 08:54 AM
Quote David Etheridge:


Now try this:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEDrO35p7Hs

Mark Elder flapping around like a demented seal, the Halle (all looking rather unhappy) playing monumentally behind the beat and in a very lacklustre way.




Interesting. Elder (though I believe orchestras sometimes have personality issues with him) has been responsible for some of the most satisfying performances I've heard. In the video he gives several perfectly clear cues, which the orchestra steadfastly ignore.


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