April 23, 2009 at 1:17 AM
A couple days ago I had a nice chuckle on a recording session courtesy of Joel McNeely, a fine composer just finishing up the score for ‘Tinkerbell 2’; a little direct-to-disc film for Disney animation.
We were just about 5 minutes away from the start of the session, and I looked up from my warming up to see Joel and his orchestrator on the podium comparing batons, you know, balancing them inn their hands, rolling them back and forth in their fingers.
Immediately I was transported back to the late seventies, watching an old Garrett Morris routine from Saturday Night Live. He had concocted something called ‘the Conductor’s Club’ for the show. It centered around a very odd and nerdy group of wannabe conductors who met weekly on the Upper West Side.
Aside from conducting to recordings they would sit around and discuss the merits of various batons, and the proper way to criticize woodwind intonation. It was hilarious.
Now, I happened to study conducting from a Leon Barzin pupil by the name of William Kettering. And not only did we frequently conduct to recordings, I think of Bill as the quintessential Upper West Sider – I believe he spent several years there whilst studying and teaching at the Manhattan School of Music. I met him in LA in the ‘70s.
What a conductor indicates with a baton a string player must produce on his or her instrument with a bow – something many conductors would do well to consider whilst flailing their limbs through space at us.
Not only that, the cute, delicate, little thing you see many a conductor flicking around is mighty hard to see from the back row of the violin section.
So when it comes to leading an orchestra, my advice is - be bold. Wield a stick that people will not require binoculars to see, and draw it through space such that string players – 50% of the orchestra – stand a chance of making a good effect by doing something similar on their instruments.
If you want to see an example of what I’m talking about do a search for Arturo Toscanini on YouTube and watch a master at work.
Now, Toscanini was a cellist. He knew a thing or two about using an arm to draw a tone out of a string instrument. And he knew how to hold a baton to draw a heart-stopping tone out of an orchestra.
In fact, when I think of my bow-hold I think of Toscanini holding his baton. The touch is light, the fingers are alive, and the digits work as one unit, hardly moving.
All the best,
But don't be too bold, conductors! Second violinists (seated at the far stage left) hate it when batons come down in front of their stands and threaten the varnish on their instruments. :)
Well, it's not about conducting, but this fiddler only has one arm!
Thank You so much for this Blogg! I really enjoyed what you said about what a conductor does with the baton is what the violinists (string players) draw out with their bows! I would have never thought of looking at it like that!
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