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So, you want to be a Conductor

Güncelleme tarihi: 25 Nis 2020


I'm 50 years old, my music adventure started at an early age. I can even say that it started long before I was born. Most men in my family have been musicians for many generations. Even My Grandmother’s father was a conductor in Janissary Band during Ottoman era in Greece. His name was İbrahim Karaca.

Of course, here my goal is not to tell you about my family tree. The aim of this article is to give some advice distilled from my own conclusions and experiences to young people, who passionately want to be a conductor.

First of all;

Why do you want to be the Conductor?

Think thoroughly about this question and answer yourself honestly. Because what kind of Conductor you will be is hidden in your answer.

Once upon a time at the Rotterdam Conservatory (now is CODARTS) we were in the same room as candidates before the first entrance exam, everyone was waiting their names to be announced. While we wait, we talk to each other, study and so on. There was a candidate among us. He was very good. Piano, violin, theory, ear was not bad at all. All of us candidates thought that he would definitely pass the exam. The semester had begun. But he was not in the class. I asked the teacher.

- There was a candidate in the entrance exam, why he is not amongst us?

- He couldn’t pass the exam, he replied.

I said,

- Why? I thought he was doing very fine. Full score playing, conducting, hearing skills and knowledge of music theory was good.

Teacher said,

- Yes, he was very good at everything you say, but he did not answer the most important question in the exam.

I tried but couldn't remember what the question could be and said;

- May I ask what the question was? He replied;

- Do you remember? I asked all of you, why do you want to be a Conductor, in the exam.

Your answer was the most important step for me. That young man just gave the wrong answer.

Obviously, I will not share with you the answer of that young man. Neither my answer, nor my teacher's response to his teacher. This question, you need to answer from the bottom of your heart and it is important you should not be influenced by any other.

However, as I said at the beginning, what kind of Conductor you will be, is hidden in your answer.

In the path of becoming a conductor herewith I give you some tips.

Your level of solfege and music theory must be good enough to serve you all over the World.

This is a must.

Your ears should be good enough to differentiate the notes, chords and colors being played.

Your body language and gestures should comfortably reflect your musical expression.

If you don't have any of them, better to start developing now. Otherwise, it is highly possible to look like a monkey tries to move his hand and arms, which has nothing to do with the music he conducts or the orchestra plays.

There is no need for another monkey in Conductor’s world. We have enough of them already.

Let’s assume you’ve became one of them, the worst thing is that the orchestra players will never tell it to your face directly.

You should have close friends who can make reliable criticism about your conducting. If this person is an orchestra player this is best for you. Your friend should not hide his thoughts, when you hear the truth it can make you fall apart. You must be strong enough to handle hearing it. Don't forget that you can improve anything, everything is possible if you only work, work, work.

About that work, here is how you could start;

Take a full score, because your best and only friend will be the full score on this path.

Start by listening music following the full score.

At first you may find it difficult to follow and you may even get lost in the score.

Take from the beginning, focus on not getting lost. Do it again and again. You will get used to it after a while. Trust me.

If it is still very difficult, it is wise to go back developing your solfege skills.

Let's say, you've come a level up, after a time, you will already be moving your arm without noticing yourself.

When you're alone in your room, you should get in front of the mirror.

Or you can record yourself and watch the video after. I'm sure at first you’ll like your conducting so much as if you are in love with yourself. But it is an illusion, believe me, nobody is that good and love is blind!

At this stage, turn off the music and try to hear it in your head just by looking at the full score.

This is very important; I call it "inner ear." Work on it, get used to.

Remember, you can read the score everywhere.

On the subway, train, bus and even in the bathroom.

You should not waste any time. Because you wanted to be a Conductor.

Now question is how to further develop your "inner ear"?

Take the score, look at the first note in the Contrabasses. Better to start from the bottom note. Look at the dynamics, is it piano or forte, arco or pizzicato? And try to imagine, what kind of sound they might produce?

Remember, you are at the first note of the first chord yet. Did you hear it with your inner ear?

If yes, do the same for the Violoncello, and when you have them in your ear, combine both groups in your head. Keep going until the upper note of the first chord sounding in your head.

How many minutes did first chord take sounding in your ear, in your imagination?

It could take long but don’t give up. Go for second chord again from the bottom.

This may seem very boring and time consuming; but be patient, you're going to accelerate. Trust me.

This inner ear exercise, will give you chance to work comfortably in any place.

Also you will be capable to conduct any piece without listening it’s recording or watching its video.

You will have complete freedom and full confidence. Just be patient. Work, work, work.

While you work on your inner ear, you can do other practices too.

Go in front of the mirror, start to beat.

You must have a good beating technic.

This will save you a lot of time in front of the orchestra.

There are many techniques and their combinations in the world, reinterpretations.

Many different conducting schools, research them. Saito, Musin, Panula, Ferrara, Celibidache etc. Try to have knowledge about them and try to understand, analyze, digest. Then you can make your own cocktail.

At first, you can look like an imitation of some other maestros.

This is ok. But most important thing is to find your own way to conduct. It may take a long time, maybe even many many years, but once you do, it will only be yours.

The best advice, again, is to keep on beating in front of the mirror.

With a permanent inked pen, you may draw on the mirror the 4/4, 2/4, 3/4 bars patterns.

While you're standing in front of the mirror, follow the patterns carefully with your hand or the tip of your baguette. Turn on the metronome at 40-55 bpm. This is the best tempo for exercise. Every day in the morning beat 100 bars of each pattern. Do it even before brushing your teeth.

This will develop your “muscle memory”, which is crucial for a conductor.

Don't forget, it's much easier to conduct fast tempos. Almost anyone can do it.

The trick is to keep the tempo at a slow bpm and be capable to beat clearly.

So never get faster than 60 bpm in your practices.

If you started following the patterns without interrupting the tempo;

It’s time to include your left hand.

Start moving your left hand very, very slowly while the right hand beats with the metronome of course. Navigate the left hand, do not stop or accelerate, at the same speed forward, back, up, down. But very slowly.

Scratch your head with the left hand, but smooth movements are very important. Rest if you're tired.

Read the the score in the breaks.

Are you bored of doing such heavy and meaningless things?

Take a tennis, or a rubber ball with your left or right hand. Throw it in the floor or wall and grab it again, throw it again and grab it. But do not forget the metronome. Stick with bpm.

This is the best way to exercise your lazy hand.

This left hand movements will help you a great deal for the entrance cues.

Thanks to this in the future you will be so comfortable to conduct an Opera.

No matter how good your teacher is, life is too short to have only one teacher.

Try to learn from anyone, anything you can get. Everyone has good or bad story, unique methods about conducting. Try to take advantage of all these experiences.

This will help you on the path of finding your own way of conducting.

The music styles, music eras are important.

Study the composers, there are periods in their lives, try to learn as much as you can. Also painters and other art disciplines of the same eras help you grasp the bigger picture and understand the style.

Think a lot about musical phrasing it is crucially important for interpretation.

Take singing lessons this is the best way to learn phrasing.

There is no one way to interpret a work. This changes like a fashion every 7-10-15 years.

Be aware of these trend changes, and follow them. Sometimes these fashions may vary even in the same country. Mozart or Beethoven; In Germany, Netherlands or Italy may require different approach.Because every country's taste, perspective, music culture may be different. If you know them a little, it will help you a lot.

Do anything to listen a rehearsal.

Rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals. Best way to learn how to rehearse is to watch the other conductor’s rehearsals. Believe me you learn best. Even you learn much more from the bad conductors, in terms of what not to do.

Know the scores before you go to any rehearsal, don't go like a tourist to take selfie with the maestro or the soloist.

If you don’t know the scores stay at home and study. This gives you more benefit.

The road is a bit long but very pleasant and real.

Try to be as objective as possible to yourself even though it can be hard sometimes.

The camera is your best teacher.

Record yourself all the time while conducting.

Look for any chance of giving someone upbeat as much as possible.

Duet, trio or more, give them an upbeat and let them start to play. When they stop try to help them to play better.

Remember, a symphony orchestra can be 20 meters or more between the farthest corners.

It may not be easy to hear each other because of the acoustics. Your help is very important for the players.

Conductor is a facilitator to make the orchestra play better.

When you are in front of the orchestra, one of your greatest demons is timidity.

Insecurity may be a big hurdle while facing the orchestra. Try to get rid of these demons, find a way to conquer them.

When visiting rehearsals, I recommend you try and give a ride to the chef podium when the orchestra is in the pause and no one is around. Stand in front of the empty chairs and stands, and experience what the strength of even an empty stage feels like.

Your entire carrier will merely be the summary of how you reflect that energy of the stage, which will of course be much more powerful with the artists in place, to the audience.

On a 1.5 square meter podium you may have a heavenly or hell like experience.

Back to the demons, how can you conquer them?

I recommend you find what works for you, may it be dancing like crazy, screaming on the highway through the window of a car or maybe bungee jumpingJ

No matter how good your ears are when you are on the podium, you'll be deaf in front of the orchestra.

In the beginning, you will not hear 100% of the sound. If you are stiff in your upper body it will require more RAM. You won't have enough RAM to listen clearly. Close more windows, focus on listening. Otherwise you can't hear it. It's hard to rehearse what you can't hear. Find a way to listen and solve this problem as soon as possible. The accuracy of the technique reduces the degree of deafness.

The key is to get relaxed immediately after every beat.

If your upper body is tense, your muscles make so much noise. Stiffness in the neck area also affect the ears.

Remember, listening is everything. You conduct the orchestra with your ears rather than your hands.

Remember Beethoven's last days.

You should learn to see with your ears, listen with your eyes.

Orchestra players are very good observers.

As you walk towards the podium, step on the podium and say good morning to the orchestra, giving the upbeat to start, using gestures and body language, they will observe you.

Be sure they will assess and understand in the minute what kind of conductor you are.

Some may not be aware of these things; some may have already given up to think about the conductor. But the majority follows and observes you so carefully.

Golden Key is to just be yourself.

Don't try to impress them with an image which you're not. You can dress up so chic but believe me does not impress anyone. Your musicianship and kindness is what will invite the orchestra to play with you.

Remember the monkey? If in any place if you have to be a monkey and it will help the orchestra play better, do not hesitate to be the monkey. Remember result is what matters most.

When you make a mistake, don't put the blame on the orchestra to cover your own fault.

Orchestra is not stupid. This would damage your own credibility.

Let them know why you have stopped. When you start again they must know what to do differently. Be clear about it. If you don’t tell to the orchestra why you take it again believe me, it is torture for them. When you stop give them some time to get silenced. Don’t tick tick to your stand, it is actually annoying. Also, it doesn’t make sense to speak while they are still playing. Wait until the orchestra has stopped and speak clearly to make sure the farthest players can hear you well.

Little by little they will understand your style and stop earlier than before.

When you stop for rehearsing something, before telling a rehearsal mark or number of measures, tell first which instrument or group you will talk to. If you don’t do this, unconcerned players will also be looking for the spot.

There are only instruments written on the full score not the persons.

Even if you have a wife or husband, son or daughter in the orchestra, try not to call them by name.

Call them with the instruments or groups they are playing.

You're in a foreign country for the first time and the first rehearsal.

A person will introduce you and you will start rehearsing.

You have the chance to scan the level of the orchestra quickly by increasing some detailing while playing the passages in the works on certain instruments.

For example, you may ask the trumpets to play more piano in one spot, the flutes where they take a breath while phrasing. You ask them to play a spot a bit more or less. Of course, your suggestions must be musical and logical.

This will help you to quickly know the limits of the orchestra. It will come by experience.

The more you conduct in front of the real players and use these opportunities wisely, the more experience you get.

You may not know how to play all instruments.

But you have to know what the principles are. Good to have an idea on what is difficult or easy for a given instrument. Surely you can learn this from the orchestration books.

But if you ask me, the best way to learn this is to participate the lessons of any instrument as an observer. Because theory doesn't always teach everything.

I think this is plenty for you to reflect on for now.

If you have any comments and questions, I will try to answer them. It does not matter what level you are.

Last words and gift from me;

I am 50 and I believe that sharing is so important in life. So I reserved every Monday, 22.00-23.00 Turkish time (GMT+3) for free conducting lessons online.

Click the link below to reserve your free lesson.

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