Friday, September 3, 2010

Making music

When I was a kid, my dad asked me what an orchestra conductor does - other than just waving his arms. I didn't know.

I’ve been involved in choirs for the last ten years, and had the opportunity to guest conduct a couple of rehearsals and masses with my church choir. So now I know.

The conductor PLAYS the ensemble, the same way a musician plays his instrument. It’s more than waving your arms and keeping time. It’s about shaping the music.

I’m fascinated by the whole process. As a pianist, my brain tells my fingers and hands to move in a way that causes the piano translate certain sounds.

Thought > movement > sound

Conducting is similar, but way more complicated because of the extra middle man. The conductor translates his musical vision into what I like to call the "conductor's dance". Then the musicians have to interpret the dance, figure out what it means for sound, then play their instrument to produce that sound. Then good ensemble musicians check if they’re in sync with the conductor by seeing if the conductor is dancing along to what they are playing.

Thought > movement > (interpretation into) thought > movement > sound > movement

All this translation of one thing into another reminds me of any organization with a leader and some minions, or supply chain, no? And so the world continues to spin.

An excerpt from Handel's Messiah that I performed in two years ago, conducted by my dear friend, Matthew Otto. Check out his broad strokes for the majestic "Surely" and "And With His Stripes", his crouch and smooth movements for the gentler parts "He hath borne our grief and carried our sorrows", his lively bounce in "All We Like Sheep", and his precision for "He trusted in God". And you can't even see the faces he's making at us.

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