What does a driver actually do?  a surprising amount

What does a driver actually do? a surprising amount

What does a driver actually do?  a surprising amount

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At the age of three, I remember jumping on my parents’ couch, waving my arms in the air as I led a Gilbert and Sullivans Pirates of Penzance record. Last week my four-year-old was doing the same thing, only to the soundtrack to Disney’s Frozen.

“What are you doing?” I said. “I’m being you, daddy,” he replied as he continued to conduct his imaginary orchestra. I felt a pang in my heart and I remember as a child being moved by music and just letting my arms wave and wave. Fifty years later I do it for real. But what the directors actually do may be a mystery.

It is a mistake to think that the only purpose of a conductor is to wave his arms while the musicians follow him. Yes, the animation indicates the speed and location of a music beat, but have you ever seen two conductors wave their arms in the same way? ?

In most cases, their work takes place long before the public sees them on the concert platform.

physical communication

A conductor is a translator who visualizes his interpretation of little black dots on a page in audible delight. Yes, they hold their musicians together in the day, but their main importance is feeding the musicians a performance, encouraging them to communicate a melodic and rhythmic message to the best of their ability.

A conductor works at different levels ranging from educational, amateur and professional situations with different genres like choral, orchestral, opera and musical. In all categories, standards, styles and techniques vary, making the work challenging and often requiring a unique and eccentric approach.

A good conductor has a bag of tricks (developed through experience) to call upon in any musical situation. For example, the proximity between my hands influences the volume. The closer my hands are together, the softer I want the chorus to be, the greater the distance, the louder the sound.

We are primarily communicators, both verbal and physical. Conductors need to form a relationship with their musicians: trust, skill, and leadership are essential. The physical becomes important when the verbal is not possible (when the audience is present and within earshot). This is where arm movement comes into play. The movement of the left hand signifies dynamics, emotion, and expression, while the right hand is mainly used to signify speed and rhythm.

Directors have unique styles and skills. Look at Igor Stravinsky’s conducting and you will see how he maintains an exact beat, very rigid and solid without emotion. It allows musicians emotional control, but leads the very difficult rhythmic timing, speeds, and rhythm. He is a human metronome.

unique styles

A director is also an educator. Our job is to train musicians in the precision of music.

One would think that it is an easier job when working with professionals than with young people, but the interpretation can lead to disagreements. Sometimes the music is incredibly difficult, sometimes the musicians may be unprepared, so a degree of diplomacy is required to achieve the effect the director is looking for. Or, if you’re Bernstein, arguably one of the greatest composers and conductors of the 20th century, anything less than excellence is good enough and no diplomatic communication is possible.

There is a famous fragment that demonstrates the tension between Bernstein and the young tenor soloist José Carreras during rehearsals for the recording of Westside Story. It’s awkward and sometimes cringe-worthy. Both are trying to create perfection. You can see the communication and passion expressed across Bernstein’s face and then Carreras’ frustration at not being able to deliver the required level of precision.

Drivers can seem like the most stubborn breed. The late Romanian conductor Sergiu Celibidache is well known for refusing to record his music, believing that he should only be heard in the concert hall. His determined attitude towards the orchestras he worked with was infamous, displaying strong views on and off the concert platform. However, his techniques worked and he is now seen as one of the greatest directors of the 20th century.

The interpretations of the directors are different, each performance is unique. Each one has developed a unique style to achieve the desired effect.

American director Joseph R. Olefirowicz is known for his genius skills and methods in performing his performances.

There’s a lot more going on than just waving his arms, as demonstrated in the beautiful clip above of him directing Candide. His unique and humorous personality combined with his facial expressions convey his interpretation of the music to the orchestra who can’t help but catch his charisma. You can see that he takes time with his body, not just his arms. Unfortunately, the audience rarely sees what he is doing, since his back is to the audience.

By comparison, British-German conductor Simon Rattle adopts a much more relaxed body style for Candide, but the emotion he wants to convey is translated through facial expression and fluid arm movements.

So if you’re thinking about taking up the baton and waving those arms, reflect on the weeks of rehearsals leading up to the point of the performance. Consider the months of planning to organize such a mass of people to perform and fill an auditorium. Finally, look at the years of practice undertaken by singers, musicians, and the figure in front, waving their arms, and that’s what a conductor does.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The conversation

The conversation

Stephen Langston does not work for, consult with, own shares in, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic position.

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