I was forced, due to a commitment that got moved up in my schedule, to cancel giving a presentation at the recent CODA annual conference in Salt Lake City. This was a disappointment as I had planned to give a an in-depth analysis on the difference between the work and attributes of musical directors for theatre compared to orchestral/opera conductors. Are you surprised that there is a difference? Well you wouldn’t be alone if you did. Even conductors and musical directors of theatre don’t seem to know the difference much of the time. As part of the research for that presentation, I was reviewing all the known resources on the ‘Art of Conducting’ including every published text on teaching conducting – and there are a few!
The problem is most of them aren’t very good. I was particularly bemused by the author of a book on all things to do with the ‘baton’ published within the the last decade, who is adamant that the book, The Grammar of Conducting by Max Rudolf (multiple editions) should be on every conductor’s bookshelf. Alas, it wasn’t on mine, so I thought I should both acquire it and read it. I did. Oh, dear, it’s really very out-dated and is based on the idiotic assumption that conducting is derived from beat (or beating) patterns! So, by the way, the author who recommended the book similarly promulgates this approach.
Are there any ‘real’ conductors out there who actually think orchestra players give a toss about beat patterns? I don’t think so – because they all realise this one basic truth: Orchestra players CAN count. They don’t need conductors to ‘beat’ them to death. There are exceptions to this paradigm; for example, in polymetrical music where rhythmic pulse is the central construct in compositional terms (especially in quick tempi) and, in music with multiple cross-rhythms. Continue Reading →