A Question For Conductors.......

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Shaggy, Nov 3, 2005.

  1. Shaggy

    Shaggy New Member

    ..........speaking as a musician of wide experience, and as a multi instrumentalist, there is something about Brass band conductors that never ceases to infuriate me, something which, generally speaking, conductors in other ensembles are not guilty of, I refer to the failiure to give cues to percussion players.

    Just how many acres of blank manuscript, iether side of a solo percussion entry, would it take for the average brass band conductor to be forced to acknowledge the presence of the two or three long suffering skin bashers at the back of the band?

    God help any poor sod of a kitchen sink merchant like me if i miss an entry, then of course old "Napoleon" is on you like a ton of bricks!!! which of course begs the question, if dear old "Adolf "knew I had missed it, why could he not give me a ****** cue? or even just a clue? is it too much to ask you to stop waving your arms in the solo cornet players face (even when he or she is not playing) occasionally and look out over the horizon to the back of the band and give some assistance to hapless percussionist poised over a six foot diameter tamtam with a padded sledge hammer?

    This barely concealed contempt for percussion players manifests itself in other ways as well. For instance,failing to count in a piece on a concert, or if it is counted in, its generally done with hands low down and in a barely audible whisper. Of course the solo cornet gets a clear view of all this, but the drummer is left squinting, half standing, with both ears cupped looking like David Attenbourgh searching for fruit bats the rain forest.

    No prizes for guessing who's "fault" it is when the band starts in three different tempos, its NEVER old "STALINS" fault of course!

    All unmarked changes in tempo are by default met with evil stares from uncle Joe Stalin at the percussion section, even when we are not playing!!! (I am not making this up guys it happens all the time) It stands to reason in Stalins mind that if its a tempo problem of any kind it MUST be the drummer who is causing it. Annoying as it is to be falsely accused in this fashion,it is at the same time gratifying to discover that "Ghengis" DOES AFTER ALL KNOW WHERE THE PERCUSSION SECTION IS SITUATED!!!

    Memo for all brass band conductors:- 95% of the time, unmarked and unwanted fluctuations in tempi are caused by PEOPLE PLAYING BRASS INSTRUMENTS. These changes in tempo are made worse by YOU THE CONDUCTOR, who more often than not will follow the bands change of tempo in slavish bovine style for minutes on end. The drummer, of course watches as the look of bewidered confusion on the conductors face slowy changes to one of spiteful venemous hatred directed at the drummer (who else?).

    One way try and counter this is to keep playing at the conductors original tempo, in the hopes that the band will pick up speed again or slow down as the case may be, after all, lets face it lads and lasses of the percussion department, its "our job to keep time" right?.......WRONG!!!.....you are so wrong!!....what happenes next is I get...wait for it......A CUE!!! sadly its only another flash of spiteful venemous hatred indicating that I have speeded up!!......see? you just cant win.

    If you play a piece with this recurring problem for long enough (this may take years with some of the, even slower on the uptake, tinpot dictators) your conductor may cotton on to the real reason, and may realise that the drummer is keeping perfect time and the rest of the band are rushing their tricky little entries and wallowing indulgently in the easy bits. The conductor may even go as far as to point out this problem, will you the drummer be getting any thanks?...er......not ****** likely.

    Drum "Solos":- its hilarious to watch "Our Dear Leader" dishing out the sycophantic groveling, when goody two shoes, on what ever end chair, does his usual tedious solo, normally some futile meanderings on a feeble hymn tune. You just cant stop the arrogant gestapo like manners of the conductor from dissolving in to a doe eyed state of post orgasmic extasy, as he leads the audience in applause, fawning and back slapping the great master as he completes yet another leaden tired rendition of "Napoli".

    Any one who stands up and blows down a curly brass metal tube can expect the same gushing smarmy flattery from Napoleon (even if he is secretly planning on busting you down to "none playing librarian").

    Of course, its a very different story for the drummer, and i have experienced this many times. A good example is a piece called "Strike up the band"( arr Goff Richards) I have played this many times under many conductors.It is undeniably, irrefutably, patently, obviously A DRUM SOLO FEATURE at least, I thought it was, normally even the band members will grudgingly admit as much, and with out doubt the audience know it is a drum feature.......alas.......the view from "the bridge" is very different, the lonely commander, surveying the big picture on the high seas of the brass band world has no time for such frivolity. It matters not to the great one that the piece consists of great chunks of unaccompanied, frantic, deafening drum solos, he cares not how much work you may have put it to preparing your solo, he will not marvel at your dazzling display of dexterity or your endless powers of improvisation, the audience can clap and scream and jump up and down as much as they like.......Napoleon wont even bother to look at you, let alone invite you to take a bow.....the most you can hope for is a cue, probably the two fingered variety.

    Two more bits of advice for the national association of baton weilding despots:-

    1. The only known form of percussion cue for most conductors is also utterly pointless and terrifying for the percussion player on the recieving end, and it is the habit conductors have of simply stopping, arms dropping to his sides, looking down at the score......WHAT THE **** DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING????!!!!.....the poor old skin basher is standing waiting to come in and could, like other players just do with that extrat bit of insurance that a glance or a raised eyebrow can give....FAT CHANCE......a favourite piece for this type of stupidity is "Procession to the minister" at the end. Keep beating you stupid clowns!!! the side drummer needs to know where he is even if the rest of the players dont.

    2. Ad lib Drum fills:- especially those at or near the end of a piece. There is a clue for all you Napoleons in the term "ad lib" meaning "at liberty"......or....shock horror for Napoleon!!! control passing from your lordships to the humble drummer, and of course, thats where i suspect the problem lies for martinette stick wavers. Let me explain; 1. give the drummer a clear cue (if you can possibly bare it) 2.The drummer will then take control and perform a drum fill, by all means have a chat in rehearsal about how long or short you want it to be (if you cant bare having to speak to the drummer, write to him)3. On a pre ordained signal from the drummer......NOT YOU!!!!.....either a played pattern or figure and/or eye contact he will hand control back to you.....there there, its ok, stop blubbing, its your band again, all yours my little tinpot tyrant!

    I am available for lectures and after dinner speaking on a variety of Brass Band conductor related topics. I have a book out for Xmas called "He couldn't conduct lightening" (Harper Collins).
  2. DaveR

    DaveR Active Member

    Stop sitting on the fence - tell us what you really think ;)

  3. matti_raz

    matti_raz Member

    As a Percussion playing Tubist how also conducts;) I know who you feel- but we can't help it!!!! :biggrin:
    It's natural to look down on percussionist because lets face it conductors are nigh on the bottom of the pile for slagging so we have to vent all our flack on someone else!!!!:rolleyes:
    Last edited: Nov 3, 2005
  4. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I would say to this, whilst understanding and accepting the majority of the points you make, don't tarnish ALL conductors with the same brush, eh? I'm no paragon but I conduct a band whose percussionist cannot (and refuses to learn to) read music. Not only that, given his job, he can only attend every other rehearsal. And on an island like Arran, we can't pick and choose or hire and fire, nor do I wish to. I accept what we have and deal with it.

    When our sole percussionist attends, I give him attention, often to the detriment of the rest of the band in suggesting ways where he can tastefully contribute without reading the dots. In fact, I use the term 'percussionist' loosely as by his own admission, 'I'm a drummer, not a percussionist'.

    I'm not disputing your own experiences, but why not give at least SOME conductors some slack, eh? We're not ALL percussion hating despots. I sympathise in one respect inasmuch as there are some adjudicators out there who rarely acknowledge what the percussion department are doing, (I speak as someone who though a trumpet/cornet player, dabbled in percussion if only to learn what they have to put up with, though I do NOT class myself as a percussionist), so if THEY ignore it, that will quite probably (wrongly) transfer itself to some conductors.

    There is a bigger issue here, of course. Namely that there are some 'old fogeys' who see percussion as an intrusion instead of an enhancement in brass bands, but as I said, please don't tarnish ALL conductors with the same brush.

    p.s. If you're as experienced as you say you are, how many cues do you need? I know conductors who'll ignore (as you imply in your post) everyone, even INCLUDING the solo cornets, leaving everyone to fend for themselves, because the conductor has his/her head rooted in the score! It ain't just percussionists who get ignored. Ask most 2nd baritones!
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2005
  5. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    I completely sympathise with the original post, but I think a word should be said to stand up for those conductors who often don't have percussionists until the last minute. If you are coming in just for concerts and contests, the conductor will have rehearsed (frequently at great length) without you. To them (especially the less experienced ones) you will be something they haven't become used to - they won't know what to do with you.
    I have helped out bands on sop where the conductor hasn't had a regular sop player - I got maybe one glance in the evening. They just weren't used to looking at that seat.
  6. BeatTheSheep

    BeatTheSheep Member

    Confucius say 'when drummer start, we give them two stick. If they are no use at all, we take one away'

    Having said that, you appear to have a stick on your shoulder! Or need to find a band where the conductor does appreciate you. Then you'll find out if you are geniunely on the beat or not
  7. rutty

    rutty Active Member

    What's the difference between a drum machine and a human percussionist?

    You only have to punch the information into a drum machine the once :cool:
  8. Melph

    Melph Member

    How can you tell there is a percussionist at the door?

    The knocking speeds up and slows down and they don't know when to come in!

  9. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Several of the comments regarding conductors not making their intentions sufficiently clear could equally apply to us basses on the back row, so I do sympathise, and also have some extra awareness as my son plays percussion.

    We are fortunate at Hadleigh that Ken gererally does pick up on the percussion cues when needed, although he admits himself he doesn't know percussion and percussion writing as well as he does brass, which would probably be true of most conductors. It would certainly be an idea for each conductor to make an effort to learn more about what goes on at the back of the band, particularly as the range of instruments and techniques called upon is now so wide.

    Unfortunately in many cases attention is only drawn to the percussion section when things go wrong, which doesn't exactly do much for anyone's self-esteem. As I've said elsewhere, the more the percussion section are made to feel a valued part of the band, rather than an optional add-on, the easier it should be to recruit and retain competent players, and thus enhance the band overall.
  10. tubafran

    tubafran Active Member

    Excellent post Andy best laugh on here for ages. As an occasional orchestral tuba player I'm affraid I have to demur. I never get cues there - I have to count all the bars by myself and just hope when I have to come in fff its nearly in the right place.

    All the best from Cullaswamp Taliband.
  11. stevetrom

    stevetrom Well-Known Member

    What chance have you got of a conductor looking at the percussion part when most don't get beyond the solo cornet line!

    The number of times I have heard a conductor ask the back row cornets to play thier part and not notice that us trombones have the same line is ridiculous - or could it be that we are already perfect?
  12. glen miler

    glen miler Member

    Noticed this too Steve trom, your conclusion is correct - compared to most sections of the band the troms are usually perfect!!
  13. Daisy Duck

    Daisy Duck Member

    I don't expect our conductor to give me a cue. If he does, that's great, but I count my bars rest myself!

    I've often played trumpet in orchestras and in Dvorak's violin concerto, the trumpeter has about 250 bars rest. The particular conductor never, ever gave me a cue, I just had to count it. After several week's rehearsal it gets a lot easier and I could just listen for when I was supposed to come in - it was about 15 minutes of rest so I could pop to the loo if necessary and still be back in time to come in!
  14. Naomi McFadyen

    Naomi McFadyen New Member

    :lol: great post dude....

    Problem is, not all conductors ignore the Percussion section... and as a conductor myself, I'll cue the percussion section as much as the brass types... although, not everyone looks anyway eh :p (and as pointed out, not many conductors get past the colo cornet line anyway... terrible)

    I've been lucky in the respect that I've played under conductors who will cue the percussion section, although, on occassion, it may not happen, but simply ASKING the MD to cue you isn't too hard to do either (either that or just count really hard to make sure you don't miss your entry).

    As for "praising" the percussion section, well, I've had that too... with the pieces that highly feature percussion or as a solo... Sounds to me like you need a new band with an MD who you'll get some respect from... there's plenty about.. just a matter of being at the right place ;-)
    Most of the time anyway, MDs are just (ex) Principal Cornet players who *think* that they'll make good MDs.. some do, sure... but the rest... nope.
  15. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    I don't think being a sub-standard MD is anything to do with what instrument they play or did play. Nor for that matter is a good MD dependent on what they play. Whether anyone classes me as any good is for those who've been under my direction to decide, but all my scores are littered with markings and cues for every instrument, brass and percussion. If I fail to give someone an adequate cue (and it happens....) a polite request in my direction to remedy that usually suffices instead of ranting on a forum at nobody in particular.

    Still, some players could make doubly sure anyway and count their bars' rest now and again. I don't see why I, as a conductor should avail myself to the odd one or two players who are too friggin' lazy to count and expect me to bring them in every time. Fortunately, that doesn't happen with my current band, but it's happened plenty of times in the past. I know it's not just a question of players counting their rests, some need extra assurance and I have no problem with that, but there are a few who seemed to think I was there solely to do their counting for them.
  16. Matt Lawson

    Matt Lawson Member

    That original post has to be one of the most hilarious but deadly serious posts I have ever read.

    I'm still chuckling now. I'm glag you didn't take that frustration out on the cat.
  17. Shaggy

    Shaggy New Member

    Thank god for Mr Lawson!!!......

    ......you, at least (and Francis) understood the nature of my post, it was intended to be entertaining, humorous and, I hope informative. I have added a large dose of hyperbole in order to get the point across.

    Alas, all this seems to have been lost on Mr Payn who is a brass band conductor......nuff said!

    It might help if some of you read my post more carefully before posting a reply based on what you wish I had said.

    I do not NEED to be cued by a conductor for each and every entry, I challenge any of you half wits to show me where I have suggested this should be the case. To have said so would have been very stupid......maybe thats why I did not say it?....doh!

    I can assure you all that I am perfectly capable of counting for myself and coming in at the right place, I have no choice in this because I know the conductor is very unlikely to help me........which......I think I have said already, and at great length, dear oh dear! why do I bother?
  18. Dave Payn

    Dave Payn Active Member

    Well done and bravo!!!! Good for you!!!!! :clap: :clap: :clap: :clap:
  19. Shaggy

    Shaggy New Member


    ...interesting reply, not sure what to make of it. Its either a "road to damascus" convertion or, more likely, I may have touched a nerve!
  20. Shaggy

    Shaggy New Member


    ....I suppose the moral of the story is, if you cant read a post correctly, maybe you cant read a score.

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