Best vs Worst Conducting

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by nethers, Sep 9, 2009.

  1. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    As a (hopefully) up and coming conductor myself I am always interested in the different persepctives of players on how things should be done.

    So... how about an example of a conductor doing something really great...

    ...and an example of a conuctor doing it totally wrong (anonimity preserved and speculation prohibited!)?

    Pushing the ball:

    GOOD: Mike Fowles taking a more-or-less scratch band to 2nd at Butlins in six rehearsals. A professional attitude and meticulous level of planning from Mike instilled a sense of self-responsibility in the players and the whole quickly became greater than the sum of the parts.

    He approached the job assuming the band would win and no one dared to think or act otherwise.

    On the day there were a few more hiccups than normal and an extremely in-form Skelmanthorpe to beat, but 2nd was a real achievement and we all knew who had made it happen.

    The lesson was: be organised, be professional, no excuses.

    BAD: Preparing with a band for a major contest, we are all informed of three full-weekend rehearsals (ie 9-5) and that all of Easter Monday was also taken for band. A band of mostly amateur players can't give full concentration and physical effort for more than about 3 hours in my experience.

    Rehearsals seemed ill-planned with no particular set target and many players left with instruments going cold for 30 mins or more at a time.

    Each rehearsal started with a hymn warm-up, straight in to the test piece, starting at the beginning and muddling throught to the end with vague waffly criticism of poor playing and no methodical rehearsal of difficult passages.

    No specific improvement targets were set for players between rehearsals.

    The week before the contest the whole band is thoroughly bored and demotivated and aware that the piece sounds ropey. Sadly the conductor does not attach any urgency to fixing this, choosing to blame the players and complain that there were 'not enough rehearsals'. There were more hours spent on that piece than in any other contest build up I'd done in 20 years.

    I'm sure you can predict the result!

    The lessons was: motivation and self responsibility are led from the front even at a high level.

    Anyone else with examples they'd like to share?
  2. Andrew Norman

    Andrew Norman Active Member

    The Adkins Treatise on the Military Band - whilst rather old-fashioned - has a great section on conducting.
    The illustrations of "Good" and "Bad" conducting styles and technique is great for correcting posture etc. You look at the pics and think "I know that conductor" and "I must make sure I DON'T look like that".
    The best tip I ever had - "If you don't know what to do with your left hand, stick it in your pocket...."
  3. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Ha yes, I remember being shown something similar when I was at uni, raised a chuckle. Some of the old marching manuals are a hoot too... bit like the translated introduction at the beginning of Arban's.

    I have been in front of a few people who's conducting stlye is a bit like a toddler who wants to be picked up - more wild flailing and dancing to the music then any kind of instructive movement. The book has it right that poise and control are a big deal.

    Left hand in the pocket... I teach that too! I can't stand being in front of someone who just uses it to mirror their right hand, looks like they're trying to fly away and leaves them nowhere to go beyond providing a 'beat'.
  4. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    I think that trying staying as calm as you can when conducting is good......
  5. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    I agree. Consistency is also good - conducting a particular passage the same way every time. I've sat under a few conductors that would conduct, say, the ending of a piece, one way during rehearsal and then completely different during the performance, and then wonder why the band couldn't get it together.
  6. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I agree during performance, panic is not a positive force. I sometimes find I need to get a bit shirty in rehearsal though to get a few bums in to gear!

    Another thing I was taught (much like teaching kids) is to imagine you are in front of a mirror - your attitude and conducting will be reflected back at you by the band. So calm, but enthusiastic and driven, concentration is definately a good 'default' mode.
  7. ploughboy

    ploughboy Active Member

    I find smiling a good default mode. . .

    When i'm tired after a long week at work i'm not at the races and the band sounds the same. . I try and stay relaxed and progressive through what i'm doing.

    I would also say it's difficult to pigeon hole everything in to GOOD and EVIL where conducting is concerned. .
  8. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    I think being encouraging as much as you can is a good thing or useful critisism. - I'm no expert though.....(but I have had 19 different conductors which has been interesting)
  9. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    Well said, Getzonica. Although, sometimes the line between "constructive" and "destructive" criticism is very hard to find. ;)

    Even-handedness is also a useful quality, particularly when handling questions from the band. A less-experienced player may have a question to which the answer seems obvious, yet the MD should respond with the same respect as when one of the principals has a question. I found during my time as a conductor that sometimes the simplest questions, when answered, had the greatest effect on results.
  10. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    I've found from sitting in band that I have learnt a lot from the conductors as they're so experienced. So I think it's good when they pass on imformation that can help people, especially less experienced players, improve.
  11. brasscrest

    brasscrest Active Member

    On the "worst" side of the question - a conductor who drills on a passage (Again! Again!) without ever taking the time to explain what problem he/she's trying to solve is wasting everyone's time.
  12. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    I've seen many different styles of conducting and I think that it is best when you have a clear beat so people know exactly how you're beating the pieces.
  13. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I guess the question wasn't a very good one on reflection - a conductor would need to suit the band. The skills to take Cory to Open victory and the skills to motivate a 4th section band to improve are quite different I'm sure (though equally valuable).

    I know that here in Auckland when I conduct D grade bands I go about it in a very different manner to when I work with A grade bands - because the members want different things.

    My D grade band are happy to be seen in the community and have fun making music while entering one contest a year, but the A grade bands seek more 'prestigious' playouts and put a much higher importance on the quality of their playing, contesting and resuts - and for either to succeed requires a certain approach from a conductor.

    For many of the points above I'm sure someone else might post a perfectly logical response arguing for the opposite...

    So perhaps, if you wish to post a specific example of conducting win/fail, include a little (anonymous) information about the band concerned too - their standard, ambition and attitude.

    Or if you're expressing a preference or pet hate, let us in on your standard, ambition and attitude :)
  14. Getzonica

    Getzonica Active Member

    I admit that i've only ever played in forth section brass bands except for my work experience....
  15. Ray Woods

    Ray Woods Member

    I have been under may conductors, musical directors and stand in conducting players. There are different roles that they serve. A Musical Director not only wags the stick, but has the job of selecting music for rehearsals, contests and concerts that will keep the band interested, stretched and progressive - not an easy job given a broad range of players in mid to lower section bands. Next is band trainer during rehearsals - for contests they concentrate on getting the band to play together, end together, play in tune, in balance and in the same style. In contests they serve as the conductor, principly keeping time, but with an ability to motivate using face and left hand articulation. In concerts they will often have the additional task of Entertainer, to keep the audience engaged with introductions to pieces, players, telling jokes and anecdotes. Wagging the stick should be the easiest part of all this, but often the basics go wrong. The purpose of moving the right hand is often forgotten - it is to let the band know specific moments in time so the players can synchronise their playing (the beats). Consistency is key to this as well as a clearly visible beat from all angles that players sit. For example side to side swipes of the stick may be clearly visible to those directly in front, but lack clarity to the sides. The best tactic to adopt in the bouncing ball technique (a ball bouncing on a table) with the biggest bounce up being the rise to the largest fall of the first beat of the bar, to give a clearly discernable first beat. Left and right motion is still used to define the traditional 'L' and upside down 'T' shapes (and other more complex time signatures), but the sideways motion should purely represent which beat in the bar the conductor is in, not the moment of the beat i.e. the bottom of the bounce (or just after it in top section bands). Vertical motion of the hand/stick can be seen from all angles, so its job is to show the beat. The left hand should be independant and can be used to point and lift/suppress the volume of individuals, sections or the whole band, indicate DC's, Coda's, repeats or straight through no repeats and turn the page of the score. Nothing fancy is required to end a piece, huge curvatious swipes, closing fists, pinching index finger to thumb have all been witnessed, and it is anybody's guess where some of these end, or a suprise if the pinch or fist close is too fast (it takes time to stop a tuba note), best is a simple closing bounce, like the rest of the conducting - consistent and predictable.

    It's a tough job. Good luck.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
  16. Di B

    Di B Member

    Confidence and belief in the band is a good thing. Helped out a band recently where my ex-MD is now and I couldn't help but smile as his positivity hasn't changed. Instilling confidence in players abilities is needed sometimes at all levels but especially out of the top section. You need to remember to be proud of your band and be proud to be a member.

    Another MD complimented players then told them what to do to be even better. A boost of self esteem with constructive criticism is a good thing. This was top section but applies to all.

    A bad thing is lacking the ability to explain to your players what you mean/want. You might know how you want it to sound but you need to be able to put it into words! Mid-sections down to 4th especially. Top section can usually deal with this better.

    Note bashing. Yes, sometimes a necessary evil but you need a touch of musical inspiration from the MD. Those that note bash only send me and usually half the band to sleep. Big demotivator. Again, a champ/1st section criticism.

    Lack of preparation. It is so obvious when a conductor wings it! It makes me wonder why I bothered to practise if they aren't prepared. Being prepared saves time and effort in the bandroom!

    All taken from various MD's I have sat under at some time or another, but all MD's have strenghs and weaknesses. You just need to find the right fit for your band.
  17. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    Don't feel bad about being in the bottom section, it's where we all start :)

    I'm a big believer that our 'top' bands should get much more involved with lower section bands - this is the breeding ground for future stars and it is in their interests to keep our lower section bands happy, healthy and improving!
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2009
  18. BottyBurp

    BottyBurp Member

    Personally, I find it a sign of disrespect, both to me and to the other players in my band, when someone refuses to do their own note-bashing at home. They are wasting my time and other players time. I'm quite happy to pick on individuals and get them to (try) and play a passage several times to make it clear to them and the rest of the band that they cannot play their parts and they haven't practised... That's my main gripe...
  19. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I agree - as a conductor in any band it's a situation you're forced to face from time to time, and as a player I find it insulting to have to sit and listen to people who haven't bothered to practise while my instrument goes cold. Although I do enjoy watching them squirm :p

    I use a 'three strikes' rule. That way the player is shamed enough to show some respect to the rest of the band and go home and practise and hopefully the other players haven't had time to tune out of the rehearsal. If they aren't getting it after three goes it's definitely not something to practise in the bandroom. If they are neither shamed nor practising, time to have a chat about whether brass bands are right for them or whether they should change to a pastime where there own lack of motivation doesn't impact on anybody else.

    Of course the conductor needs to use some common sense; this isn't suitable for a fourth section band's first attempt at Blitz!

    Another thing that works for me - be seen to be writing down bits that you've asked players to practise (I do it in pencil on the back of the score) and ALWAYS check they have when you next get the piece out. A trick someone showed me, even though it sounds really silly it works a treat!
  20. Di B

    Di B Member

    But in fairness sometimes it is due to the piece being at the players upper limits not because the player isnt trying.
    Still annoying though that it cant be sorted with MD/section lead outside band. I do however agree with your theory for anyone who you know isn't practising :)

Share This Page