Conducting: Starting Out...

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by Matt Lawson, Mar 12, 2010.

  1. Matt Lawson

    Matt Lawson Member

    Hi all,

    I've asked a couple of my ex-MD's about this - and they provided great answers - but I thought I'd get some more input if possible.

    I'm coming up 23 in May - graduated from Huddersfield Uni with a music degree in 2009 and will be starting an MA in Music at York from October. Have played cornet since age of 14 with Swinton and District, Emley and Yorkshire Co-Op.

    Right - there's the context - now the question! I'd really like to get into conducting a band - but the question is, how and where do I get the experience for a band to take the risk? I did a year's worth of assessed conducting at Uni so know the basic fundamentals - but obviously man management etc. grows through experience.

    Ideally - I'd see myself with a 4th section band who are, for want of a better word, struggling. I'd love the challenge of trying to turn things round. But would bands take the risk of appointing a first-job conductor - or would they all want someone with prior experience?

    The Ray Farr course at Durham is of course a great way to get some more experience - but is it really neccessary in order to take the helm of a band?

    Any thoughts on this or personal experience would be very much appreciated!

    Thanks! :)
  2. Frontman

    Frontman Member

    To gain 'on the job' experience, why not ask the M.D. and committee of the band you play with if it would be possible to conduct the band for a period of say 20 minutes per rehearsal, subject to what the band is working up.

    Choose your own music to rehearse and ask your M.D. for pointers and critisms as you progress.
    In time, when you feel confident enough with regards to your man management skills etc, you will be able to approach a 4th section band with the support and recommendation of your M.D. and committee.
  3. euphsrock

    euphsrock Member

    Does York Uni have a band?
    That's basically how I started, students are often more likely to 'take the risk', and do it for free.
    The band at Southampton Uni is newly formed and have no funding for conductors. Started off composing for them and conducting when needed and then fell into one of the two full time conductors when the regular conductor left. It's been great fun and great experience, but I will be leaving in September and probably be in a similar position to you, looking for a band willing to take me on.

    Don't really know if what I have said is very helpful or not, sorry.

    Failing that, start your own group, doesn't have to be a full band, just a group of players who get together and play for fun.
  4. Laura_E_horn

    Laura_E_horn New Member

    York Uni have a brass band. Heres the facebook group:!/group.php?gid=75872727143
    They have a conductor at the moment but I reckon its certainly work asking for the experience! Good luck with your MA - I look forward to seeing you at the Lancaster/York roses tournament concert in 2011!
  5. Laura_E_horn

    Laura_E_horn New Member

    *worth not work!!
  6. tubadaz

    tubadaz Member

    As Laura said, yes we do! :) Started last November and sounding better as the weeks go by.

    Matt and I have discussed this briefly on facebook.
    It's also worth asking at Swinton as well, Nigel would probably be glad of some help occasionally! :)

    Laura, I'll hopefully see you at Roses this year! :-D


  7. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I did some degrees at Hudds and played for Yorkshire Co-op too, you must be my double :p. You should probably have a chat with Ian Knapton, he is probably where you would be aiming to be at least in the short term. If you do, give him a slap from me, we go way back :D

    I wanted to conduct for quite a while but didn't want to just dive in on a whim (not that I'm suggesting anyone else is, just telling my story) and I spent about 2 years quietly studying conductors of various bands from my players chair, trying to pick out what worked and what didn't.

    When I finally felt I knew enought to be useful in front of a band from that and my other musical experience it took ages to find a band willing to take the plunge with me, but then I moved to Australia and, sods law, the local brass band needs a conductor! So I guess the right time and the right place were what I was waiting for.

    The preparation at uni is great from a musical perspective (I remember getting told off by good ol' Mr Webb for having an inexpressive beat :p) but I personally found that the real thing, with a brass band, required very different skills. Especially at the lower levels where most of us start the ability to inspire/manage people is primary to the ability to communicate ideas musically, at least at first.

    In my first band I did a lot of good, but made plenty of mistakes with hindsight. I'm so glad now they weren't a 'high-profile' band, my career would have been very short. My second band is going considerably smoother and with less drama than the first and I'm continuing to learn.

    I guess the moral of the ramblings is that if you have a passion for music, the ability to impress that on others, and you know what a good band should sound like, there's nought for it but jumping in with a considered recall of your own positive and negative experiences on the other side of the stand.

    There are a few genuinely good threads in this forum on getting started and some dos and don'ts, it would be well worth taking an hour or two to scan through them.

    In a nutshell - if you feel you will be good at this, get stuck in, make sure everyone knows you're looking for a position and one will present itself sooner or later. You'll learn far more on the job then before it.

    And good luck!
  8. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    ^ What he said.....
  9. Matt Lawson

    Matt Lawson Member

    Some really great advice there - so thanks for that.

    Without going all dramatic on you, it's this quotation which sums up my reason for wanting to conduct:

    I believe this is a major part of conducting - alongside the obvious wagging. If a conductor can make sure the band is having a good time and to believe in themselves, I think it makes things a lot easier in the long run!

    Anyway - as the previous poster said - I shall watch from a distance and see if any oppurtunities come up. A Uni ensemble (a small brass ensemble could be formed at York - I was at Open Day last week and they said that students form ensembles practically every week! ;)) would be a great starting point - then I could perhaps move onto a Youth/Training Band and move on from there.

    I can think of no prouder moment than leading a band on stage at an area contest - I'm sure many MDs on here would agree.
  10. nethers

    nethers Active Member

  11. Cornet_Matt

    Cornet_Matt Member

    I'm in the uni band atm, and am definitely considering doing some conducting in the future, though it won't be for a number of years yet because I'm enjoying my cornet playing. I too would love to take a 4th section band to Harrogate or gain promotion, and my advice is simple: take every opportunity given, and if necessary create your own :D
  12. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    Our MD is busy elsewhere this week. So I have been thrust into the limelight...

    Though it would be a lie to say I was "swimming" at present I have not yet "sunk" either... although i suppose there is still plenty of time for that on Thursday.

    If nothing else, I'm sure it will make bass-playing seem a lot easier when I return to it on Monday!
  13. cockaigne

    cockaigne Member

    Absolutely agree that on-the-job experience is invaluable - conductors cannot practice at home like players can (beyond beating patterns, learning music etc. which is only a small part of actual conducting) so getting up there and doing it is the best way to learn.

    However, I would strongly urge you to seek some tuition from a trained conductor (by which I mean someone who has been taught how to conduct properly). So many of us start by accident (e.g. having to stand in at short notice), yet I have seen conductors even at Championship Section level who appear never to have had a lesson in their lives, resulting in a very clear and unhelpful manner of conducting.

    Conducting can be great fun - but with it come the responsibilities of looking after both the music and your players - so from the outset it is worth going about it the right way, and doing it well. It'll be much better for all round as a result.

    All power to you!
  14. Matt Lawson

    Matt Lawson Member

    Thanks for the continued advice on this topic. Really helpful!

    Tooting might be the safer option until I've got time for expert tuition!
  15. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    One of my fave tricks Andi - get the band to play 86 in the hymn book, everyone plays the first note and then only crotchets or quavers are played (so everyone leaves minims and longer out). A good exercise in weaving a phrase together where the underlying rhythm moves between just about every instrument. Great for balancing, listening and a minor brain work-out. Also makes you look clever :D Then do it a semitone higher for tuning/intonation!

    I agree with cockaigne that a basic stick technique should be learned early, I've also despaired at the fly-swatters and soup-stirrers. I can thank uni for showing me a good way, and the many other conductors I have watched, good and bad, for refining it.

    What I was shown (and stand behind) with the stick is that the basic movement should be smooth or at least consistent with a clear bounce/point on each beat. And make sure you know which way round a three is meant to go!
  16. Matt Lawson

    Matt Lawson Member

    Aye we learnt that at Uni! Left first for four, right first for three! Unless you're left handed, in which case things go completely t*ts up!

    I think the best process for me will be to try and get a small ensemble together at York Uni in October and wag for them for a few rehearsals/concerts.

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