What makes a good brass band conductor and what makes a very bad one?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by cornet ninja, Nov 16, 2008.

  1. cornet ninja

    cornet ninja New Member

    I have been encouraged by some really friendly people on this open forum to start a thread about something very close to my (and probably most of your) hearts- the standard of conducting in brass bands. What do you think makes a really good conductor? What type of conductor gets the best out of you - individually and as a band? How important is it to have someone who can really communicate with his/her band (incidentally- how many female band conductors are out there?).

    Also, and probably more importantly, what makes a bad conductor? Having had many years of banding experience I find it intolerable when conductors bang on and on about dynamics with little or no reference to any other aspect of performance. This is by far the 'easiest' and simplest musical element to comment on and requires no 'musical ear'. Surely anyone could walk in to a bandroom, wave ones arms about for the duration of the piece and then say 'play this bit much more quietly and this bit more loud'.

    What do you think?

    I have genuinely played under a conductor who conducts in this style! Amazing innit?
     
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  3. steve butler

    steve butler Active Member

    My inititial reaction is that if a conductor has to keep banging on about dynamics, then the band is getting something very "basic" badly wrong!
    It "amazes" me that some players can't grasp the importance of dynamics!
     
  4. mikelyons

    mikelyons Supporting Member

    MD
    That person has to: be knowledgeable (without always thrusting your face in it), be a good communicator, have good people skills, be willing to put him/herself out for the musical advancement of the band, be fully committed to the band, make the right balance between contest and concert, know how to arrange a good programme to bring the audiences in, be able to develop the skills of all the members of the band, regardless of their ability.

    Conductor:
    Has to be able to conduct, has a bottomless wallet, be a good communicator, be fully committed to the band, make the right balance between contest and concert, know how to arrange a good programme to bring the audiences in, be able to develop the skills of all the members of the band, regardless of their ability, be able to work with the MD.
     
  5. Will the Sec

    Will the Sec Active Member

    As you seem sure you have the answer, perhaps instead of asking the question you go out and show everyone how to do it?

    You could then reveal yourself in (say) 12 years time when you lift the trophy at the Albert Hall and publicly tell the world you are the "cornet ninja" of tMP fame.
     
  6. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Plus, if the band is consistently razzing the nuts off everything they play, working on phrasing, balance or intonation is almost impossible, and largely pointless.

    One of the principal requirements of a conductor is that they know the score better than their players do. Richard Strauss said that a conductor should have "the score in his head, not his head in the score".
     
  7. brassneck

    brassneck Active Member

    The good conductor has also to be inspirational, someone who gets the players wanting to put the effort in and also wanting to come back for more. A good rehearsal is balanced between appropriate rest and playing. After all, since the players did make the effort to get there, they should get the chance to get a blow and not sit listening to repetitive section practice. This inspirational quality takes work and preparation and the better this trait, the less obvious it is to most players.
     
  8. madsaz

    madsaz Member

    Brassneck makes an excellent point. I have been bored to the verge of self-harm in rehearsals with a conductor others believed to be "inspirational".

    Thye problem was that this conductor had an awful lot of tales to tell, interspersed with a very small segment of whole band playing, then drifting off into rehearsing the minutiae - which was never the minutiae of my section.

    I could come away feeling I had barely blown all evening and as a result got increasingly resentful of the tales of his prior experience which other players lapped up excitedly, probably because they got a rest in between playing! Utterly unbalanced rehearsals.

    An excellent conductor or MD has to attain the rare balance of keeping all the players in the loop, making them feel a valued member of the band. A sectional should be just that, and if you have so many stories to share, become an after dinner speaker!
     
  9. Bonelover

    Bonelover New Member

    I was recently asked to do a solo spot with my town's local band at one of their weekly practises.
    The conductor of the band was the one who had invited me.
    He knew I was a nervous performer, so had me play the piece quite early on during the evening, so I did not suffer the wait too much.
    He was amazing. He stopped the band and told them to quieten down as they were playing a little on the loud side. He slowed the piece down to a pace that he knew suited me.
    At the end of the piece, everyone applauded and I almost soared upward.
    My confidence was boosted and I walked out with a big smile on my face.
    That is the difference between a conductor who knows, not only his band, but knows his pupils and how to get the best from them.
    He has an amazing way of putting over exactly what he wants without sounding as though I am being taught. This is a gift.
    He lives and breathes brass instruments and has been in the brass band scene for many years now.
    I have never had a bad conductor, only ones who vary in their ability to convey to their requirements.
    Regards,
    Bonelover
     
  10. Daisy Duck

    Daisy Duck Member

    Absolutely agree about the conductor needing to know the score and be totally prepared. This is essential and it's extremely frustrating to be at rehearsals where the conductor clearly doesn't know the score. If he expects me to practise during the week, he needs to do his preparation too.

    For me personally, I respond well to a conductor who encourages me. I'm perfectly happy to take criticism but if improvement isn't noticed, then I wonder why I bother. If a conductor takes the time to point out something a player is doing wrong, then they should also take the time to praise that player if they make the improvement. Someone told me once that brass playing is 99% confidence and if a conductor is building confidence in his/her band, then the band will improve.

    A clear beat to follow is essential. Can't stand conductors who have no downbeat, or where every beat looks the same. It can become very easy to get lost, particularly in more modern music.

    I think it's also essential for a conductor to have a good sense of humour as well, and make rehearsals a little more light hearted. No one plays well in a tense atmosphere if you're scared of being shouted at by an overly aggressive man in the middle.

    I'm very happy where I am brass banding wise, we've got a brilliant conductor who knows how to get the best out of me. :)
     
    Last edited: Nov 16, 2008
  11. hornplaya89

    hornplaya89 Member

    a sexy bum :)
     
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  13. HornMaster

    HornMaster Member

    I agree that if this is the only comment from a conductor during rehearsals then it would be annoying. More generally though this really depends on the standard of the band. If a championship section band can't get 'pp' or 'mf' right then that is a big problem. However, for other bands where some players struggle with the notes, playing dynamically correct can improve the sound of a piece 200% before a player puts in the practice on his own part.

    Understanding (and playing) the contrasting dynamics in a piece does require a 'musical ear' otherwise you end up with pieces that sound flat and most things played at around mf or f.

    I have been very privileged to play for some amazing condutors who are both musically and motivationally brilliant but like football managers, one conductors methods are brilliant to one person and terrible to another. Any conductor who can find the right balance between keeping the band happy, improving the overall standard and delivering concerts that the public like to see, is probably heading in the right direction.

    Kevin
     
  14. MarkGillatt

    MarkGillatt Member


    When I was in the Army, we used to pick a "random" lady from the audience to conduct a march or light piece, it always helped us concentrate more if she were well "endowed". My eyes never left the baton ;)
     
  15. themusicalrentboy

    themusicalrentboy Active Member

    Maj. Peter Parkes has a big thing about dynamics (crescendos and diminuendos especially).

    I'd like to see you tell him he hasn't got a musical ear.

    A good MD should be able to train a band in ALL areas, whether it be dynamics, technical ability, melodic playing, emotive playing or razzing the nuts off of something. They should be able to boost confidence of players who maybe don't believe in their ability. They should be able to pick out obscure parts of a score and know how to make them important and musical. They should be able to keep a good atmophere in the bandroom, but not lose the ability to make a band know when they are not up to standard. They should be able to know how to get the best of a player (by goading them or playing them off against someone else - whatever works) and make his band follow him exactly whilst listening to the other members of the ensemble.
     
  16. flugelman

    flugelman Member

    For me personally, I respond well to a conductor who encourages me. I'm perfectly happy to take criticism but if improvement isn't noticed, then I wonder why I bother. If a conductor takes the time to point out something a player is doing wrong, then they should also take the time to praise that player if they make the improvement. Someone told me once that brass playing is 99% confidence and if a conductor is building confidence in his/her band, then the band will improve.

    I think it's also essential for a conductor to have a good sense of humour as well, and make rehearsals a little more light hearted. No one plays well in a tense atmosphere if you're scared of being shouted at by an overly aggressive man in the middle.

    [/QUOTE]

    Couldnt agree more Daisy. Being of fragile confidence myself the last thing you need is to put in hours of work to improve and for this improvement not to be noticed. I think constructive criticism is essential but not character assassination!!
     
  17. scotchgirl

    scotchgirl Active Member

    What makes a good conductor/MD is totally dependant on the band! Its a two way thing...a conductor/MD from one band wouldn't be successful necessarily with another band......

    We've had conductors come along, and we just haven't 'gelled' as a team - meaning that the band doesn't necessarily put in the work, take the mick in rehearsals and generally don't 'succeed' (whatever that means).

    Also, we've had conductors come along and something has 'clicked'...and I don't mean we've all become best buddies with the conductor or over familiar...just they way that they go about getting the band to do what they want, well, it works!

    Its hard to put a finger on it to be honest....its easier to say what doesn't work for me personally (long discussions about musical points in the rehearsals, meaning you don't get to actually play the damn thing without having to over-analyse everything; not stamping some sort of discipline on rehearsals so that everyone thinks they have the right to their two-penny-worth about how we should be playing -that's the conductor's job; an over-familiarity between the conductor and band - meaning that their is an unwillingness for criticism of any kind, even constructive).
     
  18. Mesmerist

    Mesmerist Well-Known Member

    A good conductor is smart in all ways.
    A bad conductor is not. And is usually found out by empty seats appearing in his bandroom more and more often.
     
  19. Baritonedeaf

    Baritonedeaf Member

    Horses for courses - as already said.

    What works for one, won't necessarily work for others.

    For me a great conductor would provide:
    Exciting/challenging music choices, lots of playing in rehearsals, encouragement, regular constructive criticism, sense of humour, pleasent manner, control of band during rehearsals/concerts and generally to share the aims and ethos of the band - what ever that may be.

    A "bad" conductor? Not sure there is such a thing - just one that does not fit with what a band wants/needs.

    Every person in every band will probably have different likes and dislikes and a "good" conductor for that band would be one that fits in with most people in some way or another.
     
  20. Cornishgal

    Cornishgal Member

    Our MD is awesome, i think he's very good at what he does and the band is continually improving, we have alot of youngsters in our band so sometimes it can be hard to focus their attention as they tend to chatter!! He's really funny, sometimes so funny we'll try and push a note out and laugh. On the other hand when he means business he gets the point across!! I think it's good to keep the fun in rehearsals as well as keep a firm hand as i think it keeps us going back!! He's great at getting a point across and now we have a full band. As time goes on we can only improve!!
     
  21. Thirteen Ball

    Thirteen Ball Active Member

    :clap:

    Can't add much to that, Daisy. Great Post - However I would add that, much as a sense of humour is important, a light-hearted approach to rehearsal shouldn't compromise focus. Not that it necessarily has to. I've had some very light-hearted rehearsals where we got a ton of work done.

    It is one of the curses of being an MD that whatever one does to motivate half the room, it will have the opposite effet on the other half, so balance in all things - praise and criticism, focus and banter, enjoyment and hard work - is essential.

    Must be a tough job being a stick-waver.
     
  22. Daisy Duck

    Daisy Duck Member

     

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