Best vs Worst Conducting

animal.22

Member
Worst conducting I've ever seen,but not played under,was at Pontins one year. The MD in question did nothing but describe circles with his right hand ! What the f@%£ was that all about then???? :confused:
 

nethers

Active Member
But in fairness sometimes it is due to the piece being at the players upper limits not because the player isnt trying.
True - leading to another one of those judgement calls conductors have to make. A player who is out of their depth but working hard to improve doesn't warrant the treatment suggested in my last post.

Still annoying though that it cant be sorted with MD/section lead outside band.
The 'responsibility chain' of conductor -> section -> individual is another thing I drone on about to my bands and can certainly help with the issues we've mentioned. That's probably a topic for another thread though...

I've read a few posts from people concerned about the quality of the stick-work which suggests, against conventional wisdom, that there are some players around who watch! :D

Ray Woods posted about stick technique (most teaching resources echo his views), and I subscribe to most of what he said. Anyone got different views?

How about moving around? I'm of the opinion that a conductor should 'interfere' as little as possible, acting as a metronome only when necessary (not at all if you're well rehearsed) and acting as a foreman when tempos change. On top of that a conductor can make gestures to shape music and to draw performer's attention to things not immediately obvious on their page as well as adding anything extra they feel is tasteful.

I get very wound up by conductors flapping around and dancing around the stage, I find it can become more of a distraction than a help.

At the Aussie National's a couple of years ago I stopped conducting after 20 bars or so in the stage march as I felt there was nothing I could add - we won a prize which was great.

I'm enjoying hearing what everyone has to say and hoping to learn more!
 

Anno Draconis

Well-Known Member
How about moving around? I'm of the opinion that a conductor should 'interfere' as little as possible, acting as a metronome only when necessary (not at all if you're well rehearsed) and acting as a foreman when tempos change. On top of that a conductor can make gestures to shape music and to draw performer's attention to things not immediately obvious on their page as well as adding anything extra they feel is tasteful.

I get very wound up by conductors flapping around and dancing around the stage, I find it can become more of a distraction than a help.
The first time I felt like I wanted to conduct, I was 15 and watched Howard Snell and Foden's for the first time at the NW Area. They played Prisms, which starts with basses/perc on a fortissimo long note. Every other conductor had given a huge slashing down beat - Snell just looked round the band and twitched his wrist a bit, and this breathtaking wall of noise came out of the back of the band. Previously, I hadn't realised it was possible to conduct without looking like Zorro attacking a wasps nest.

I also used to love watching Libor Pesek conduct the RLPO, I saw him conduct Dvorak's Carnival at breakneck speed once and he hardly moved - the baton travelled a few more inches in the loud bits, that's all - but his eyes were like laser beams.

The only formal conducting lessons I've had were from a chap called Jonathan Tilbrook, who had previously studied with Sir Charles Mackerras and Jiri Belohlavek. Both of them were from the same minimalist Czech school of conducting thought as Pesek (Mackerras studied in Czechoslavakia), and weren't big arm flailers. As a result I've always tried to keep the windmilling to a minimum, although recently I've noticed I'm getting more mobile :oops: - too much caffeine/sugar before band, possibly :rolleyes:
 

floppymute

Member
I'm surprised no-one on this thread has already mentioned the 'singing conductors' I've experienced a number of contest performances (thankfully only as a listener, not a player) where the MD has been heard above the band singing the parts!
 

BottyBurp

Member
I'm surprised no-one on this thread has already mentioned the 'singing conductors' I've experienced a number of contest performances (thankfully only as a listener, not a player) where the MD has been heard above the band singing the parts!
I love the 'tantrum' conductors :D Stamping their feet on contest stages and shouting at the players (audibly to the audience)...
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Have encountered one or two (not in brass bands) that rehearse impeccably but, come the performance, start moaning and groaning at high volume. Dangerously amusing! Sitting at the back corpsing on stage never goes down well with the baton waver...

Oh, yes, and with regard to BottyBurp's post, I remember at the Midlands Areas one year (1998 4th section, I think) watching a band for whom the fourth man down split a note - to which the conductor reacted by looking at the audience and pointing at the player in question... What a prat!
 

nethers

Active Member
I played at Kerkrade once and the remarks said 'Good singing. A bit loud.' in regard to the conductor! I have to admit I do it in rehearsals to make up missing parts or where someone has really lost the plot...
 

MoominDave

Well-Known Member
Oh, yes, and with regard to BottyBurp's post, I remember at the Midlands Areas one year (1998 4th section, I think) watching a band for whom the fourth man down split a note - to which the conductor reacted by looking at the audience and pointing at the player in question... What a prat!
Thinking about it, the worst bit was that the MD totally smirked at the audience over his shoulder, as if he was saying "You and me, we're better than this shower of ****, eh? Don't even know what I'm doing standing here, really."
 

ploughboy

Active Member
I don't like conductors who are playing to the crowd - you're there to do a job for the band and the people in your team, not see who's noticing you and which big wig you can impress. . .better not name names. . . . ;)
 

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
Two faults I've noticed which I don't believe have yet been mentioned - both of which relate to program choice.

1 - The conductor who chooses the same kind of music ALL the time.

I've played under conductors who picked a particular type of music too much. We once had 4 classical overtures and three shostakovich transcriptions on the same programme and bored the audience to tears with it.

I've played under conductors who pick the same composer/arranger too much. One band's programme was almost entirely Goff Richards and Frank Bernaerts. The problem with this is, as an arranger myself, I'm well aware all have our little fingerprints and mannerisms - which become very obvious to the audience and everything starts to sound too much the same. I mean, I really like Phillip Sparke's writing, but I'd rather not play a whole concert programme of nothing but his pieces....

I've played under conductors who refuse to try anything new. One chap wouldn't even entertain anything he hadn't played with Mickelthwaite Porridge Factory Band back in 1953. (and what a band we had back then....) I'm all for including a couple of older works to stay in touch with our roots - but you can't put a credible programme together where nothing on it was written after Heartbreak Hotel was released, can you?

Variety is the spice of life, and bands should be musical omnivores.

2 - The conductor who chooses pieces based on what he/she likes, without considering the ability of the band and the players therein.

This is a more difficult one, because a conductor may well wish to choose the odd piece which moves a band out of their comfort zone in order to advance them, and that can only be a good thing. But there has to be a happy medium. Moving a band on a yard or two at a time is a good approach. However I have played under more than one conductor who insisted every piece had to be at the absolute limit of the bands ability - if not beyond it. Some will even persist with a work when the band clearly cannot get near playing it. Like the third section conductor who threw Carnaval Romain at his band, insisted at taking it at Tempo di teararse and then got jolly upset because they couldn't play it. Yeah mate - if they COULD play it, they wouldn't be a third section band!


On the positive side, there are a number of conductors I've played under who:

Turn up to rehearsal with the score in their head - so they don't spend half of it with their head in the score.
Structure rehearsals in order to get teh maximum amount done.
Know or quickly pick up the strengths and weaknesses of the players around them and how to get the best out of them.
Give clear and definite instructions, and can articulate the same thing a number of ways in order to avoid confusion.
Keep rehearsals interesting so no-one is sat waiting to play for so long their instrument goes cold.
Work within the resouces they have - even if half the band is missing they still know what it's best to work on.
Exercise absolute authority and maintain order in the bandroom.
Inspire and lead players, help them believe in themselves and make them want to work hard.

When considering the positives I have laid out above, I can think of no better example from my (admittedly limited) experience of conducting than the man Nethers started this thread with - Mike Fowles.

I might not have played under many conductors in my time as compared with some people on here - but he's the best I've ever shared a bandroom with.
 
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brasscrest

Active Member
Thirteen Ball said:
bands should be musical omnivores
:tup

I've found that many conductors (and players) have a rather narrow view of the available repertoire. They restrict themselves to a particular time period, or a particular set of composers, or a particular sub-genre almost to the exclusion of everything else.

I played under a conductor whose normal practice was to convene a small committee (the assistant MD and one or two others) and discuss the repertoire for the upcoming year. The MD himself made the final decisions, but the committee had an impact on the selections. This seemed to be a very wise way of doing things.
 

Getzonica

Active 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.
One thing I think is quite good with conductors is that I've had some who've said "thank you" when we played a piece really well which really makes you feel good. And at the end of one pratise the same MD reasured us that we are a good band and improving all the time. Another conductor I've had was telling us that we're here because we are all good musicians which was a very encouraging comment. Comments like this from a conductor really do boost confindence.
 

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
I'm all for positive reinforcement - but only to a point.Telling a band/player they've done really well or are sounding really good is great, and can really encourage people - but how often have you heard someone say that a conductor is "too nice to get any meaningful results" ?

Constantly telling players they're brilliant and doing well must, in my opinion be tempered with constructive criticism and even the odd telling-off when things slip. It's finding that balance which is key - and that's a very difficult job.

A conductor has to know when and how to tell someone that their performance simply isn't good enough and to get it practiced and have it right for next rehearsal. I've been told that on a couple of occasions, and if I'm honest, I start to go backwards if that doesn't happen once in a while.

John Roberts is a past master at that. He inspires a real loyalty in people, partly because he obviously works so hard at learning the intricacies of the score before the parts are even given out - so if you can't play your part after the first couple of rehearsals, you feel like you've really let him down. In the run up to St Magnus in NZ I remember him suddenly snapping and shouting at me "Come on Andi! You can play that!" in what was probably the first time I saw him really genuinely angry. But I instantly knew exactly what he meant. The only reason he was angry was that he knew I could play my part if I put the effort in - which I clearly hadn't at that point.

And he was right too...

So I went away and practiced it and - what do you know! It got better!

As with all things - it's the balance that matters. Constant praise breeds complacency and apathy toward mistakes. Constant criticism and nit-picking saps a player's self-belief and makes for a gloomy atmosphere, so again, a happy medium has to be found.
 
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nethers

Active Member
You can tell that you and me did some hard yards together Andi lad, we share a lot of the same opinions...

I agree, attitude towards players in rehearsal is a fine balancing act. Conductors shouldn't be scared to talk to players in their band about how they think they're doing. If your band seems apathetic and isn't improving lay down a few hard words and see if things change. Likewise if players seem anxious or unhappy try to fill them with confidence and enthusiasm.

Music choice is an interesting one. I have to admit I choose most of my repertoire with the aim of either showing off what my band is good at (for contests) or improving a weakness. I try to cover a mixture of composers, arrangers, genres and styles. I'm also careful to make sure that players other than cornets/euphs get some notes to blow. As they are a lower grade band it is difficult for me to choose a programme without having to consider whether they can play all of it which sadly leaves some great music inside the bandroom.

How about percussionists? How do you feel? I know a lot of drummers complain about being ignored and forgotten about at the back there...
 

Getzonica

Active Member
As with all things - it's the balance that matters. Constant praise breeds complacency and apathy toward mistakes. Constant criticism and nit-picking saps a player's self-belief and makes for a gloomy atmosphere, so again, a happy medium has to be found.
I agree you need a balance. - At the last practise I went to, the MD thanked the backrow cornets for playing well and working hard and do what he asked us to do when he was conducting, whilst at the same time telling the band that we were setting a good example for the rest of the band to follow which I think really got the message across because it made the backrow cornets feel encouraged by the comment, and the rest of the band saw how well we were playing so they knew that they needed to work hard as well.
 
Worst conductors - ones who just go by a tempo and concentrate on purely the technical side without showing or being musical - and don't show professionalism. To add - conductors who think they can thrash through pieces at very high tempo's

Best conductors - ones who i'v sat under (John Berryman esp) concentrating on the musical awareness and making it enjoyable yet challenging - Understanding the music.
 

Hells Bones

Active Member
I sometimes wonder at some conductors who can keep their cool when things aren't going well.

Like in rehearsal when the conductor stops the band and you always get a couple of players who keep going for a couple of bars.

Why? Why do they do that?

So annoying and such a waste of time.
 

Thirteen Ball

Active Member
I sometimes wonder at some conductors who can keep their cool when things aren't going well.

Like in rehearsal when the conductor stops the band and you always get a couple of players who keep going for a couple of bars.

Why? Why do they do that?

So annoying and such a waste of time.
If it's only a couple of players for a couple of bars, then yes, they should be paying more attention because they're clearly not watching... and yes, it is an annoying waste of time.

If it's everyone in the bandroom for a bar or so - then it's possible the conductor needs to clear up their beat and make it more obvious when they've stopped. (AND everyone needs to pay more attention to them as above.)
 

nethers

Active Member
I sometimes wonder at some conductors who can keep their cool when things aren't going well.

Like in rehearsal when the conductor stops the band and you always get a couple of players who keep going for a couple of bars.

Why? Why do they do that?

So annoying and such a waste of time.
Agreed. I have a two pronged way of dealing with this:

1 - As soon as I have stopped the band I start talking. While the last note is still ringing round the room. Make eye contact with anyone who was a bit steady to finish and start paying attention.

2 - Have a word with the end seat of the section(s) concerned and ask them to look after discipline in that respect.

And if I've had a really bad day at work and find myself faced with a persistent offender there is always...

3 - Make a soul destroying comment about the quality of that little solo.

"...And to the trombonist who added that very tasteful duck-f**t after the rest of the band had finished, I thank you. So does the rest of the band, the composer, and music in general. My only question is whether your sound was more like a chainsaw or a strangled cat? Or perhaps one being applied to the other? Perhaps you should play it again for us and I'll canvas the rest of the band for opinions?"

Hmm I should probably watch my temper. After spending five minutes last week trying to get a trombone in my own band to come in after three beats instead of four I offered to remove his thumb and a finger to make the counting easier.

I also agree with Independent Silver Band, some interesting stuff coming up. It's really useful to hear some other people dos, don'ts and perceptions of things.
 
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