Sunday, December 11, 2005

the meaning of conductor

Not many posts this semester - one of my New Semester's Resolutions is to change that! Look for more updates coming soon to a blog near you.

Roseae Feminae, the women's choir I founded a little less than a year ago, is having their winter concert tomorrow night. I am a little nervous and a lot excited. Our dress rehearsal was excellent, and while usually that's considered a bad sign, I think in this case it's a sign that a lot of hard work by the chorus paid off. Most of today was spent making the program, both writing program notes and wrestling with the actual machines that put the ink on the page. I did not know that it was possible for a copier to jam so often, and I have had some experience with them. After an hour's worth of work yielded me 27 programs, I decided to call it a draw and retire from the field of battle.

But tramping home in the evening (with a big pile of messed-up programs to recycle) got me thinking, as I have before, about what a conductor does. There are many noble theories related to artistic philosophies and interpretation and focus and musicality and whatnot. But in my experience, what a conductor does is wrestle with copiers. And spend time looking up Purcell in New Grove, and translating words in German folksongs that don't appear in dictionaries, and trying to find translations of the Great Antiphons on Catholic websites, and then digging out a Latin dictionary to make sure those translations are correct. And e-mailing people (oh, the time spent e-mailing people) and making charts to calculate when people are free to rehearse and scheduling rooms and calling choir members, and putting forth an enormous amount of work to get people in the same room at the same time with the music in their hands. And putting up posters to recruit singers, and then putting up more posters to recruit audience members. And pounding out lines on the piano, and learning notes, and studying scores, and waving your arms in the air, and then waving them again, and then waving them again, because your muscles can't seem to remember that it's 3/4, then 1/4, then 2/4, not the other way around.

This blog's web address is based on a pun - in physics, a conductor is a material or object that permits an electric current to flow easily. But that's not so much a pun as a metaphor. A conductor permits the music to flow easily, or in many cases, a conductor permits the music to happen in the first place. That means a lot of administrative organizing, and a lot of behind-the-scenes work, and more than anything, a lot of e-mails.

I spent part of the day reading The Robert Shaw Reader for my last assignment of the semester. Much of it consists of letters to his choir. While most of the letters address rehearsal techiques and philosophies, or artistic reflections, many of them contain injunctions to the choir to show up to rehearsal, not to be tardy, to learn their notes at home, and to get their heads out of the scores. Even Robert Shaw had to get people into the same room at the same time with the music in their hands. I am in good company.


  1. I hadn't considered the pun in your blog's title, and I like it -- though I like it even better as a metaphor. What a beautiful way to conceptualize what you do.

    And the thing about the copier made me laugh. Friday night when I got to synagogue a bit early, there was my friend the rabbi shoveling high snow away from the front door. "So you want to be a rabbi, huh," he asked, and we both burst into laughter. :-) Damn right I do -- even though I understand that a big part of the job is, yeah, sending out emails and shoveling snow and doing all of those other things that have to happen in order for the beautiful part of the work to take place.

    Have a great concert!

  2. Anonymous12:14 AM

    This is brilliant. And completely true. The number of emails I have sent out to organize just a single concert could fill a small book.

    (Ben I)