So we get this big pile of music in a few weeks and then Susie starts teaching us how they’re supposed to (going to) sound and she waves her arms and makes funny faces and eventually it all comes together. But what happened before that? What did our fearless leader do? Having done this kind of thing before I have a pretty clear picture (that said, she’s WAY better at it than I’ll ever be).
First, of course, she picked the music and we’re all well aware that none of us will ever understand THAT. A brief tour of our repertoire will make your head spin and we wouldn’t have it any other way. What I’m talking about is once the music arrives or she pulls it out of the library to bring back into the show. Let’s take a minute or two to actually explore what the heck she does. At least the parts that make sense to us…there are some things we just don’t want to know after all…
Step 1 is to read the piece like a book for an overall “here’s what it should sound like” picture and a feel for it. I suspect a YouTube video of it might be part of the mix but I can assure you that she ain’t tryin’ to make us sound like anybody else but us. She’s got a solid plan before the UPS driver drops the thing off.
Step 2 is to read each voice part and look for the speed bumps and hairpin turns and make note of them. You know the ones…”yup, the tenors are gonna be a disaster in that measure”. And they are. And she knows it ahead of time and creates some sort of goofy exercise to get them through it without any injuries that require hospitalization.
Step 3 is to rehearse. Yeah, rehearse the conducting. I happen to have it on good authority that she spends HOURS working on every little nuance and wrinkle to design the movements necessary to get us to sing it the way she intends. As we get further into rehearsals she’ll make adjustments and then rehearse THEM so it all comes together. As we get later into the semester and concerts are looming you’ll notice, if you really pay attention, that her conducting of the piece is nearly identical every time. That comes from only one thing: work. Lots of it. I don’t know if she practices in front of a mirror but I bet she does. I certainly do (but only because I don’t want to look like an idiot).
So there you have it, a bare scratch of the surface of what happens behind the scenes in the land of a professional conductor. There’s lots more but you get the picture. Like I said, pay attention to how a specific song evolves and you’ll develop an appreciation for just how good our crazy boss-lady really is.
And speaking of conducting, I found a “how-to” list of exercises to make you better at it that made me laugh out loud. Yeah, maybe these things work but I can’t imagine anybody actually doing them. A partial list includes:
- Taping a big piece of paper to a wall and holding a pen in both hands and conducting a piece of music so that you draw.
- Standing in front of a table and making an “X” with tape to mark your “focal point” and then conducting a piece of music smacking the X with your finger on every downbeat, pretending that the table is screaming hot so you only touch it for a second.
- Standing in front of a mirror with a vertical piece of tape marking the edge of your chest and then conducting a piece while not letting your hand cross the line.
- And my favorite…putting a big rubber band around your middle finger and stretching it back to your elbow and then conducting a piece of music so that your hand snaps back after the downbeat.
I leave you with my favorite conductor ever, always made me roll on the floor laughing when I was a little kid. Go Bugs.