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Thread: Conductors, and why musicians need them

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Default Conductors, and why musicians need them

    http://redd.it/qgxdi

    Reddit users explain...it's nice to see the high interest in answering the OP's questions with so many well-reasoned and thoughtful responses.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Another thing this does not mention is one of the conductor's most important jobs -judging the balances between sections of the orchestra.
    For example, the brass are by far the loudest instruments in the orchestra; if the conductor is not careful, they can easily drown out the rest of the orchestra at times, particualarly in the loudest Tutti passages .
    This does happen at times , although the best conductors are very fastidious about trying to prevent this.
    So in rehearsals, the conductor has to make constant adjustments, and will frequently make requests such as "oboes louder,please,", or keep it down, trumpetsand tromones, I can't hear the strings," etc.
    Sometimes in rehearsal, the coductor will ask the assistant conductor to conduct for a while, so he or she can go out into the auditorium and listen to check the balances , because it's not always possible to guage them accurately from the podium .

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    Senior Member kv466's Avatar
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    I strongly agree that an orchestra needs a conductor and for many reasons. I do, however, also feel that if a conductor has done their job well and worked with capable musicians,...there should be no need for the conductor to do much more than sit there for the end performance.

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    superhorn, I assure you that balance was mentioned in there somewhere...Our orchestra conductor relies on the assistant conductor (who sits in the audience seating) during rehearsals for feedback.

    kv466, as an audience member I enjoy watching the conductor because it gives me interpretive clues on what to listen for. Maybe that's their purpose in the end performance. And that balance thing also.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Senior Member kv466's Avatar
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    I agree, Luna...I like watching them, too.

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    They pick up the occasional meal tab?

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kv466 View Post
    I agree, Luna...I like watching them, too.
    Do you think that interpretive dance would serve the same function (in this way) as a conductor?

    Confession: I have never been to a ballet. The professional ballet in my city currently performs to recorded music.
    I enjoy watching skilled dancers of all types...one of the new collaborations suggested by the emerging arts alliance in my city is to incorporate dance into orchestra performances (and yes, there will now be live musicians for dance performances). Although I know that the conductor will still be present, I'm looking forward to this as a new way to "see" music. I think however, the conductor may have to minimize his movements as to not detract from the dancers.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Imagine this if you will: 80 musicians playing a wide variety of instruments in very complex and challenging music. There is a piece of music on their music stands. Some musicians might not know the piece at all. Those that DO know it each has his/her view on what this piece is about and how it should be performed (even down very basic matters such as what speed the music should go).

    Now, even if all these musicians could agree on how to perform the piece (and THAT's very unlikely), they would still need to be able to play it perfectly together. Imagine an orchestra - it's BIG. Imagine you are in the viola section. You are one of maybe 12 musicians in the section. You can hear the rest of your section playing. You're vaguely aware of the cellos to your left and the violins to your right. You also have the trumpets and trombones behind you blowing down your ear. You have NO idea how the music sounds from the audience's perspective; you can't even really tell if the orchestra is playing together. If everyone in the orchestra was in this situation and tried to play this piece of music, the result would be an unholy mess.

    That's one of the primary things a conductor is for. The conductor is the person with the vision of how a piece should go and who beats time to keep everyone together and to give musicians cues when they're due to come in (there can be a lot of bars/measures rest when certain people don't play). He/she also will have rehearsed the piece to ensure that the performance is as prepared as possible. The musicians keep an eye on the conductor with their peripheral vision – even when reading the music. You will also see them glancing periodically right at him. The law of averages are that, at any one time, there are enough musicians in enough eye contact with the conductor to keep everything tightly together.

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    ^^you've been looking at Reddit!
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    It can be a two-way street...conductors needing musicians, too. Even virtual.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/...rticle2359406/

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    ^^Needs to be Wii game. NOW.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Junior Member Blanchard's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kv466 View Post
    I strongly agree that an orchestra needs a conductor and for many reasons. I do, however, also feel that if a conductor has done their job well and worked with capable musicians,...there should be no need for the conductor to do much more than sit there for the end performance.
    I can see merit to this opinion. If a piece is rehearsed enough and with enough consistency, a conductor could show up to the performance to give the first downbeat and sit down until the next selection or movement, and the tempos, dynamics, and pauses would all be accurate. However, there are subtle nuances between the conductor and the musicians that can't be seen, which I feel would be lacking from a performance if the conductor were to do just that.

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    Senior Member Lunasong's Avatar
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    Good article; interview with David Zinman.

    quote:
    The less a conductor explains in words the better. There’s nothing a musician hates more than a conductor telling him for five minutes what he wants. A horse wants to run. An orchestra wants to play.
    "To be a musician is a curse. To NOT be one is even worse." Jack Daney

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    Senior Member Moira's Avatar
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    The local orchestra in Johannesburg doesn't have a permanent conductor. I find it interesting to see how different conductors get such different responses from them.

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    I disagree with Kv466 Ive witnessed masterclasses at the Concertgebouw, and also quite a few rehearsals. I was a conductors assistant sometimes (indeed, sitting in the seats giving feedback). There is something mysterious and intangible that is transmitted from conductor to orchestra by his gestures during the performance which raises the music from good to amazing.

    During one of the above mentioned masterclasses, Mariss Jansons (IMO the worlds best conductor atm) demonstrated my exact point. He took over from the student, gave the first beats for the orchestra and let them play on their own. Without a conductor its necessary for them to pay more attention to the rhythm and beat and the music begins to feel quite heavy and beat-dependent - the conductor frees them from this responsibility among many others. Further, there were moments where Jansonss repeated a part of the piece using different gestures to that of the student and the differences were astounding. Mind you - less than a minute had passed between each run-through and no extra 'rehearsal instructions' were given in between.
    Last edited by emiellucifuge; May-11-2012 at 13:53.
    "Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Rousseau

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