I have been practicing my conducting today. Mostly because I videoed my community orchestra rehearsal the other day and it was horrible to watch. Sooooooo many bad habits – either old ones that had crept back in, or skilfully developed new bad habits.

Sometimes I dream of the days before I knew I was supposed to practice conducting. Coincidentally, those were also the days when I thought I was pretty damn good at it. Sigh.

When I started taking conducting seriously, I was introduced to the video camera!  This has since become my worst nightmare and also my greatest tool. There is nowhere to hide.

A video of a rehearsal very clearly points out some rather important things:

  • Clarity of beat
  • Expression – face and arms
  • Size of gesture
  • Extra bits (movements that don’t need to be there, subdivisions etc)

The most obvious things it points out are those times when I am telling a group what and how I want something but I’m still beating exactly the same! This applies dynamics, articulation, phrasing, passion and intensity – everything. The ensemble should be able to see the changes and intentions.

The process becomes even scarier when I turn the sound off and just watch the video. I should know what I am watching, should know where I am in the piece based on what I see and should be able to see my intentions for the music. I am watching what the players see.

Even worse (this one is not for the faint hearted)– try setting up the video camera in front of you. Then conduct a piece – no sound. Watching those videos back can be a very humbling experience.

It is the reality for conductors that sometimes (often) what we think we are showing is not what the players are seeing. It is disappointing but true. This is especially the case when we think we are exaggerating something and it is hardly showing at all.

Challenging questions for all of us:

  1. Do you practice conducting as much as you expect our ensemble players to practice?
  2. Do you have lessons conducting?
    Conductors of all levels could do with a couple a year, so we know what to work on. A re-tweak can be fun if you do a conducting summer school or course.
  3. Do you spend enough time preparing your scores before rehearsals?
    There is probably never ‘enough’ time but score analysis can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your rehearsal – at all levels.
  4. How many of us video ourselves regularly then work on fixing what we see?

Your conducting and ensemble leading ability is the one factor that has the most effect on the quality of your ensemble.
Take time to sharpen your skills – you won’t regret it!