Emotional Investment

2 03 2009

For the first time since I started conducting four years ago, a student has finally expressed what looks to be genuine interest in learning to conduct.

Of course I’ve wasted no time in teaching the basic beat patterns (duple and triple time), emphasizing that as far as The Orchestra is concerned, clarity of the beat is of foremost importance.

I spoke (the lessons so far have been largely informal) of how one had to find the right line to conduct, and that finding the right line to conduct is pretty much based on how well one knows the music – and I mean every note played by every instrument at any given moment.

One thing I failed to mention (because I didn’t realize it then) was that conducting an orchestra is really an emotional investment – something I know but have yet to fully understand.

Frankly, from my perspective, the act of conducting – although largely silent – is very much like trying to carve the music out of thin air. I find myself willing the harmony to take shape – willing the melody to unfold beautifully. The waving of my hands in the air is like trying to grasp the  multicolored strands of sound and manipulating them to form something cohesive, if not beautiful.

Of course, I have no superpowers, so all of those are really the responsibility of the musicians, but nevertheless, without this gritting of one’s teeth and clenching of one’s fists – without this burning, inner demand that the music take shape…the music just doesn’t seem real. It’s like when I hear the music crash and burn and I want to stop, but The Orchestra is feeling good about itself so it decides to play several more measures before finally slowing to a stop – even if those last measures sound decent, it just doesn’t sound like music to me.

I don’t know if this is a regular experience among conductors – I could be overexerting myself – but I do know that Saturday night’s performance left me very much drained. Sunday morning found me too tired to want to talk to anybody – I just wanted to be alone most of the time, nursing a cup of coffee, turning things over and over in my head.

The feeling lasted until the early afternoon (a round of basketball and youth group “Spin-the-bottle” did the trick), but I knew I had just been someplace I don’t think I’ve ever been before.

Could that be the birthplace of passion?

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