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Teaching & Learning => Practice Room => Topic started by: timothy42b on Jan 12, 2018, 11:57AM



Title: Conducting styles
Post by: timothy42b on Jan 12, 2018, 11:57AM
I got yelled at last night for rushing.  It wasn't the first time, either. 

How is that possible?  I have my eyes fixed on you and I am putting my note EXACTLY at your beat.

I think I have figured it out.  He is a choral conductor (a very good one). His beat does not coincide with the bottom of his stroke, but with a sort of button hook bounce.  I was not rushing, I was singing at the correct tempo but ahead of the beat.  The other basses and tenors are like me, with mostly band experience, and they also sing ahead of the beat.  Sopranos and altos don't, but then they don't watch him anyway. 



Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: trombonemetal on Jan 12, 2018, 12:30PM
“Don’t be late, but NEVER be early”


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Dan Hine on Jan 12, 2018, 12:46PM
I have my eyes fixed on you and I am putting my note EXACTLY at your beat.



Obviously you are not.  You are putting your note where you think his beat should be.  You need to ask yourself who should conform to who.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Dombat on Jan 12, 2018, 04:56PM
A baton makes no sound. The job of a trombonist in an ensemble setting is to play with the group. This is why my first advice to players in orchestras for the first time is to not look at the conductor for the articulation of the beat, that is the job of the concertmaster and section leaders. I've played in orchestras that play close to the beat, I've played with orchestras that play about 15 minutes behind the beat but they still play together. Find your reference points in the orchestra (concertmaster, principla cello, oboe, clarinet, pricipal trumpet or timpanist) and play with them. Don't ever rely on the ictus...


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Dombat on Jan 12, 2018, 05:02PM
Just re-read the original post. Singing, not trombone playing. My post however still would be the same. Conductors don't make sound. That is the job of the musicians who face the audience. Treat it like chamber music and sing/play together. There is nothing worse than a group the doesn't work together then blames the conductor (although they are often at fault).


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: robcat2075 on Jan 12, 2018, 05:17PM
When you read a conducting text book they always show that the beat is at the bottom of the motion and yet when I watch conductors, hardly any of them are doing that.


When I got to college I was baffled by our band director whose first beat was sometime after his hand hit bottom and was rising back up again. All the other freshman were baffle by it too. Eventually it came down to trying to sense a twitch that everyone else did that signaled when to start.


Last time I got hired for an Easter gig (and this is why it was probably the last time i ever got hired for an Easter gig) I came in one beat early after a dead silent hold because the conductor gave two preparatory beats instead of the one that I had learned in conducting class was the norm for all competent conductors. 

He didn't give two beats for any other entrance but for this one time in the middle of a piece, he did. Everyone else knew that but I didn't.  :dontknow:


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: boneagain on Jan 12, 2018, 05:31PM
Conductor's job is to LEAD the group musically. S/he is not a metronome.  In an ideal world, by the time you get to where the conductor just indicated, the conductor will be at the next moment.  Since it's not an ideal world, you will find conductors in all sorts of places relative to the beat.  As the other poster said, keeping the beat is the job of the individual players.  The conductor should get "there" ahead of you so you have a millisecond or two before the tempo or dynamics or phrase direction change.

Job 1: learn where THIS conductor likes to stay, relative to the beat.
Job 2: set your internal clock to keep time at THAT location.

and don't forget to have fun, since this IS singing, after all!


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: timothy42b on Jan 12, 2018, 07:24PM


Job 1: learn where THIS conductor likes to stay, relative to the beat.


Exactly.  Now that I understand better, some of the frustration is gone.  It's taken me far too long to realize his beat was not where I thought it was. 

We'll still get yelled at for rushing when he's playing, but there's not much I can do about it.  One of our strong singers is deaf, and can't hear the accompaniment.  He charges on when the sopranos drag and the organ accommodates.  Strangely, his pitch remains very good. 

Now I have to reconsider my own directing.  I have been locked into the "one is the bottom of the motion," and maybe that's not always the best way to do it. 


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Andrew Meronek on Jan 13, 2018, 12:30AM
I was not rushing, I was singing at the correct tempo but ahead of the beat.

Heh. This might be a tough concept to grasp for a choral conductor.  :evil:


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Le.Tromboniste on Jan 13, 2018, 12:51AM
As a conductor, I can explain why it makes sense to play behind the beat, and why I hate when the orchestra is too much "with" my beat.

The conductors job is not to tell you when to play, but to lead you. There is a difference. The primary information that the beating gives is NOT when to play, but merely the tempo. The information your brain should get by watching the conductor is not so much the moment of the ictus (the bottom change of direction of the hand/Wand) but rather how much time has passed between the preparation gesture/the previous beat and the ictus. That gives you the tempo.

Now when musicians try to play precisely on the ictus, I as a conductor have no control over the tempo or rubato anymore, because if I decide to accelerate or slow down, or delay the arrival of one beat, the orchestra cannot be with me, as they have no time to foresee the change. They can only be with me if there is a delay between my conducting's ictus and the actual beat of the orchestra. Only then is the conductor truly in control and the orchestra truly able to follow (as a trombonist I  dont find it confusing either, it's far easier to be together as a group when there's a delay we all feel together than when we all try to guess the moment of the ictus and individually play not quite at the same moment).

There is also a concept that some conductors like to work with that we call resistance, which is kind of a meta-parameter that is a result of a combination of things you do with other parameters like sound color, note shape, articulation, that creates the feeling that the music has to make a large effort to move forward and does not flow on it's own (and it doesn't have to do with tempo - two performance at exactly the same tempo can have a very different feel in terms of that feeling). It gives feeling that you are pushing against a wall for the music to come out and move forth. Or that you are swinging a baseball through water instead of air...Think Tchaikovsky 6 4th movement - that's a moment where you need that feeling. Well it's much, much easier to have that when there is a somewhat large delay with the conductor.

As a general rule there is more delay in slower tempi, and less in faster tempi, with virtually no delay at all in very fast movements.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: bassboneman on Jan 13, 2018, 07:59AM
Exactly.  Now that I understand better, some of the frustration is gone.  It's taken me far too long to realize his beat was not where I thought it was. 

We'll still get yelled at for rushing when he's playing, but there's not much I can do about it.  One of our strong singers is deaf, and can't hear the accompaniment.  He charges on when the sopranos drag and the organ accommodates.  Strangely, his pitch remains very good. 

Now I have to reconsider my own directing.  I have been locked into the "one is the bottom of the motion," and maybe that's not always the best way to do it. 
....wait a minute! What?? Huh??
How can one be a strong singer if one is incapable of hearing? I need clarification on this!!!

Samwell


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: davdud101 on Jan 13, 2018, 09:46AM
....wait a minute! What?? Huh??
How can one be a strong singer if one is incapable of hearing? I need clarification on this!!!

Samwell

Same  :amazed: :eek: :-0


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: timothy42b on Jan 13, 2018, 12:39PM
....wait a minute! What?? Huh??
How can one be a strong singer if one is incapable of hearing? I need clarification on this!!!

Samwell

I don't know either.  He apparently has enough muscle memory left after decades of musicianship.  He sings reasonably well in tune (this is an amateur choir) and his intervals are correct.  He doesn't always hear instructions, sometimes one of us has to tell him what page, and he doesn't react to changes of tempo in the accompaniment, so I infer he can't hear it. 

When I'm at that point (long before, hopefully) I will gracefully retire to the pews. 


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: robcat2075 on Jan 13, 2018, 01:22PM
Most church choirs are more about the fellowship than the performance.

Which is a completely understandable approach.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: timothy42b on Jan 13, 2018, 06:16PM
Most church choirs are more about the fellowship than the performance.

Which is a completely painfully understandable approach.

Fixed that for you.

You are correct of course.  But there comes a point where it is selfish to stay.  There are about six churches that always invite us to their carol sing, and all are very small and very old - no longer able to hold a note on pitch or even sing with tone.  Clearly there is a personal reward for being there, but I would question how much it adds to worship.  That is not true of our church yet, but all of us are aging and there is nobody coming up behind. 

Back to the issue at hand.  le.tromboniste gave a good explanation and it's a perspective I hadn't seen.  Clearly the beat_after_ictus approach is more common than I'd realized, and I just have to be more situationally aware.  Most of my band experience has been with conductors where the ictus is close to the beat.  Also...........ahem.........I've returned to reading glasses in band, and the conductor is a bit blurred.  Maybe I need to do the same in choir!  (But then, I had them on this morning, and I didn't have any trouble knowing where Dave's beat was.) 


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: timothy42b on Jan 13, 2018, 06:41PM
Esa addresses this at the 6:00 point in this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILkYMD8zuH8&feature=youtu.be&t=6m3s



Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: RMTrombone on Jan 13, 2018, 08:05PM
I was taught and prefer that the beat occurs exactly at the ictus, where the baton changes direction. The player must anticipate the beat to be square on.

The human "ear" can hear tiny variations in the beat. Exactness is very important. Intentional variation of the beat helps carry the emotional message.

I have played under and watched conductors where the beat occurs as much as a half second after the ictus.  This works for some, but take some real getting used to.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: robcat2075 on Jan 13, 2018, 08:28PM
I've noticed at the Dallas Symphony there seem to be eyes on the concertmaster as often as on the conductor among the first string stands.



Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Le.Tromboniste on Jan 14, 2018, 12:52AM
I've noticed at the Dallas Symphony there seem to be eyes on the concertmaster as often as on the conductor among the first string stands.



Which is something you want of course
It doesn't mean they need to look at them because they don't know how to deal with the delay of the conductor (they do. All profesional orchestras do, and they all have their own delay tendency - the phenomenon doesn't only come from the conductor, the players are also responsible for it).

Strings need to watch the concertmaster to ensure the homogeneity of the amount of bow they use, for instance.

Of course musicians should always have an eye for each other - woodwinds all look at the principal flute and oboe duo for entrances to make sure they're all together. I am always looking at the 1st trombone (and if playing first, being very aware of the principal trumpet), and very often look to the concertmaster, or to the principal bassist'bow when doubling the basses. For a bunch of different reasons, phrasing, note length, make sure I'm entirely precisely together with our entrance etc. Being precise and together is an individual responsibility of everyone in the group, not just the conductor. You use every tool you have access to to do that. It would be stupid to only rely on watching the conductor...


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: LowrBrass on Jan 14, 2018, 05:55AM
I've noticed at the Dallas Symphony there seem to be eyes on the concertmaster as often as on the conductor among the first string stands.



Reminds me...

I have some friends (good amateurs) who did some kind of music camp for grown-ups, where they spent a week in the summer playing with members of a professional symphony somewhere in the US.

The conductor of this symphony is apparently difficult to follow.

One thing the professional members taught my friends was "LUFU":
Look Up, F-ck Up.

I like that. "LUFU" is now something you'll find occasionally scribbled in my own parts.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: robcat2075 on Jan 14, 2018, 07:32AM
Fixed that for you.

You are correct of course.  But there comes a point where it is selfish to stay.  There are about six churches that always invite us to their carol sing, and all are very small and very old - no longer able to hold a note on pitch or even sing with tone.  Clearly there is a personal reward for being there, but I would question how much it adds to worship.  That is not true of our church yet, but all of us are aging and there is nobody coming up behind. 


Some years ago I thought it would be fun to do SATB part singing so I started attending a local Lutheran church with the idea that I might join a choir.  Unfortunately the choir was all just warbling sopranos with mile-wide vibratos nothing like the church choir I recall growing up.

The "mainline" churches where conventional music is performed are in sad shape these days.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: boneagain on Jan 14, 2018, 08:39AM
Fixed that for you.

You are correct of course.  But there comes a point where it is selfish to stay.  There are about six churches that always invite us to their carol sing, and all are very small and very old - no longer able to hold a note on pitch or even sing with tone.  Clearly there is a personal reward for being there, but I would question how much it adds to worship.  That is not true of our church yet, but all of us are aging and there is nobody coming up behind. 

Back to the issue at hand.  le.tromboniste gave a good explanation and it's a perspective I hadn't seen.  Clearly the beat_after_ictus approach is more common than I'd realized, and I just have to be more situationally aware.  Most of my band experience has been with conductors where the ictus is close to the beat.  Also...........ahem.........I've returned to reading glasses in band, and the conductor is a bit blurred.  Maybe I need to do the same in choir!  (But then, I had them on this morning, and I didn't have any trouble knowing where Dave's beat was.) 

... and if you don't think THAT was an awkward rehearsal, with this thread in mind  :D

I'll give some examples, not by way of bragging or tattling on myself.  These examples could cause some to think I was better than I was, or subsequently less committed than I was.  They are just examples of real-world experience.

Von Karajan (only one time): stayed quite far ahead of the beat. We had to watch concertmaster to stay in sync with the strings soundwise, but had to keep eyes glued on Von Karajan as well because he did not keep time: he interpreted, to a very high degree... Luckily most of us had both eyes functioning, so gluing one on each key figure was do-able.

Eleazar de Carvalho: moderately ahead of the beat but, without question THE most rhythmic conductor I ever played under.  Spent a season and a half with him.  His placement relative to the beat was so consistent we needed no other cues.  We all kept an eye on the concert master anyway.  Friend of mine.  I doubt I could have gotten the gig without the concert master's kind assist.

Joseph Silverstein: my favorite of all of these.  Conducted close to the beat, but not so close that he could not achieve wonderful subtle tempo and dynamic variations.  Of all the versions of Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra I've heard, his with the Boston University Symphony remains my favorite, and NOT because I got to play the John Coffee part.  The movement with the free woodwind ensemble is the heart of my addiction to this recording.

Roger Voisin (yes, the former principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony): Extremely precise, extremely close to the beat.  He would go over his game plan with a group, then stick to that plan.  He would change tempo, dynamic, phrase exactly when he said he would, and was, in that way, very predictable.  The price for the precision and closeness to the beat was a loss of ability to follow a musical moment as it came up. If a solo part took an unexpected and particularly pleasing turn of phrase, Mr. Voisin WOULD follow that, and pull the group along, but it was never as seamless as with Mr. Silverstein, for example.  OTOH, brass ensembles with Mr. Voisin were an absolute GAS!  His precision meant we knew, with FAR more precision than with ANY of the others above, the exact instant to enter on a big chord.  I NEVER had brass moments like those in ANY orchestra. 

I guess it's a great illustration of YMMV.  All told, though, with a large group, I'd take Silverstein any day of the week, complete with the lag between ictus and actual moment in time.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: robcat2075 on Jan 14, 2018, 10:42AM
Which is something you want of course
It doesn't mean they need to look to him because they don't know how to deal with the delay of the conductor

Ideally, but... I'm not convinced that's always true, particularly if there's a guest conductor there.

I've heard enough spattered entrances to think that maybe, just maybe... it's no clearer to them pros on stage than it is to me watching from the seats.  :/


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Le.Tromboniste on Jan 14, 2018, 10:59AM
Ideally, but... I'm not convinced that's always true, particularly if there's a guest conductor there.

I've heard enough spattered entrances to think that maybe, just maybe... it's no clearer to them pros on stage than it is to me watching from the seats.  :/

Oh don't get me wrong, there are plenty of bad conductors that you just have to completely ignore and with whom you should NEVER look up, except to look at the concertmaster.

I was just saying, because people look at each other and in particular at the concertmaster doesn't mean the conductor is bad, not doing their job or that the musicians dislike them (although it is also true that a lot of orchestral musicians despise just about every conductor, even the best ones and will make a point never to look at any conductor...). As a conductor, I will very often take a step back to make sure the concertmaster and whatever principal string across from them can have eye contact on certain passages. As a player I look at colleagues about as much as I look at the conductor. That's just what you're supposed to be doing.


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: boneagain on Jan 14, 2018, 01:10PM
Maximilien,

You've made some very helpful observations here from the "other side of the podium."  I think it only fair that forum members have an idea of how solid those observations are.  You are NOT talking about just directing a trombone choir, or even small band.  You, unlike most of us, have gotten excellent reviews conducting large forces doing things like Mahler 6. 

I may be 40 years older than you, but I am young enough to learn from what you have to say, and really appreciate little comments like stepping back to let principal players make eye contact at appropriate moments.

Thanks for your contributions!


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: timothy42b on Jan 14, 2018, 01:58PM
I also appreciated Maximilien's perspective.  My world is one of much smaller experience.

The only ensemble I direct on a regular basis is a handbell choir, and I do try to have clapper strike (not the swing itself, but the arrival of the clapper from off the spring onto the strike point) coincide with ictus.  I'm not sure it would be practical to do it any other way.  I've had discussions with other handbell directors, and they feel the same way.  Many of them tell stories of the difficulties they've had when accompanying a choir, or when having an orchestral musician take part in a handbell concert. 


Title: Re: Conducting styles
Post by: Dombat on Jan 14, 2018, 03:14PM
Great to hear from a conductor who actually understands the position of the orchestra. It varies of course from orchestra to orchestra and depending on the room/piece/conductor but in the end the beat is where the musicians make noise at the same time. The best way of co-ordinating this is by keeping open ears and working as chamber musicians
 I will watch a conductor closely up until a moment before the ictus... At that point I am either focussed on the concertmaster's bow, the jaw of the solo trumpet next to.me (to see when the tongue starts to move) or, or, or... Your eyes should constantly be wandering to find the point of arrival.
Playing on or behind the ictus (or even before when acoustically needed) should never be an excuse for not playing together. It is all chamber music, just on different scales.


All that said. Bad conductors who don't understand prepare changes in the upbeat are the worst.