What the public sees of what a conductor does is a tiny, tiny part of the work. The majority of what a conductor does is in isolation. It’s thought of as the most public job there is, but in fact, it’s a tremendously private job that is primarily involves studying. That’s primarily what a conductor does. He has to understand why every F sharp is in where it is, and how best to play that piece of music.
When a conductor comes into the rehearsal process, it’s a very, very compressed amount of time. The good conductor will have come up with say, hundreds or thousands of marks to go to the orchestra’s parts so that they can do what the conductor wants without his having to say anything.
And in fact, one of the primary things a conductor does is to exude confidence and knowledge. You can’t exude confidence and knowledge if you don’t know what you want. Knowing what you want saves all the time in the world.
And so if you can go to a rehearsal and just know what you want and show what you want, and listen to what the orchestra is giving you and show them "no, no, not that way - this way," without even words, they get it immediately. And the orchestra, they’re not children. They don’t need you to show them everything. They need to know what you want clearly. They need to know, as a unit, exactly what you want and they have to want to give it to you.
So you have to inspire them to give you what you want. And either by showing, by feeling, by willing, by knowing, or all of those things, you bring the group together.
There’s an experience when you’re talking to a friend and you have that, "Oh my God, we both had the same thought at the exact same time," that magic spark that makes everybody smile. Conducting an orchestra is like that happening with 100 people at the same time.
Everybody suddenly gets the same thing at the same moment. And they transmit that feeling to the audience. So that everybody in the room is having the same experience. And it begins with the conductor knowing what he wants in the score and being able to show it in some way to the orchestra so that they give it back.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy fo Shutterstock.