Pre-concert, on-stage tuning often completely disrupts the musical environment of the concert, at least the first portion of the program. Taking the stage in a disorganized manner, improper warming-up procedures (on stage) and overblowing is disastrous to the idea of “establishing the environment in which the making of music is inevitable.” Ideally the moments prior to the beginning of the concert should be silent with as little stage action as possible. This practice allows the conductor to prepare the gestalt, or total environment, for the beginning selection. Checking a pitch and adjusting instruments should take place off stage. Tuning is a constant procedure throughout the concert.
To bring a selection to a successful conclusion it is necessary to retain the character, or mood, of the piece for brief period. The post-score silence will include the elements of placing instruments at rest, bowing, replacing music and adjusting instruments. The applause will serve to break the mood of the piece.
The silence of rhythm is obvious. Play the rests. The moment a performer ignores the importance of silence patterns in rhythm, rhythmic accuracy is lost. Play the space mentally. Examples of rest patterns are endless and it would be well to often to think of rhythms in terms of patterns of silence rather than patterns of sound.
Listening to and rehearsing a single ensemble over an extended period will frequently give a “constrictive set to the heard sound”. This phenomenon is frequently referred to in psychology as “cocktail” listening. We “tune out” what we do not wish to hear or that which is so constant that we become unaware if its existence. Daily rehearsals over a period of weeks and months can play amazing tricks. Conductors can develop a distorted concept of the sound they are producing in they are not constantly aware of this problem. Percussion, upper brass and baritone saxophone are frequent but not singular perpetuators of this problem. Again, the “hearing what we are set to hear” factor warrants constant recognition. The regular practice of taping for later assessment is important. We hear and see things differently when we are not on the podium.
Why do some conductors persist in keeping their coats unbuttoned when conducting? One conductor was given the title of “old saddlebags” because he always kept his coat unbuttoned when conducting with keys, notebooks, etc. in his pockets. The noise and distracting movement completely distorted the musical performance. Dresses with long, loose sleeves or any item of clothing distracting from the musical performance inhibits effectiveness. A video-tape can be the conductors best friend when used for personal analysis.
The Outrageous Dynamic Use of the Percussion
Actually this non-musical atrocity is performed as often in professional orchestras as in school groups. The concept of dynamics is, too often, completely distorted in percussion performance. Snare drum closely follows the cymbal as an instrument of distortion. Many conductors fail to recognize the capacity of the cymbal and the snare drum to project a distorted dynamic on the forte level. Cymbals are musical instruments and should always be uses as such. Cymbal playing ceases to be a musical art when the dynamics exceed musical taste.
Granted, music teachers and conductors are facing a multiplicity of problems with budgetary, scheduling and curricular restrictions. Because of the increasing restrictive elements it is important that we use every possible technique to counteract these difficulties through maximum creativity in the use of time and available sources. The suggestions discussed are generally known but we all need reminders. It is hoped that the above discussion will point up specific problems that are prevalent throughout out profession and warrant serious consideration.