Monday, December 6, 2010

Book Review: Conducting Technique for Beginners and Professionals

"Conducting Technique For Beginners and Professionals" 3rd Edition - By Brock McElheran, Forward by Lukas Ross. Published by Oxford University Press 2004 198 Madison Ave New York, NY 10016
The Little Green Book

 When I began graduate conducting studies I was told to buy one book, the aforementioned one. This is probably the smallest, yet most useful textbook I have ever purchased. It applies across specialities(wind, choral, and orchestral) and is a fun read. Yep, I said it a fun textbook. I also found out that, without discussing it, both the Director of Bands and the Director of Choirs at Wright State both use this book for undergraduate conducting.

Professor McElheran

McElheran(1918-2008) was the Director of Choral Activities and Professor of Music at the Crane School of Music, SUNY-Potsdam. He retired in 1988 and the last published version of this book was reviewed four years prior to his passing at age 90. His witty insights well live on in this text. I'm so glad Dr. Booth gave it to me.

The book is broken down into 27 short, easy to digest chapters, over the course of 129 pages. Chapter progression is designed for a quick overview of conducting technique and other problems. Each short chapter, seemingly averaging around 5 pages, ends with "assignments" for beginners and professionals. The questions are thoughtful and really should be done by everyone, whether you consider yourself a green beginner, seasoned professional, or someone in between. Everyone has something they can tweak from the book.

I grabbed my highlighter and a pencil and went to work marking things that I want to be able to find quickly. I think I will need to read other texts and explore options before I'm done with study, but I will try to hold myself to at least going through and reading my highlighted portions once a term.

The book also has great diagrammed beat patterns.  It's really a conducting survival guide that could be read in a few short sessions. If you're serious about being an effective conductor, this needs to be on your desk.

I'll leave you with a few of my highlighted passages all are the words of McElheran.
On the most important requirement of a conductor: "Make the performers want to do their best."

"Conducting technique must be studied and practised, during the entire career of the conductor."

Baton Fact: "A baton magnifies any hand quiver to a conspicuous degree."

"Beat is a moment of time, a split second infinitesimally small, like a point in geometry. It is NOT a duration."

"Remember that you must show the performers what to do before they do it."

"Every musician, instrumental of vocal, should count every rest his entire life."

"A conductor who cannot follow is almost as weak as one who cannot lead."

"Stokowski keeps a large colored pencil handy and writes warnings to himself in large letters." (Note: no one is every magically able to remember everything. Write it down, if the masters do, we all should.)

"Be sure that everything you do has a purpose, and that it has a specific effect on the music. Otherwise eliminate it. Guard against extra loops and waggles which are not called for in the music."

"The best way to become distinctive is to develop a conducting technique which is clear and totally subservient to the music. This will mark you as a rarity among conductors."

"A start must look like a start. Anything before a start must not look like a start."

"You must constantly remind yourself to listen. A well-known corporation hangs a sing saying THINK in all its offices. Our slogan must be LISTEN."

"Performances are never perfect." and followed by "Music is for enjoyment."

"I am merely the builder who follows the composer's blueprints in re-creating this masterpiece."

"It is the ability to listen, think fast, and communicate with hands, arms, and face that marks the good concert conductor, as contrasted to the good musicians who can train performers. He combines artistry, knowledge, and sensitivity with speed of thought and action to re-create the music every time he conducts."

"Two mottos should be on every conductor's mind and wall: "WORRY EARLY and ONE PERCENT OF CONDUCTING IS CONDUCTING."

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