Thoughts on Conducting Myths

Melvin P. Kes­sler | January 2009

    I agree with a large portion of Erik Janners’s November 2008 article “Conducting Myths” but would like to make a few comments.
    Gestures are important for conveying the director’s interpretation of a piece to an ensemble. Also, conducting with emotion is not showboating, it is involvement in the music and prevents conductors from reducing themselves to time beaters. I wish conductors would work on an arsenal of gestures and not simply use the same few gestures for every style of music.
    It is unhelpful to spend a rehearsal tuning every note. There are conductors who spend so much time trying to impress students with their knowledge of instrument tendencies and how to tune that they actually turn students off. All students want to do is play. I prefer to put responsibility on the students. It is good to tune at certain intervals during rehearsal, but I prefer to teach students to listen and tune to the bass. I stop only to correct recurring problems.
    It is important for students to sometimes play music they dislike, especially those who plan to pursue a professional career.  I have played and conducted countless pieces I did not like in my career, but anyone who wants to work regularly will be forced to play pieces  they do not enjoy.
    I like competition as long as it is not the focal point of a program. Performers are always in competition for jobs. Competing to get the highest score at a festival should not be the reason for attending a competition, and obsessing over festival scores is unhealthy. Festivals are an excellent opportunity to get outside comments on the band; these can be used in the classroom for further musical development.
    Students who spend the year working on three pieces for a marching show, three or four pieces in December, and three pieces for a spring festival do not see enough music. Reading sessions and an extra concert or two would greatly benefit any program. The more music students play, the better players they will become.