I had no idea how wrong I was. After the very first class period, I realized that conducting is so much more than being a metronome. It’s about creating music, much like the way an artist creates a painting. As the conductor, I can “play” all of the instruments in the orchestra, or all of the voices in the choir. I am not limited to one instrument and I have the ability to fine tune every sound of every instrument. Through these classes, I not only grew to appreciate my conductors more, but I also realized how much I loved conducting.
Shortly before beginning the Orchestral Conducting segment of my Advanced Conducting course, I met with my orchestra conductor at Grace Baptist, Lisa Hernacki. Every two weeks our orchestra prepares several songs for the Sunday Services in addition to our Christmas, Easter, and special concerts, and I wanted to understand how she could get to know all of the scores that well in such a short amount of time. Mrs. Hernacki’s advice was so helpful that I thought I would share her steps with any other interested musician.
Try to find multiple recordings of the same song so that you can hear different conductor’s interpretations. It is important that you do not conduct to any recording. You need to get the sound of the song in your head, but in order to maintain individuality, you do not want to train yourself to follow what that conductor was doing.
Step 2: Determine your goal for the piece
Ask yourself why you chose this piece and how it fits into your service, concert, or whatever else you are doing. Read through the program notes to determine the composer’s intent.
Step 3: Determine the form of the piece
Is this piece in sonata form, rhondo form, etc. Is there a recapitulation and if so, does it vary? How would you conduct repeated sections differently?
Step 4: Determine who has the melody
Figure out what the melody or main theme is and what instruments have it when. This will be very important as you give cues. Also identify variations of the melody (look for slurs and accents), and any countermelodies or supporting melodies.
Step 5: Identify the supporting harmonic structures
Look through the chords and rhythmic motives and determine the texture of the piece. This will influence the way you conduct this piece.
Step 6: Identify key changes
This will be important for both rehearsal and style purposes. Find out which instrument is the leading voice that transitions keys.
Step 7: Identify the tempo
Different tempos give different impressions. Once you understand the intent of the piece and the way it was written, you can better determine what tempo to conduct the piece.
Step 8: Mark meter changes
Mrs. Hernacki mentions that she marks the score in red at the top of the page if the pattern does not stay the same.
Step 9: Work transitions
This is especially important if you have a limited amount of time to prepare a piece. Transitions are usually where the train wrecks occur and if you know your transitions can polish transitions, you are well on your way to a performance-ready piece.
Brass and percussion players often have long periods of rests before they play and it is easy to lose track of measures. Make sure you give these players clear cues by first making eye contact to get their attention and tell them to get ready and then signalling with a hand gesture.
Step 11: Figure out difficult rhythms and parts ahead of time
Make sure you scan the score to determine where the problem spots will be and how you will overcome them.
Step 12: Develop a rehearsal plan
Make sure you have a goal for every piece and that you can clearly communicate it to your musicians. Determine the most efficient way to rehearse and what the difficult sections for every piece are.