Yesterday was my third conducting lesson, thanks to Maestro Sidney Rothstein. He pronounced me as “acceptable”; i.e. that I had learned enough about conducting to not embarrass myself and the orchestra. He magnanimously offered me many great suggestions for how to improve my technique and add more expression to the conducting.
Earlier tonight was my first rehearsal with The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra. I was privileged to be able to sit on the stage while Sidney and the orchestra rehearsed. Wow! The difference between sitting in the audience and sitting on the stage — inches from the musicians — was amazing. It was being right in their space. I could see them at work in great detail and hear the unique character of each instrument like I never had before. I have always had great respect for orchestral musicians but now even more so. Then it was my turn.
Sidney introduced me to the orchestra and I went to stand on the "box" for my debut. I asked if I could first make some comments to the orchestra. It may have seemed like an excuse to prolong actually having to put my arms in the air, but I sincerely wanted to say some things to the musicians. First I told them how honored I was to be in their presence and how much admiration I have for their dedication and hard work. Secondly, I told them about my musical background. That didn’t take long. The fifth grade was the beginning of my clarinet playing. It continued through my first year in college and then took a back seat to other interests.
Some years later my serious interest in music was re-kindled — classical in particular and Mozart especially. I read some books about him and began to collect many CDs of his music (all of which are now mp3 files on the iSCSI storage system in my basement which plays through a Lansonic digital audio server). Thirdly, I told them about my approach to conducting the first movement of Symphony No. 25 — I call it 25.1. (I know it sounds like an IP address but this is how Sidney and I have communicated about it over the last few months by email and instant messaging). I confessed that, although I had conducted many meetings in my thirty-five years at IBM, I had never conducted an orchestra.
I told the musicians that I have been conducting a "CD" for quite a few weeks and that I was really looking forward to attempting to interact with real people instead of stereo speakers in the wall. Sidney had made a drawing showing the placement of the various instruments but things were actually a bit different in the final arrangement. I apologized in advance if I pointed in the wrong place for a particular emphasis during the piece. I told them how much I loved the movement we were to perform together and that I viewed each of their parts as a solo.
There were no more excuses or things to say — it was time to raise the baton and conduct. What an experience! I wish I could describe the feeling of exhilaration. I made two introductory beats and then away we went! To watch these professionals at work and to hear the actual instruments instead of a CD — I was on cloud nine. The tempo was not what I wanted but I didn’t quite know how to get it accelerated. I suspect the musicians had a certain tempo in mind and I didn’t take quite enough control to change it.
At the end, I congratulated them on their performance and was humbled as *they* applauded. Wherever it was on a scale of one to ten, I know it will be much better on the night of the concert. I told them I would prefer a faster tempo, at which point, Maestro Rothstein, urged me to repeat the beginning and show the orchestra the tempo I wanted. I am so glad he did that. I asserted myself with a much better beginning and the orchestra responded perfectly. I can’t wait for tomorrow afternoon’s (and final) rehearsal. I am incredibly excited about the next twenty-four hours.