Why This Composer Avoids Conducting

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It is said there are two things you want to be very certain about handing to a composer: a microphone, and a conductor’s baton. That’s obviously not true of everyone, but I definitely try to avoid the baton. This can confuse many people. After all, I did take every conducting course offered at UVic during my undergraduate studies. Why take all these conducting classes if you don’t want to conduct?

The Benefits Of Studying Conducting

For me, I found that it was making me a better musician in the various ensembles I was singing and playing in. I got better at understanding the conductor’s gestures, and gained a greater appreciation of their importance. It also became beneficial from a compositional standpoint to be able to take a look at the score and try to view it from the point of view of the conductor. A few changes have been made to scores along the way strictly in the hopes of making things easier for the conductor. But the main reason I took the number of conducting classes that I did is that it forced me outside my comfort zone at a time when I needed to not cocoon myself in the safety of familiarity.

I’m not going into the details here, but while I was at UVic I had a major depression episode. One of the things that was strongly recommended in therapy was trying to go outside my comfort zone a little bit. There are benefits in trying a thing that scares you and surviving it. There was still a good safety net given that the instructors ensured the classroom was a supportive environment, and it was helpful in getting my outside of my own head a little. Though one of my former instructors was constantly teasing me for being too much of the introverted composer and not enough the outgoing conductor. (yes, I am actually an introvert – being an introvert doesn’t have to mean being quiet all the time)

The Joys Of Not Conducting

For me, the idea of handing the score off to a “real” conductor is exciting. I’ve spent the time working on the score, and now I get to hear how it gets interpreted. One of the joyous things about art, in any medium, is that everyone is going to have their own interpretation regardless of the creator’s intentions. We all have different ways of viewing the world based on our personal nature and the way our unique and individual experiences have shaped us. This is a point that was driven home quite nicely while I was still in high school at the Young Author’s Conference. (I used to write poetry… apparently I didn’t totally stink at it) So many times we’d read something out and hear a pretty varied response to what different people thought it meant, and the types of responses and reactions to each poem.

I’m always excited about hearing what a musician or ensemble will do with my score. I’ve yet to hear an interpretation that had me saying “well that was just completely WRONG!” This isn’t to say I’ve never experienced a bad performance of a piece, (that’s a whole different topic), but never in discussions with musicians has anyone ever stated an interpretation that was so far away from my intentions that I would feel compelled to classify it as incorrect.

Also, it’s great for my anxiety, especially for some inexplicable reason with instrumental ensembles. I only get a teeny bit of nerves conducting a choir, but stick me in front of an instrumental ensemble and most of my mental energy is now directed at not having a total anxiety attack. I’m not sure why; I also don’t understand why climbing a ladder makes me freeze up. There’s no apparent logical reason to be afraid of heights, and yet I am.

In Conclusion

While there are many examples of composers who are excellent conductors as well, I am not one. And that’s ok. I think it’s a good thing. I don’t have a desire to be known for my conducting skills, so it’s not like I’m failing to achieve a life goal. Plus, there’s definitely something to be said for letting the actual expert do their job.

Also, about the other thing you want to be careful handing to a composer: I definitely enjoy public speaking, in short bursts. ;^)