Lessons in Learning: The Making of a Maestro

by Abby @ Quaver on May 29, 2014

in Music Matters

We love hosting voices like Jeannine Everett’s on the Quaver Music blog!

As a lifelong musician and now principal second violin in the Reston Community Orchestra; Jeannine brings a performer and a student’s perspective to the blog that we are grateful to share!

Today Jeannine is back and talking about how to connect students with conducting!


The Making of a Maestro


Some people are armchair quarterbacks. I am an armchair conductor.

I love to watch conductors on YouTube. I can see the shape of the music in Dudamel’s face. Bernstein does happy dances. When I conduct in the real world, it looks something more like . . . oh my, these notes are small, am I on the right page, oh wait we’re in three, not four, and I’ve totally lost the horn section.

Conducting is hard and fun and scary and amazing.

Which is exactly why students should do it. It surprises me how many musicians have never held a baton in their hands. No matter how many years someone has followed the stick, yielding it is a whole different experience.

Conducting moves a player out of the part and into the music. When young students conduct along with a recording, they naturally respond to phrasing and mood. They conduct like they dance—wild and unfettered. It’s an awesome game of pretend. Anyone can do it, nothing is “wrong”, and kids love to move. It’s a natural way to experience music.

When conducting real players for the first time (and quite a few after that), it takes every iota of concentration just to get the stick to the right place at the right time. The movements can be rigid and robotic and sort of painful. It’s pretty scary, standing up there, but it’s also really exhilarating. At this juncture, it’s not about interpretation, it’s about keeping time, and that’s okay.

Music sounds so different from the podium than it does from the chair. It’s a completely different vantage point. I’m always struck by just how big a band or orchestra can be, and the diversity of instruments and melodic lines. Someone has to keep it from becoming one big train wreck. Being that someone gives me an appreciation for what the conductor does.

The conductor is a leadership role.

It necessitates taking control of a large group, gaining and keeping their attention, and guiding them to a shared goal. Sometimes the best conductors aren’t the most gifted instrumentalists.

Conducting may give new perspective to a student who loves music, but hasn’t found the best vehicle to express their passion.

So give it a try – have an “air conductor” session, or hand over the baton every so often to a student.

Discuss what they noticed from the podium, and what they’ll take into their playing. At a minimum, you might see a few more eyes out of the music during rehearsal. You never know—that little girl in the third row waving her pencil to Mozart just might be the next Marin Alsop. Those of us in our armchairs salute you.

How do you discuss conducting with your students? Why not use this clip from Quaver’s Classical Period episode to talk about the evolution of conductors throughout musical history?

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