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8/21/96: I recently wrote a composition for string orchestra which I had the chance to conduct at one of my schoolís string orchestraís rehearsals. It was the first time I have ever conducted, and I noticed it is quite a challenge to communicate my ideas across to the players. I was wondering if you have any hints on communicating with an orchestra.

In large measure, the most important communicating happens at rehearsal. Naturally, the more the musicians respect you going into rehearsal, or come to respect you during your first encounter, the greater their attention and cooperation. Personal chemistry is a real phenomenon, but you can help it along by, first, knowing the music (even your own) and what you want to accomplish very well and, second, having a firm understanding about how each instrument accomplishes what you want to hear.

During a performance, I have two suggestions: (1) Donít fall into the trap of making eye contact with only a handful of players (e.g., the first stands); try to make contact with all the players you can within reason, including the last stands. That eye contact will, mostly, communicate that all is going well; when things are not going well, the players will perceive it milliseconds earlier than if you are not regularly making eye contact. They are with you. (2) Vary your movements. If all gestures are very big and broad, itís hard for players to distinguish what should be bigger and biggest.

Remember, though, that there have been conductors with very poor stick technique and truly eccentric gestures who have made great music because of the concepts in their heads and their ability to compensate for their technical shortcomings. Communicating with an orchestra involves a lot of variablesónot the least of which is the orchestra itself and its own culture.

©1996 by Joseph Rescigno. The text here may be freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes as long as credit is given.

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