Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Pleading the 5th, But Taking the 7th

A page from Beethoven's original manuscript of his 7th symphony.

It is as I feared expected. As of tonight I am now the official rehearsal conductor for the Kashima Philharmonic (fanfare not as bad as I'd expected).

At last week's rehearsal, our first attempt at Beethoven's 7th Symphony, our lead oboe player conducted. He spent the whole time griping since the very important lead oboe part was missing (his part, and he understandably wanted to play it). He asked me if I would do it, and I flat out declined, saying that I had no business trying to conduct that piece. However, after the rehearsal ended he suggested I start taking a good look at it so I could be ready to raise the baton when and if I was needed.

I did just that. Over the past week I listened to/watched several different performances of the 7th by different orchestras under different conductors. I spent hours with my nose buried in the score, and I tried conducting along with a video in the music office (which amused the students no end). I also had Mr. Ogawa give me some very important instruction in orchestra conducting technique, since my style still showed a very obvious jazz influence. I got myself all ready just in case the unthinkable happened.

Tonight's rehearsal had a lot of people missing including the lead oboe player. The principal players that were there started getting all fussy and frustrated at the lack of a conductor, so I asked them if they wanted me to do it. Their reaction showed that they'd been hoping I'd ask that. Needless to say, they were happy.

And so it went. I directed a piece I probably had no business directing for an orchestra that probably had no business playing it, but it was still strangely satisfying. We put in a good rehearsal. Even while holding up my own self-confidence by the scruff of its neck, I gave them lots of training and advice, and they responded to it well. After a while the first movement was actually sounding like we could pull it off. Then I decided to grit my teeth and try the second movement...the one that's technically easy but so brutally hard musically. I have to say...after going over it for a while they were actually giving it a pretty good shot. Still a very flawed gem half-buried in the dirt, but they were following me, they were getting it, and they were playing the piece.

When the rehearsal ended, the chairman of the executive committee asked me if I could continue conducting rehearsals from now on, at least until the professional conductor they hired showed up. I said I would, and they all applauded. I guess I have an important, new job with this outfit. It's an interesting challenge, to be sure.

There are a couple of problems, though. Conducting the orchestra means I won't be able to rehearse my own part. I'll probably have to step out and let one of the other clarinetists take over my position. There's also the fact that, since the professional conductor can only come once a month, I'll be bearing most of the rehearsal load but won't be appearing onstage. That's a rather frustrating prospect, as it'll be an extremely thankless job.

Oh, well. If the music comes out sounding even halfway right, we'll all have reason to be proud.


  • I called it, didn't I?

    You know, if the professional director sees you doing this, he might think "What the heck do they need me for?" and you could very well be conducting in the performance.

    In any case, it should be a fine feather in your hat, so enjoy it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:53 AM  

  • May your baton never be struck by lightning, but if it should I am sure the charge will pass harmlessly through you to ground since you are such a good conductor.

    OK, so that's an old joke. Somehow I had a feeling you would be doing this, if only for rehearsals. I am sure you will enjoy it and learn a lot from it, as will the orchestra.

    jazz style Beethoven conducting - "and a one and a two and a you know what to do...."

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 10:04 AM  

  • Congrats Moody Minstrel,

    I shall not show my ignorence of music here, but I've always been curious about the different tastes in song and voices around the world. I mean it is clear a lot of people love bollywood movies and all that singing(?) & dancing, and it is clear that people some people in Japan must love classical Japanese Geisha girl singing - others love Opera in German or whatever anguage.

    Mind you I offer no excuse for my love of flamenco and flameco rock

    Maybe I'm just a phillistine, if I don't understand the words I can't be moved by the song, and if the singing sounds like screeching well then it doesn't matter how good the song.

    I guess to you it's all music - even the song - but I must ask, is there such a thing as good music and music not so good - or when you are a conductor is it more a matter of whether the music is played just right, whatever the music may be

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 10:09 PM  

  • Someone shows off here, too arrogant!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:44 AM  

  • Good luck with conducting! Always keep an eye on the caboose when conducting ;).

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 10:53 PM  

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