Hello Music Lovers!! My name is Avery Davidson, and I am aspiring to be a conductor. This blog will be used for describing what I do for my Independent Study, which is on the subject of conducting. Through this study, I will be looking at what makes a great conductor and how does a conductor do their job. I am hoping that this study in the end will not only make my ambitions stronger, but also make me a better musician all around. Can’t wait to get started!!!
I know that I have not been so great on blog posts this last month, but it was just too busy with all the activities I had to do. But, most of that included this independent study. Therefore, I am going to talk especially about last week’s concerts. I had three conducting concerts last week (something I never thought I’d say at this age). Two of them were with the instrumental ensemble and one of them was the Jordan High School Musical, “Bright Star.” The instrumental ensemble got better and better as the days went on. We had two dress rehearsals: one of them I couldn’t make, but the other I was there for. I conducted them in my own arrangement of the march called “Spirit of ’44,” and they practiced it so well, that all we needed to do was polish up some things. This means that we focused on the connectivity of the lines, making sure the specific articulation and dynamics I wanted worked, and definitely keeping track of tempo. Sometimes, when a song is easy enough for people to play since they have practiced it so well, it is natural for them to start rushing because of its current simplicity. This was something I had to make sure at the rehearsals and the concert that they didn’t do. I tried conducting with much more energy too, since that only helps the kids get more into playing the music. The first concert was in front of the whole school, which I was happy about; I got to finally show my fellow classmates what my passion is by example. Sharing what I learned through actually showing what I want to do was a great treat. Both the concerts with the instrumental ensemble were great because we were all in it together. And then, the big test was “Bright Star.” Coordinating what happens on stage with the pit band is hard enough as it is already, but what was even more difficult about this production was that the pit band, instead of being in front of the stage, was on the stage behind the singers. This means that it is harder to recuperate if things get off, as the singers can’t watch you for most of the time. Sometimes, there were moments where I had to tell the pit band what new measure we were on if the singers skipped a measure. But, the actual performance went well, as there was no point in there where we had to completely stop. In fact, it went so well, that the orchestra was nominated for TRS (Triangle Rising Stars) for Best Orchestra (the judges just so happened to show up the night I was conducting!). Therefore, I think this independent study has been a great success, and an even better one than I intended. Technically speaking, I was nominated for being part of leading that orchestra. This independent study gave me so much.
These past weeks have been great, as I have gotten to do more rehearsals with Jordan High School and Mr. Meyer’s Instrumental Ensemble. I’m working with students in the cast of the musical on how to make sense of their lines. Whether they are in love, in a funny state, and strict and power-hungry, it is important for them to know what they are singing and why they are expressing what they say in order for them to be their character. I have also worked on the ensemble, teaching them their parts in songs by playing their parts on the piano and then going over those parts with them through repetition. I think one thing that I need to work on more is when I rehearse, I need to focus on the isolation of parts. I have a tendency to work on a section, but include the whole group instead of just hearing parts by themselves. This I did better in the musical, but interestingly not with the instrumental ensemble. Right now, Jordan is having their spring break, so there will be no rehearsals there until next Monday. I’ll be excited to present some of my independent study with everyone at my school tomorrow, as there will be an assembly for independent studies!
This was a completely new process for me that I didn’t even think I would do during this independent study. Mr. Meyer suggested that it would be a good exercise for me, in case I would have to do any of this in the future, as there are conductors who arrange things for their orchestras, bands, etc. in order for the pieces to work with that certain group. Choosing the piece was not difficult; it was how to give parts their balance. For example, there are some parts or lines that are worth doubling, and others that do not even need to be in the arrangement. Since I am working with a smaller group, it is harder to cram in all of the original music, which has seventeen parts, into just eight parts (excluding percussion). Another challenge was making the arrangement right for the players. There are some players in this group who cannot play higher notes or lower notes as well as they can in their preferred middle range. And so, one has to take that into account when creating an arrangement specified for a group. When Mr. Meyer looked over my first draft, we made edits to the piano part especially. I tried modelling the left-hand after the trombone chords. However, when moving them around so much, it makes the piano part awkward to listen to and to play. Therefore, we still used it as a basis, but made it less awkward for the left-hand by making the chord changes closer together. We still make some edits to the arrangement, so I won’t post it yet. Once I feel good about it, I may put it up for viewing. It’ll also be performed in April for our spring concert, so I definitely will film and post that. Here are some pictures of the original and my arrangement of “Spirit of ’44.”
This blog post came later than it should have, but I promise I have been doing work! In fact, I finished score studying with not only the Mozart Requiem, but already Beethoven’s First Symphony! I need to write some posts about the previous score studies, as there are some interesting things I have found, especially through the process of the requiem. It is also important to note that I have received the score and have started to look into the Jordan High School Musical, which is called “Bright Star,” by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell. Mr. Meyer and I have also looked through my arrangement of the “Spirit of ’44” march, and I will go through another blog post to talk about my experience with the arrangement. I will try to get back to writing blog posts on different things tomorrow, and if not tomorrow, the day after. We have a lot to do in the next two months!
Sorry for the long break! I had to take a hiatus on this independent study because of the winter musical. Now that it is done, I’m going to reflect on some things that I learned about conducting musicals when watching Mr. Meyer lead the pit band. First of all, I just want to say that we had a really good pit band this year. They were precise, musical, and intelligent in their playing. That’s why there wasn’t much that Meyer had to do in leading the pit. They were so coordinated that he could also play his keyboard part without having to worry so much of what was happening in the pit. That way, he could focus more on coordinating what was happening on stage with what the pit already knew so well. The second thing that I noticed was that the only thing that must have been tricky for the pit band to coordinate with what was happening on stage was the vamps. A vamp is a repeated group of measures that the band plays repeatedly in a loop, which usually occurs in the middle of a number where there is something important through dialogue or whatever is happening on stage during the music. Therefore, this can be unpredictable, since actors on stage are not going to be precise with the pacing of their lines or the swiftness of their movements on stage. As the conductor, Meyer has to not only watch both the pit and the stage, but then he has to coordinate between the two groups for the music to continue steadily. He does this by mainly following what is happening on stage so then he has a better grip on the pit when leading them. Meyer is very good at eye contact with his fellow musicians and making big enough motions for people on stage to follow him, which is a crucial part of being a conductor. A conductor is not only a guide; they are leaders.
This week has been a better one, as I have had two rehearsals with Mr. Meyer and now have received both of my new scores that I picked for the instrumental ensemble. Mr. Meyer has assigned me to arrange one of these pieces, which I will be starting to work on this weekend. I will make sure to post something about the process after we meet the next time. Also, I have gotten through the Sanctus of the Mozart Requiem, and now will be moving on to the Benedictus.
Last week was another great planning week, as I have had great times with Mr. Meyer during instrumental ensemble and a meeting after one of them where we went over the pieces I have chosen. We narrowed them down to two, and now, we will go through the arranging process, which I will go over more in detail through this blog. There may be some hard parts in one of the pieces that calls for rhythmic precision, but Mr. Meyer and I feel that if the group continues to progress throughout the year, it may work. I also have made progress through the Mozart Requiem, almost finishing with the section labeled “Offertorium,” which has two parts: “Domine Jesu” and “Hostias.”
Last week, nothing much happened. I still was studying the Mozart Requiem, and I’m almost done with the part of it labeled, “Sequencia.” Then, I was given an interesting assignment from Mr. Meyer about an important part of being a conductor: picking pieces for your specified group. I had to take three to four pieces that I thought would work for this group, and today, Mr. Meyer and I will go through each of them and talk about which one is the best.
I hope everybody enjoyed their winter break! I have gotten back to work with my independent study, and I still kept some studies going over the break with the Mozart Requiem. I will be making more posts frequently like I promised. Mr. Meyer let me conduct a little bit of my piece when the ensemble met. It was good to get back to the baton, even if it wasn’t a full rehearsal. I will also be making a post soon about Mozart Symphony No. 40, since I still need to complete all the blog posts for the Mozart late symphonies. I need to also start making plans of getting more involved with Maestro Harry Davidson and Mr. Nabors once I know what my schedule will be made up of.
This is a post that I have been very tardy on, for which I apologize. We have now reached Mozart’s final three symphonies, which are considered to be very different than the rest. They still have his same perfectionist qualities, but he does tend to expand heavily on his harmonic progressions and his counterpoint. However, there is especially one shared aspect of all these symphonies: they are much more dark. One still hears Mozart’s happy tunes, like in the fun finale of this symphony (No. 39), but, especially in the second movements, there are these sorrowful and somber sounding themes. The movement of this symphony that I will focus on today is the second movement, just to show those dark features. Firstly, it is important to note that Mozart’s life was starting to fall at this point in 1788. He was struggling to earn money, he was a drinker, and, three days after the completion of this work, his infant daughter tragically died. The pains would only get worse until his death three years later. The dissonances one hears in the introduction of the first movement in this symphony and during the second movement are astoundingly odd, yet they pull the listener in emotionally. Another weird component of this movement is the form. Mozart usually used what is called sonata form for composing his movements; this system consists of an exposition (a statement of the main material), a development (adds new ideas, but still relates to the movement as a whole), and a recapitulation (a reinstatement of the main material) for a complete movement. However, this movement omits a full development, and instead, he extends his motivic structures that he uses in the exposition and recapitulation sections. The moment that stands out to me is at the beginning. The piece first starts out with a sweet and gentle theme in major, introduced by only the strings. After introducing this main theme, the winds finally come in. However, they bring in a dark transition into minor, which is quite jarring. Mr. Meyer and I did a demo lesson on this movement, where he put up a recording of Sir Colin Davis conducting the London Symphony Orchestra on his stereo speakers, and I pretended to conduct a mock orchestra, while he watched and critiqued me. Now, this was a fun experience, because Mr. Meyer and I had an interesting talk after my performance of that movement. We talked about the importance of interpretation throughout this whole symphony, and how it calls for major attention to line direction. I wish to continue these with Mr. Meyer in the future and have more interesting conversations about how to interpret pieces that call for much focus.