Saturday, September 14, 2013

Under the Baton

Over my career I have been impressed by many outstanding musicians - performers, composers, teachers, conductors...

I never cease to be impressed by conductors who conduct concerts without music scores in front of them. 

This amazement began under the baton of Col. Arnald Gabriel at the University of Iowa's summer music camp. He served as Commander/Conductor of the internationally renowned U.S. Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Singing Sergeants from 1964 to 1985. 

Not only did Col Gabriel not use scores in performance, he did not use a score during rehearsals either. I still recall how my jaw dropped when he would say, "Trumpets, measure 57 should be B natural, not B flat." He knew the most minute detail about the music. Sure, one of he works was the famous band suite by Holst, but still that is a long piece of music. I got to play the trombone solo for him in the piece Tam O'Shanter. I loved that solo!

Many years later (nearly 35 years) I had occasion to sit in on his rehearsal of the TMEA All-State band. Once again I was thrilled to see that Col Gabriel, nearing 80-85 years old, still did not use scores during rehearsal. I eagerly approached him during a break and introduced myself to him & reminded him of that time long ago at summer camp. I mentioned how he had impressed me then and how often I have remembered the example he was for me. I told him I was proud to have played Tam O'Shanter for him. His eyes grew large and he said, "You're that young girl that played that solo? Do you remember I told you to play it like a drunk man?" I laughed and told him I remembered and admitted to him I'd never been drunk so I hoped I played it correctly. He said he remembered me because I was the only girl trombone player to have played that solo. :)

I asked him about his conducting without scores - how did he do that? He said "Study! Then study some more. A lot more!"

His break was over so I moved to stand behind the trombones (others directors/observers were in the room too) so I could watch from a remembered vantage point. He stopped to rehearse the trombones and, when they couldn't give him what he was asking for he said, "I could have that woman standing behind you play it and she hasn't been practicing it for 2 days!" Flattered and a bit embarrassed for being called out I just smiled.



A choral colleague does not conduct with music. She told me, "If I expect the singers to sing the music by memory then I should too." Good point. I wonder how many directors have this expectation of their singers, but not of themselves?

As a choral director I made a point to KNOW the music I was directing in performances. I always had music on a stand in front of me, but that did not necessarily mean that I used it. Oftentimes it was just there. Now when I have opportunity to direct I am mindful of Col Gabriel's advice to STUDY then study MORE!


Tonight's concert performed by the Jackson Symphony Orchestra led by potential JSO music director candidate, Maestro Peter Shannon, was yet another tally in my scoreless conductor list.
Sure, the pieces were well-known orchestra works (Beethoven's Egmont Overture, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla Overture, and Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (1919)) but still being able to conduct the entire concert without music is impressive. 

This concert brought back some memories for me.
Always proud to have learned under the baton of Col Arnald Gabriel.

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