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New Rules for the Conductor of a New Age

Source: Collated by Dr. Andrew Levin, (Clemson University Symphony Orchestra, SC, USA), with contributions from many others in response to Richard Strauss' Rules.

  • When conducting a piece for orchestra and chorus, refer to the performers as "singers and musicians."
  • NEVER look at your solo horn player before his exposed entrance. It won't help, and he's not watching anyway. If he clams it he'll blame you and if he gets it, he thinks he's Siegfried.
  • Always address the chorus as "Men Women and Tenors"
  • Whenever you come to a repeat bar, ALWAYS stop the orchestra, and discuss in depth wether [sic] the you should take the repeat again or not.. the audience will love it.
  • The conductor is always right. Unless he's leading the orchestra.
  • Don't mind the percussionists. Their [sic] stupid.
  • Never try to be witty during rehearsal.
  • When conducting anything written after 1910, (unless it's by Samuel Barber), you can always blame the percussionists. And remember that the choir hasn't put in as much time as the orchestra has. They don't need as much practice because they talk through their instruments every day. And NEVER forget this: "Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moo cow" - James Joyce
  • Whenever you have a chance, try to find out how the composer himself conducted the piece of music, because nobody will ever get closer to the feelings the composer had in the moment of composing than the composer himself. Naturally it won't work with composers from earlier centuries, but it definetely works in present musical theatre compositions. Good luck.
  • Never hold up your hand to quiet the bass trombonist. He will think you mean "blow my fingers off."
  • Don't look at the trombone players, you'll only encourage them.
  • Never conduct what the orchestra plays -- conduct what they are about to play!
  • Treat your trumpets and trombones with respect, for they and they alone can bring an audience to its feet.
  • If you do happen to sweat, do NOT sling the sweat wiped from your brow at the first row of musicians.
  • Always remember to let the Bass Trombone player know he is too loud. It doesn't matter if he is playing or not, they need the reminder.
  • Pray that no one ever figures out how to make a metronome take a bow.
  • Never, ever ask for more than one person to play piccolo on a piece. (Don't believe me? TRY IT!)
  • There is NEVER too much percussion. Never. When in doubt, stop conducting. You can catch up with the players sooner or later.
  • Never acknowledge the conductor. It only encourages him.
  • Take it to the extreme. If it's 'pp,' have the sound barely audible. If it's 'ff,' have your string section saw their instruments in half. If it's 'presto,' make it impossible to beat it in anything but one, and if it's 'grave,' make Klemperer sound like the Chipmunks. When the rosin settles, accept your standing ovation and bow.
  • Feel free to sing along with the orchestra, guest artist, or chorus as loudly as possible. They love that.
  • When conducting, don't forget The Eidenberg Principal which states the speed of sound (@ 76 degrees F) is 1121 fps, with a total decay of 51.6 s will create standing waves when reflected from the back wall; hence, do not let the orchestra play for more than 51.6 seconds at a time, allowing the reflected sound to return to the listner with clarity.
  • Begin every rehearsal by saying, "Ladies, Gentlemen, and Percussionists....."
  • When the orchestra is not doing what it is supposed to do, the baton can be used as a weapon.
  • Wave the baton until the music stops, then turn around and bow.
  • To show the ultimate disdain for singers, have the chorus stand for the first three movements of Beethoven's 9th.
  • Treat your orchestra with respect. Violists are people too!!!
  • I heard this as a story where Bernstein would meditate on little notecard before conducting. One day somebody checked the card and discovered the following words of wisdom: Violins on your left, cellos on your right
  • If dealing with student musicians who seem to think they know more about the art of conducting than you do, tell them to do it their way when they have their own orchestra.
  • Loud is good. Fast is better. Loud and fast is best.
  • Tread lightly on the singers; always remember that they cannot help it -- they were born that way. (Corollary: Never laugh at the soprano's first entrance: no matter how ridiculous it may seem to you, some other singer in the audience is enjoying it immensely....)
  • Remember that the most important reason for the applause is the composer
  • Always remember...if some's good, more's better...too much is just right
  • Always remember, trombones always play fortissimo (whether it's marked or not) and also never count rests, so just live with us!!!
  • When conducting contemporary music, blame it on the composer.