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Orchestra conductors: useful after all?

Posted by Kevin Hartnett  July 24, 2013 10:46 AM

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It's one of those great low-level mysteries: Do orchestra conductors actually do anything? According to a review in the British magazine The Spectator of a new book called "Inside Conducting," the answer is yes- but not necessarily what you might think.

The book's author, Christopher Seaman, teaches conducting at the Guildhall School of Music in London, and intends the book as a how-to for aspiring conductors. Seaman describes conducting in mystical terms, making it out to be less like instructing a child on how to hit a baseball, and more like encouraging a friend that he's a good person and deserves to be happy in life. He writes, "Your whole personality (especially your face and eyes) has to give the sense of assurance and expectancy that inspires an orchestra to play." When performing "For Unto Us a Child is Born," from Handel's "Messiah," Seaman writes that he urges his sopranos to fix their expressions like "happy midwives," which he says inevitably "brightens" their sound.

Seaman also suggests that the conductor plays an important role mediating between the orchestra and the audience. He describes the conductor as the "artistic conscience" of the orchestra, seeming to suggest that the conductor translates through his gestures, the note-by-note precision and concentration of the players into an immersive artistic experience for the listeners.

Via The Browser.

Image of orchestra conductor Zubin Mehta courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
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