Conductor “Quips”

Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath, author of Playing Less Hurt, talks about some famous (or infamous) conductors on her blog.

Audiences have little comprehension of the nuances that are determined by the conductor and the musicians in the rehearsal process. The audience sees elaborate gestures that somehow result in exquisite music making. What actually goes on? It is no exaggeration that every note is discussed.

Musicians come to the first rehearsal quite prepared to play every note perfectly since there is little time together before we actually perform. It is our job to react to the interpretation of the conductor. Sometimes it requires the intervention of the concertmaster or the principal players to discern what the conductor is trying to achieve musically. These details might include: adjusting the phrasing or bowing, varying the dynamics, changing the length of notes, balancing sound levels so that a particular musical line is featured, and playing precisely together and unified in approach. A musician’s job includes playing exactly as the conductor indicates no matter how you feel about his or her interpretation.

Conductors vary in their technical style. While some are demonstrative others are spare in their motions. Their approach to the musicians varies too! Maestros can be respectful and agreeable or insulting and raging.

I remember a rehearsal with Sir Neville Marriner who quipped, after hearing a plucked line in the violins, “Those pizzicatos sounded like golf balls landing on dead sheep!”

Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, when he was the Music Director of the Minnesota Orchestra, often shouted in frustration at the strings when he wanted a passage to be played extremely softly, “Play with one hair!!” After years of hearing this, a bass player showed up to rehearsal with a bow actually strung with one hair.

To finish reading the article, go to Janet Horvath’s blog at Interlude!

Playing Less Hurt

Making music at any level is a powerful gift. While musicians have endless resources for learning the basics of their instruments and the theory of music, few books have explored the other subtleties and complexities that musicians face in their quest to play with ease and skill. The demands of solitary practice, hectic rehearsal schedules, challenging repertoire, performance pressures, awkward postures, and other physical strains have left a trail of injured, hearing-impaired, and frustrated musicians who have had few resources to guide them.

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.


Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on August 21, 2013, in Classical & Opera, Music Fans and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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