Most people don't know what conducting is all about.
At a concert, don't the musicians, or choristers, already know their music? They're not really looking at the conductor, they're looking at their music. So, why does there have to be some conductor standing there waving their hands and a baton around and generally looking weird? And, doesn't the sheet music say, start here and stop here and get louder then get softer, etc? What's the point?
This New York Times article, The Maestro’s Mojo
, by DANIEL J. WAKIN, from April 2012,
looks at what conductors do, using 7 conductor interviews to break down the process. Right hand and left hand, the face and body are each looked at separately to see what they do, how the conductor uses them. There is the right hand with or without a baton which gives the upbeat and the downbeat and keeps the tempo, and facial expressions and even breathing can be used to communicate with the musicians.
I learned the basics of conducting in High School, and have read more about how to conduct since then, looking for rules for what to do to show a group of musicians what you want from them. But, in the end, as the title suggests, there is an intangible element that the conductor brings to the art. Some of that is done deliberately, with tempos and volumes interpreted differently by each conductor, little things changed to make each performance unique. And, some of that is just conductors expressing themselves, their mojo, and the way the others respond to that.
I'd say most of how to conduct is learned by standing in front of a group and figuring out what they respond to, working with them, and then taking that group out in front of an audience. You've got to put yourself out there, be willing to look strange with exaggerated body language, and do whatever you can to get the music to deliver a message through the musicians to the audience. The different experiences depend on how much of themselves the conductors can put out there and what message they have to deliver. For me, it also helps to think of my baton as a magic wand :-)
As Mr. Conlon (James Conlon, music director of Los Angeles Opera) put it: “You can discuss gesture and physical comportment endlessly, but ultimately some intangible, charismatic element trumps it all. Nobody has ever bottled it. To which I say, ‘Thank God.’ ”