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One week from today, I begin my concert cycle as a guest conductor and finalist candidate with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra!!  While we're rehearsing, MARK YOUR CALENDAR for April 26, 2015, and plan to join the CSO, soprano Alyssa Bowlby, and myself for a concert like none other!!
This Week: Where and Why??

As in any profession, there are a couple of "standard" F.A.Q.'s that always seem to come up when people find out what you do for a living.  For conductors, the two biggies are "Why does an orchestra need a conductor?", and - especially for me lately - "Where are you these days?".

Where Am I? COLUMBUS, IN!!

A while back, I had the chance to drive down to Columbus, IN, for a visit with the Columbus Symphony's librarian, who was kind enough to show me around town.  From the world-renowned architecture found throughout the city, to the jewel of the downtown strip - Zaharakos Ice Cream Parlor, founded in 1900 - everywhere you look is just beautiful!  This community is truly proud of what they have to offer visitors, and rightfully so!  

Click here to see the album from my visit, including the CSO's 1938 edition of Kalinikov's Symphony No. 1, which I'm borrowing in run up to our concert.  Even the first station is a work of art, and the first one I have ever driven back around to see twice!!
Why Does An Orchestra
Need A Conductor?
(It’s Not Like Anyone Is 
Really Watching Them)
As a classical musician and orchestra conductor, this is undoubtedly the question I hear most often.  This, and “Is it really all that hard to stand up there and wave your arms?” (spoiler alert for next week's topic).  I truly welcome both questions as they give me the opportunity to bring someone into my world with nothing more than a pen or straw. 
Why an orchestra needs a conductor. 
Simply put, they need someone to follow.  I have to admit that the logic in the follow up question of "Why have one if no one is watching?" always makes me laugh because, when you think about it, they do seem to be ignoring the action on the podium.

So then what does the conductor do up there?

The conductor of any ensemble has two roles: interpreter and sound engineer.  As an interpreter, the conductor spends countless hours sitting in an office, likely sipping some sort of alcohol-based beverage – I prefer a well-warmed sampling of Frangelico, accompanied by the occasional cigar – while studying each note and phrase of a composition. 

A good stick waiver takes the time to pick apart every aspect of a composition, and examines it from every angle.  From the melody and harmony, to the inspiration for and historical significance of the piece, the conductor knows that each bit of information is valuable to their understanding of the work (they also fear the awkward situation of being asked a question about the piece, yet unable to give an informed reply).  The intense studying also helps them form their own educated opinion and interpretation about the piece, and know exactly what they want and don’t want to hear from the orchestra.  When the conductor steps onto the podium, all eyes and ears are on him, and every cue, cut-off, and motion are (ideally) followed – and scrutinized just as closely.

As a sound engineer, the conductor listens to what everyone is playing, what they just played, and what they are about to play.  He then processes it all, makes a judgement on what's happening, and communicates back to the orchestra what adjustments need to be made.

Think you have what it takes to handle all that?
 Click here for a fun 2-minute challenge I put together to give you an idea of what goes through a conductor's mind when he's on the podium.  See how your time compares to that of a professional conductor.  Can you think like a maestro?

In the end, the job of the conductor is to determine and communicate how the orchestra should work together to achieve the best sound possible - similar to a chef perfecting a gourmet dish by utilizing their years of study and training to determine how much of each ingredient should be used to create the best taste.

Got a conducting question of your own?  Send it my way and I'll fill you in on all the "behind the scenes" action of life on the podium.  
Musically yours,

Andrew J. Lyon

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