Wanabe a Conductor?
Robert Childs, Musical Director of the Buy As You View Cory Band gives his insight
into how wanabe conductors can help themselves and their bands prepare their test
pieces for the forthcoming Regional Championships.
was asked by 4BarsRest to write an article that would help lower section band
conductors prepare their scores and would also help wanabe conductors understand
the basic requirements of the conductor's craft.
I've written the article under five separate headings. This should enable the
reader to extract the information most important to them. The headings in the
article are as follows:
1. Basic Conducting Technique
2. Understanding Brass Band Pitch and Transposition
3. Preparing a New Score
4. What to look for in a New Score
5. Marking-up a Score
Basic conducting technique.
A good knowledge of musical terms and metronome indications is the most basic
requirement of a conductor. Even if you don't know a musical term there is no
excuse for not looking it up and writing the translation on the score. If you
want to be taken seriously and do a good job you also need some basic equipment:
Baton, Metronome, Tuning Machine, Stationary, Musical Dictionary, Brief Case.
The next consideration is learning the beat patterns of basic time signatures:
2/4 3/4 4/4 9/8 and to be able to give cues with the left hand whilst beating
time with the right hand.
Also consider the players 'line of sight' when you are conducting, try to make
sure that your beat breaks the line of sight between your eyes and the player's
eyes. Avoid bad habits like bending knees, walking around too much, singing and
using the same catch phrases repeatedly.
Try to vary the size and shape of your beat to convey the dynamic and style of
the music; small beats for soft music, big beats for loud music, curved 'loopy'
beats for legato music and strict rigid beats for marcato music.
Use facial expressions to convey the mood of the music and develop as many non-verbal
communicative gestures as possible. This will help you to use valuable rehearsal
Practice techniques in a mirror: starting and stopping, negotiating pauses, slowing
down, speeding up, breaking from a crotchet beat into a minim beat through an
accel, breaking into a quaver beat from a crotchet beat through a rallentano,
sustaining half the band with the left hand whilst cutting off the other half
of the band with your right hand.
Rehearsal technique is also worth considering
to keep the players interested and to keep the work-rate efficient. Know what
you are going to rehearse before you go to rehearsal, keep it interesting for
everyone, and don't loose your temper! Keep an eye on the time, keep your promises,
and always consider what you say before you say it.
Players are individuals, treat them that way. Some players respond to 'straight
talk' others prefer you to be subtler with your criticism. There is a lot of psychology
on the part of the conductor in most Bandrooms.
Brass Band Pitch, Transposition
This is more theoretical and
I won't dwell too much here. However, I want to stress the importance of the following
bullet points. The higher the grade of band you conduct the more important it
is to understand the following.
· Before beginning to consider interpretive
decisions the conductor must be able to read a score and understand which instruments
are transposing and which are not.
· The conductor needs to understand the comparative pitch of instruments
written using the same clef.
· Its useful if the conductor knows the pitch of an instrument in relation
to the piano.
· Knowledge of the instruments range (compass) is also useful.
· A knowledge of harmony and counterpoint
· A knowledge of fingering, trombone positions and percussion symbols.
· A knowledge of the fourth valve and trombone plugs.
· A knowledge of false fingering and tuning implications.
A good working knowledge of the percussion section; it's various instruments and
Preparing a new score
quite a daunting task for any conductor to prepare a new score. Many conductors
learn their scores during rehearsals trying to keep one step ahead of the players;
this is dangerous!
How do we begin to study a score?
I like to quickly browse through the score several times to get the shape of the
piece in my head. I also study the score in 'specifics' e.g. I'll look through
it once for dynamics, then tempo and solos. I also browse though from the perspective
of the various sections of the band (especially the percussion).
When you read an instrumental copy i.e. solo cornet part or solo euphonium part
its easy to see the various sections or movements of a work, because individual
band parts are only three or four pages long. When you look through a score of
sixty or seventy pages its far less easy to recognize the various sections of
the work. That's why I draw a diagram of the big longer works I conduct.
I'll take a piece of A4 paper and draw a line along its width then insert the
rehearsal letters along the line, then write above the rehearsal letter what's
happening in the score at that particular place. I might write words like 'fast
section' 'solos and cadenzas' 'loud bit' 'very exposed' 'lots of percussion' or
'difficult time signatures'. By looking at the diagram I get an overview of the
piece. I can easily identify the various sections and decide what I want to rehearse
in particular band practices. I can also manage my time much better and prepare
my rehearsals more thoroughly.
You could extend this idea by drawing a diagram of the 'dynamic plot' of a work,
then you will be able to identify which is the loudest and softest sections of
the piece and grade your dynamics accordingly. Below is an example of a musical
LETTER A - FAST - (Practice!)
LETTER D - SLOW - (Easy)
LETTER G - TIME CHANGES - (Hard for me!)
LETTER K - SOLOS - (Baris and Euphs)
LETTER V - FINALE - (Short)
What are we looking for when we browse through a score?
musical corners where one section of the band takes over from another. Changes
in style, mood, dynamic, tempo and anything, which you perceive, will cause the
band a problem.
When the composer indicates changes in tempo, sometimes there is a hidden relationship
between the two. You need to investigate the tempo changes and find the relationships.
Sometimes, if you are preparing a score for a contest its quite useful to study
it from the perspective of the adjudicator. Imagine you are going to adjudicate
the contest. Ask yourself what you would be looking for from a performance and
more importantly; where do you think the awkward musical corners are? Where will
the bands have technical difficulties? and which parts of the piece do you think
will be more important that others?
Marking-up the score
Most conductors mark their
scores. A golden rule here is not to plaster the score with so many markings that
it is rendered useless to another conductor. If you really feel the need to do
this then use your own score and leave the band's score in the library.
I know some conductors who use two scores in their preparation for a contest.
The first will help them teach the band and will have: high-lighted dynamics,
cued in bits that needed that extra unique balance or bits that were just too
difficult for some players. The second will be for the conductor's final musical
This system is a bit like 'resident conductor' and 'professional'. The first score
representing the work of the resident; note bashing and putting everything in
its place. The second score representing the work of the professional; showing
musical phrases, push-on's and pull-backs.
Here are a few tips on marking the score:
· Look for effects
on the page.
· Write reminders on the top of the page: ff/pp
· Write big shapes in bold : long crescendo
· Standardize your abbreviation: Hns. Trb. Bari. Perc.
· Use arrows to indicate movement.
· Use notation to indicate beating in a rall or accel
· Draw bold lines to indicate irregular phrasing
· Use the 'Triangle - Goal post' method of marking up 5/8 7/8 etc.
· Whats over the page 3/8 o.p.
· Don't be afraid to use plain English!!
Finally remember that the more work and preparation you do on the score before
you get to rehearsal the more interesting the rehearsal will be. The time will
pass quickly and the players will respect the extra work you have done.
performance, conductors should have the score in their head and not their head
in the score!!"
Copyright 2002 Robert B. Childs, Musical Director, Buy As You View Cory Band
B Childs, Conductor, Buy As You View Cory Band
M.Mus dist. A.R.C.M. (hons) F.L.C.M. P.G.C.E.
Robert was born and bred in the South Wales valley town of Tredegar. He is an
Associate of the Royal College of Music, a Fellow of the London College of Music,
and gained a distinction in a Master's Degree from the University of Leeds he
also holds a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from the Open University and
is currently following a doctoral program at The University of Salford.
Robert has conducted and performed with most of the top bands in the north of
England. He was Principal Soloist and Bandmaster of the Yorkshire based Black
Dyke Band for ten years, as a player winning the European, British Open and National
Championships. In his capacity as Bandmaster with 'The Dyke' he conducted memorable
concert performances with; Susanna Walton, Lesley Garret, Philip Smith, James
Watson and The Beautiful South. In addition to his extensive brass band experience
he has performed with many of the Country's leading orchestras and still performs
as a euphonium soloist all over the World.
In May 2000 Robert was delighted to accept the invitation to become the Professional
Music Director of the 'Buy As You View Cory Band' from the Rhondda in South Wales.
This appointment has re-united him with Wales and associated him with the band
he has held in such high esteem since being a boy.
Robert steered Cory to an 'Historic Double' contest success, when they won both
the British Open and the National Championships of Great Britain in 2000. They
were also runner's up in the European Championships the following year, winning
the set -test piece by three clear points. He was also the recipient of the coveted
Harry Mortimer Maestro award for his outstanding ability as a conductor.
Apart from his obvious talents in the contest field he has also developed the
Band's musical horizons. The Buy As You View Cory Band are 'Band in residence'
at the Welsh College of Music and Drama (where Robert is currently Director of
Band Studies). He has appointed Dr John Pickard as the Band's 'Composer in Residence'
and is championing new music.
Robert's interest in research has also resulted in the historic first performances
of 'Battle Song' by Havergale Brian and 'A Tydfil Overture' by Joseph Parry.