Louise Fox recently attended the IAYO Conducting Workshop in the Royal Irish Academy of Music as an observer, and kindly wrote a piece on her experiences.
I applied for the IAYO Conducting Workshop this year because I like to do a conducting course every so often to refresh my memory and skills. I’ve attended the course in UL twice and enjoyed it very much but, to be honest, I don’t have as much money this year, so it was great to find a course near to where I live. I was also curious, having not done this course before with this particular organisation.
I’ve conducted several choirs, but I never feel as though I can conduct ‘properly’. I don’t know what that means – I just feel like I can’t. I suppose that comes from learning classical piano – I have a diploma in piano performance, and so I’m used to doing grades and moving up the levels, and I’ve tried to find out if there’s any qualifications that you can get in Ireland for conducting, but the only one I’ve heard about so far is a masters in Cork that doesn’t always run, I think it might happen every two years. I’ve also asked David Brophy to give me lessons at some point in the future, and he said that that’s no problem (but now that I’ve met Bobby, David might have competition!).
I started teaching choirs about ten years ago, and I had never conducted before that. The outgoing musical director of the first choir that I taught showed me how to conduct based on his experience, and that was my first training. Since then, I’ve relied on the conducting courses to back up what I know and show me new things, but I still feel that without a qualification I’m somehow lacking (but I probably just need to get over that).
On the first day, I felt a small bit of trepidation, as you often do going into anything new where you don’t know the people. I was a little bit worried as well that everyone would know each other – maybe through involvement in the RIAM or through music degrees (I never did a music degree), and I also wondered if I’d be a good bit older than everyone (I’m 33 since yesterday!). But there was a good variety in background, age and experience in the group, so I didn’t need to worry. I think we were all feeling the same! I also remember feeling at ease very quickly by Bobby’s approach. I do remember, however, not feeling totally prepared. As an observer, I probably should have printed out all of the scores, because I ended up asking for copies, but I remember thinking beforehand that it wasn’t really necessary for observers to have them, and I got that impression somehow, rightly or wrongly.
I thought that Bobby (the course tutor) was brilliant. I particularly remember one thing – he didn’t spend too much time on the beating patterns with us. Well, he did, but in a different manner to any other course that I’ve been on. Other courses seemed to go through the very basics – “This is how you beat 2/4; this is how you beat 3/4,” etc. – which is also important – but Bobby showed us his way of doing them, which I liked. He didn’t try to impress them on us or make us do them his way – it was just great to see a ‘style’ rather than a generic model. We’d go in each morning, Bobby would teach us technique (even from the very beginning – like how to hold the baton), then we’d sit in our group and people would take it in turns to go up and conduct a piece that they chose from one of the course-works. I liked how nobody was put under pressure to go up and conduct – for the participants, there wasn’t much point in taking part and then not going up, but I still liked how pressure wasn’t put on people. Bobby would give feedback and constructive criticism, and it was incredibly useful. We all learned from it. In the afternoon, there was usually a session with the orchestra. That was great for me especially (and I’m sure one or two others on the course) because being a piano player, I’m not at all used to sitting with other people and hearing the different sounds around you. That was a great experience. Then we’d have maybe more individual conducting, and sometimes another session, like score-reading and transposition. That was unexpectedly helpful. It’s very important to keep your all-round musical knowledge and technique up, not just conducting, and all of the different topics contribute to the conducting and benefit it. It was enjoyable and eye-opening too, to hear Bobby’s anecdotes from the world of conducting and conducting courses, because it gave us a view into what’s involved and the experiences that people have.
I suppose I could recommend that we get notes from the course to take home with the most basic points on them, but I’m really just suggesting that for the sake of suggesting something, because we all took our own notes in our own style, which means that we’ll understand them (hopefully!) when we read back over them. I would also suggest maybe that people bring a baton. I didn’t have one with me, but there were always a few spares there – thank God – and I was never made to feel like I should have brought one, which I was grateful for, and which I think is the right approach.
I’d definitely recommend doing the course – it’s in a very central location, you meet a variety of people on it, all of whom you may be able to work with in future, and all of whom have something to offer. Bobby is a great teacher, it’s relaxed, informative, useful and very enjoyable. It really adds to conducting skills, it provides you with lots of tools to go away and work with, and it’s held in a building where the atmosphere is very conducive to such learning.
I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d definitely do it again and I’d recommend it to anyone at any level really. No-one was made to feel beneath or above anyone else. We were treated as equals and the atmosphere was all the better for it.