Throughout our lives as conductors we should be trying to gain greater musical depth and understanding.
Musical compositions have a certain depth. For example, Irish Tune from County Derry, Trauersinfonie, and the Holst First Suite in Eb can all be interpreted in a superficial way and they will sound like pleasant pieces; however, a conductor with greater musical depth will be able to pull out each work’s considerable potential for inner musical communication. It all depends on matching – when the conductor is able to reach the level of the composition.
Because so much of today’s band music is shallow, almost anybody can interpret many pieces to their maximum level of musical communication; but it is the deeper musical experiences we are trying to help our students to understand, so we have to take ourselves to increasingly-deeper levels. Otherwise we are constantly giving these superficial treatments, even of those pieces with admirable musical depth.
Growth can come from going to concerts, reading, listening to records, surrounding yourself with real music. It’s amazing how the late Beethoven string quartets can help the interpretation of Grainger, because you have become a deeper musician.
I believe every band conductor should set up some sort of program to buy recordings, and be collecting personal scores, not just using those owned by the school. You need your own scores, with your own marks (most band conductors do not stay in the same job forever). I’m just now getting my scores organized, and have discovered over 1,200 (I thought I had only 300-400!), and that’s not the end of it. I’m always buying scores.
I also believe band conductors should be involved in the field of music – serious music – not just in a special interest area. We all know the names of composers/ arrangers who have produced music of questionable quality for bands; but do we know the names of John Harbison, George Perle, Bernard Rands, and William Bolcom? They are all major composers and Pulitzer prize winners.
Music is our profession, and we cannot be considered knowledgeable unless we really know the subject. Read the New York Times every Sunday and find out what’s going on in what is now THE cultural center of the world. Guest orchestras come to New York City regularly, and we should know what they are playing. There have been entire concerts devoted to the music of Alfred Schnittke. Who is he, and what kind of music does he write? We should know. Carnegie Hall celebrated its 100th Anniversary with commissioned works (Who? What? When?).
Constant inquisitiveness about our profession and the musical life is such an important part of growth. Don’t be saddled with what you are using today in your rehearsal; always try to make your essence of substance larger and deeper all the time.
And remember to develop interests in many subjects (Bruno Walter: “A musician who is only a musician is half a musician.”)