Thursday, September 16, 2010

Art and Music

When people find out that I have played with symphony orchestras, inevitably, the question is always asked; is a conductor really needed?  It appears that they are simply waving their baton while the orchestra is already doing their job of playing in tempo with each other.  So what is it about the conductor that is so necessary?

While I'm probably not the most qualified person to speak to this question, I think I am able to provide some insight of why someone is needed to jab and slice the air with a baton in order to create order of musical notes.

I remember from my college days that our small southeast Texas music department was now home to a brilliant musician, Dr. Edward Schmider and his wife Laura.  Dr. Schmider and his family lived in Russia and defected to the United States and landed as a violin instructor at Lamar University.  I remember listening to stories as he recounted leaving his world behind in order to live a free life in the U.S.  This included leaving his beloved violin behind.  Leaving an instrument to some may seem insignificant in the big scheme of things, but to an artist, it is the same as leaving a part of your soul behind to fend in your absence.  And, so he did.

One fall semester, Dr. Schmider taught me why a conductor is necessary for an orchestra.  Our orchestra was attempting to learn a piece by Shostakovich.  At the time, my musical awareness was severely stunted.  Most people have heard this composer's name and realize his fame, but there isn't a personal connection between a person and this great composer.  Most budding musicians are guilty of this crime, the names are well-known but the connection is void.  Enter Stage Left, Dr. Schmider.

Our conductor at the time thought it would be interesting to have Dr. Schmider work with our orchestra in learning this piece.  Not simply to sing troublesome parts to those struggling with the technicality of producing the music, but to really learn this piece of music.  I'm grateful to this day that this incredible opportunity presented itself as it did.

Our group expected the usual, explanation of musical terms, learning difficult rhythms and preferred bowing patterns.  Ah, but this is the art of music.  Where technical proficiency is necessary, but heart and soul is needed more.  Dr. Schmider didn't bother to teach this piece of music in the typical way.  He gave us the connection of Shostakovich by recounting his own experiences with the composer.

As a younger man, Schmider was 1st violin under Shostakovich, the conductor.  The words Schmider gave to us were the same that Shostakovich gave to him.  In the silence of listening to his quiet direction, we all knew an incredible moment was happening.  Make no mistake, Schmider wasn't a metronome, his crumpled facial expressions and barely there movement of his baton brought us to the moment of Shostakovich's grief, sadness, anger, joy and a plethora of other emotions.  Those emotions which hung heavy in the air proved to be timeless as the music evolved as it was meant to evolve.   Somehow, a rehearsal hall in a small Music department of a southeast Texas college became connected to a rehearsal hall in St. Petersburg, Russia where a conductor/composer jabbed and sliced the air to release the music.

This video reminds me of that moment in time.  Where boredom of repetition and tried and true are replaced with the enlightenment of magic.  The cellist/singer is technically proficient, but most importantly, he has connection to his soul.  Bravo, Travis Booker.

More Musings Later-


Brave Sir Took said...

Thank you

Griefcase said...

Dearest Taryn,

Not certain what it is I am most in awe of--your well written blog post or the message you convey.


You hit a home run every time you pick up a pen. I am humbled by your work.

Thank you for sharing. I have learned so much.

Linda Della Donna