Blog: BMI Conducting Workshop Week 1 by iZLER

Posted in Blog on July 28, 2009

I’m sitting in my living room at around 11 pm on Saturday night … out of the corner of my eye, just past the empty Corona bottle and the half eaten plate of take-out food sits a thick envelope. I mean thick. Heavy. And roughly about the size of a football pitch … It’s full of written movie scores I somehow have to get to grips with before Thursday …

… my eyes wander back to the Corona bottle and I wander if I should just go and get a fresh one … welcome to week 1 of the 2009 BMI Conducting Workshop.

Now, just to clarify, I have thus far in my life never conducted a damn thing … not a bus, a train, myself in a dignified manner or for that matter an orchestra. However, I’ve been feeling like I’m somehow missing out … Having been a touring rock muso for so long, what I miss most with movie scoring is a live performance element … some kind of tangible connection with the music … so I figured, maybe this was it …

Day one:

We’ve all gathered at Local 47 headquarters in Hollywood to meet our teacher, Lucas Richman, director of the Knoxville Symphony. All I’ve heard so far from the many composers who have attended this course (Nathan Barr, Rolfe Kent, Tyler Bates, Penka Kouneva, the list is endless) is how great a teacher Lucas is and what a fantastic course this is, so naturally I’m a little curious … Turns out Lucas is a lovely bloke, tasked with knocking the 7 of us into some kind of shape in which we could lead an orchestra without sounding like a complete train wreck, in only eight sessions… the poor bugger …

Also, I should explain by way of a little side note here that many of us have led in some way, musicians through our own scores before … what they don’t tell you is that most seasoned Hollywood ensembles could probably sound great if they were being conducted by your auntie Ethel waving a wooden spoon … they sound great INSPITE of our conducting, not because of it … however for the purposes of this course, the players have been instructed to play EXACTLY what they see being conducted by us … ie. If we’re crap, they will sound likewise.

I’m not sure why, but somehow I was under the impression that there would be a lot of talking and preamble before we started … hence my surprise when about 15 minutes into the first class, Lucas kindly instructs me to get on the podium and conduct Beethoven’s 1st symphony …

Granted, we start with only two piano players to conduct (later we add strings, woodwinds and then finally a full orchestra), but you would be surprised at how horrific that can sound when one isn’t as good at this yet as one thinks one should be (does that make sense? …). Each of our performances is videoed and handed to us on a dvd, presumably so we can go home and cry into our individual beers about how uncool we look and hopefully so that we can see exactly where improvements need to be made. And amazingly … it really works … by day 3 the rate at which everyone has improved is really pretty remarkable. Lucas is knocking us into shape a lot faster than I could have imagined … a true testament to his teaching skills believe me (thankfully I’ll be destroying that lesson one dvd before anyone gets a chance to find that out on Youtube).

We have all become obsessed with the minute details of every piece and every conducting gesture that goes with it … On my drive home from the second session, all I can think about is the 1st movement of Beethoven’s 1st symphony. It’s blasting at full volume on my car stereo and I’m enthusiastically pumping my arms all over the place whilst driving up Vine street until in suddenly during a short break in the music I hear what sounds like a car horn. I look in my rearview mirror to see a stack of about 20 cars stuck behind me all leaning furiously on their horns, which I have failed to hear over the blaring orchestra. I wonder what the hell their problem is until I realize I’m driving at five miles an hour.

So here I sit with my stack of scores, a fresh beer and a shitload of homework … feeling really pretty lucky to be involved in such an amazing program, with such a brilliant teacher and great musicians all around me … Jesus … do I really do this for a living? Within three lessons, I’m completely hooked and want more.

More next week, until then, keep on practicing your five-four pattern.

Much love



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