Thursday, January 31, 2013

Creating a Conducting Video of Yourself- Goofus and Gallant Revisited

Ah yes, who here read Highlights in the dentist's or doctor's office as a kid? What a goofy magazine- I always thought it was pretty lame, but I did get a kick out of the Timbertoes!

A slice of the American (hardwood ) pie
Cue the Aaron Copland track in 3-2-1

 What I especially thought (even at age 8) was really transparent ADULT BRAINWASHING were the Goofus and Gallant epic battles of good (a cheer for Gallant from the adults) versus  boorish behavior (yay Goofus from the kids, all tired of being told to sit up straight and eat their peas).

Today I saw a video of a DMA choir conducting grad ( I will not share who it is- it's just not nice to reveal that, but it's somebody who attended a very major school for this hand waving, oops I mean choral conducting DMA degree). The video is supposedly going to help gain this DMA person a job. Well let me tell you, there are right (Gallant, yes, okay I guess I will for this topic decide that Gallant is the rockin' dude) and wrong ways (Goofus) to create one of these videos as you go out trying to score either a decent or a great job as a conductor. By the way, for a cool commentary on Goofus and Gallant check out:

Scenario #1: backtrack to a video I saw about ten years ago. Camera trained on the conductor. Every piece was either weird, or esoteric, or both. Just gnarly nasty stuff that even a modernist couldn't love. Obviously this musical genius wanted to impress everyone with his deep understanding of the avant-garde instead of demonstrating any choral conducting or people skills: STRIKE ONE. The conductor spent 45 minutes just waiving his arms without any real connection to the choir and also lectured the choir on the music: STRIKE TWO and never had any comments on how to  improve anything being sung: STRIKE THREE AND YOU'RE OUT- GRAB SOME BENCH. This was one long arduous death march through these awful pieces. The video even showed the choir leaving the rehearsal room with sullen, weary faces. What search committee would want to include this conductor as they winnow down the applicant pool? Also never any praise for any singers (Uumm, STRIKE FOUR, if we need it?)- just really brutal stuff. In summation,  this video would lose any job you hoped to gain.

Scenario #2: The video I saw today was similar to the above. The really scary thing about this video was the 99% lack of eye contact, which to me is lack of human contact (STRIKE ONE). Oh my God, what was this person thinking- that no one in the biz would have problems with them having their eyes buried in the score 90 % of the time and just marking beats? And would that ever impress anyone anyway- I mean who can't just mark beats? The other thing about the eye contact issue was that she did look at the singers every once in awhile to give an obvious cue- but it was always a momentary eye contact cue which never actually extended into the onset of the actual singing. In other words, a nominal cue was given, but there was never any follow-through (sorry,  we need to bury our eyes back into the score) to connect with the singers as they actually made a successful entrance: STRIKE TWO. Would it kill the conductor to stay with them eye to eye, make sure they are in, and *gasp* even acknowledge to them that they entered successfully? Or am I just crazy to expect such monumental achievements? When the conductor stopped, there was never any praise: STRIKE THREE, no humor: STRIKE FOUR, nor any real direction as to how to improve anything: STRIKE FIVE, PLEASE GRAB SOME PERMANENT BENCH. These collegiate singers were actually quite good, yet as this disaster played out over 45 minutes, it was obvious that they were tiring and losing pitch focus (vowel unification, thus pitch, especially was becoming worse and worse, though the director never corrected anything of this sort). I was dumbfounded, this is a DMA grad at a major university (maybe even one I attended, years ago, ahem) and what I saw was just plain awful. There were so many errors caught on video, errors of commission and of omission in regard to caring about your singers and their needs and energy issues, leading them successfully and with joy and adventure, and getting your face out of the score. Any of you reading this who teach conducting could have taken a talented high school student and coached them for a few weeks and achieved more than what I saw in this video. And that is not an exaggeration. Where is the responsibility for this from the university teacher? Would that teacher be proud of his student's video? I hope not, but that professor is out there granting ADVANCED degrees in this field.

Scenario #3: This is the Gallant example, in the best sense, and since it was so great I will say where this person studied- Westminster Choir College (this would be just before Joe Miller came over). The video showed a confident young woman with an open, inviting and natural posture and facial expressions. There was energy in her face and arms and there was an appreciation of the singers she was working with. She did her best to show the singers what she wanted (hello, Rodney Eichenberger!) and she used her knowledge of the music and her sense of humor to collaborate with the singers in a highly successful rehearsal. There was lots of healthy energized singing and a minimum of verbal direction. This was a video that made you want to hire this young woman on the spot! No strikes, just singles, doubles, triples, and home runs!

So...if you are a young person about to make a video of your conducting, take a lesson from the two Goofuses and the one awesome Gallant in my three examples. Make sure you actually care about your singers, and hey, look at them every now and then! They might be yawning or picking their noses OR they might be gazing into your eyes because they think you are the next superstar conductor- you won't know if you aren't looking!

PS Numero Uno:

And so here is your Goofus and Gallant Test- which is the fake Goofus and Gallant Image? The first person to respond correctly wins a singing lesson from Russell Crowe:

Choice A: Hey kids- A is always a  good choice as it represents the best grade you can get in school when you suck up to every teacher: choose A now!Or not. Or yes,or I am just messing with you- or not.

Choice B: Hey kids, never choose B- it's the letter that starts the word bananas and bananas turn brown and mushy. I knew a kid in grade school who ate banana peels. Just so wrong!
Choice C: Yes, but truly what are Gallant's real intentions?
And what is wrong with stealing from the World Bank- it's just play money!
Choice D: I'm sorry, there are just too many big words here for me to
want to advise you to make this choice.

Choice E: Personally I think this is the right answer. Beer is ALWAYS the right answer. And actually a Blue Moon is beer and an orange- win-win!


Years ago I wrote a children's song to a text by Ivy O. Eastwick (it was performed recently at the 50th anniversary of Minnesoota ACDA, yah know). When my publisher was hoping for some biographical info on the late Miss Eastwick we rummaged around and discovered that a lot of her kids poetry had been in Highlights. I called Highlights up, and they answered the phone sleepily, but then gradually the person on the other end of the phone warmed up to the conversation and then handed me off to the grandson of the founders. He talked with amusement about the old days and Ivy. It turns out that she would harass them with hundreds of poem submissions yearly and they just started publishing what they thought was her better work just to get her off their back! He also told me that she may have been a spy during WWII. We couldn't verify it, but it sounded like a cool life- Ivy O. Eastwick: kids poet and spy- Hitler and Mussolini beware!

Which one of these ladies is Ivy the spy? Lots of big hair here!

1 comment:

  1. Paul, thanks for the pingback. It's the Gallant thing to do!