2. Becoming an Expert on Scores

As a conductor, you need to know a lot about the music you conduct. The score is our primary source of information and knowing your scores in depth is step number one for any conductor. However, understanding and interpreting the score can require extensive knowledge beyond the score itself. You need to study musicology, arts, and history. In short, the more you know about the scores and all of their context, the better your understanding is.

  • Score study. You need to know every detail of the scores that you conduct. This requires a lot of preparation time. Developing good methods and routines for score study is very useful. You can read more about this in our Study Room.

  • Repertoire. Through score study, and of course through actual conducting projects, you will build your repertoire. The sum of all the scores that you know in and out is going to be one of your greatest assets, and your repertoire profile will contribute to defining you as a conductor.

  • Music theory. To be able to study scores successfully, you need to first study music theory extensively, particularly in areas such as notation, harmony, form, and a variety of compositional aspects.

  • Music history. You need to understand the context in which the music you perform was written. What influenced this composition? Does this piece reference other music in any way? How has this music itself become part of music history? What do you know about the composer? Were there any particular circumstances in which the piece was written?

  • Art history and history. There is really no limit to the relevance of historical context. Here are two examples: One can not truly understand Debussy’s Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun without relating to impressionist painting style or to symbolism in literature. One can not profoundly interpret Beethoven’s Eroica symphony without knowing about Napoleon or the French revolution.

    A composition could have any number of relevant and possibly significant contextual dimensions. Often, such contextual ties will first become visible to you if you already have a broad knowledge base. You should invest time and effort in knowing as much about culture, arts and history as you can.

  • Text and language. In all scores that involve text of any kind, this must of course be studied and contextualised thoroughly. Sometimes, as a conductor, you need to translate a language that you do not speak yourself. And if singing is involved, you may have to study in detail, not only the meaning of each word but also how the lyrics should be pronounced.

  • Historically informed performance (HIP). When performing music from the past, such as renaissance, baroque, classical or even romantic repertoire you need to consider to which degree you want to include period performance practice. The so-called HIP movement has in the past decades fundamentally transformed the way we approach early music, even into romantic repertoire. In the end, all the artistic style choices are of course entirely up to you and your fellow musicians to make, but whether to incorporate period style elements or not, should be a conscious choice. And to make an informed choice, you must first learn what the historical practice was. The Classical Orchestra case study in the ConductIT Rehearsal Studio is a good place to start considering this subject.

  • Editions. You need to know what different editions exist of any given work. What are the differences between those editions? Which edition do you choose, and why? In many cases, there are known errata, and you should know these. In some cases, it may even be beneficial to create your own set of prepared parts, where all of the decisions or alterations have been marked. Prepared parts are also especially useful for sharing bowings and other relevant instructions with the ensemble efficiently, and without having to use valuable rehearsal time. 
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