From time to time, composers are called upon to pick up a baton, get in front of an ensemble and lead a performance. Some put a great deal of time and study into becoming effective conductors, others just wing it. I fall somewhere in between.
One of the most important moments in conducting a performance is how you start the ensemble. A ragged beginning, or the slightest uncertainty, can poison an entire performance. As a student, I was given all of the usual tips about how to start an ensemble effectively – checking around to make sure everyone is ready, imagining how you want the music to begin, keeping your eyes out of the score, etc.
But there’s one trick I wasn’t taught, a trick I stumbled upon accidentally, a trick that my last post about MIDI reminded me of. Here it is: instead of just imagining how you want the music to sound, try imagining yourself singing that first sound. As you raise the baton for the pickup, inhale as though you were going to sing the first note – a deep breath for a powerful attack, a delicate breath for delicate music. With the first beat, exhale, and the sound you imagined will be ringing in your ears – the musicians will breath with you, grasp exactly what you are looking for and give it to you with a single voice. I don’t know why it always happens that way, but it does.
Breathe with the music — works like a charm.