The role of the Conductor

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morosco
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The role of the Conductor#1
Posted: 8/28/07 at 11:59am
Please pardon my ignorance on asking these questions. I'm not a musician so I don't really know how it all works. But I am always fascinated by the musicians down it the pit as well as the conductor.

I've seen several, perhaps negative, comments that some conductors simply wave the baton and keep a beat. The criticism is that the conductor isn't bringing out the best from players interpretation of the score.

What I don't understand is why the conductor would need to do that on a performance by performance basis. If the orchestra has been well rehearsed and they have been playing the same score why would the conductor need to do that on a daily basis? Musicians are artists too. It's not like the director of the show is there on a daily basis to "conduct" the actors.

And a question about tempos. I've read about several productions where the conductor was criticized for erratic tempos from performance to performance. Isn't there technology that could provide a consistent and agreed upon tempo for each and every performance? A simple blinking light in view of the conductor that could serve like a metronome?

Don't misunderstand my questions. I'm in no way suggesting that a conductor is not needed. I realize that the conductor plays a vital role in any musical cueing the musical numbers in the show and takes charge if things run amuck or if replacements, understudies or standbys are on or if there are subs in the pit.
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re: The role of the Conductor#2
Posted: 8/28/07 at 12:14pm
I don't think I understand your question, but I do...kinda get where you're coming from, I guess?

I've seen great conductors (Kimberly Grigsby, despite all the negative comments about her methods), poor conductors (Todd Ellison, who I've seen text messaging during Spamalot), great conductors who look bored (Paul Gemignani), and conductors who just feel the music, but are too wrapped up in their own world to realize that the front row is blocked from their arms flailing (Kevin Stites).

About tempos, I think it's a matter of the performer, not the conductor. When I saw The Producers early in its run (2001), the show took a solid 3 hours to get through. When I saw it towards the end of it's run (Dec. 2006), the show took a solid 2:30. Same with LuPone in Gypsy...LuPone rushed through some of the songs so quickly you blinked and it was over. I can't imagine that being Pat Vacariello's choice.
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re: The role of the Conductor#2
Posted: 8/28/07 at 12:14pm
Double Post
Updated On: 8/28/07 at 12:14 PM
markymatt
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re: The role of the Conductor#3
Posted: 8/28/07 at 12:34pm
"isn't there technology that could provide a consistent and agreed upon tempo for each and every performance? A simple blinking light in view of the conductor that could serve like a metronome?"

A lot of people (myself included) would argue that this would take a lot of the life out of the music. There's a fine line between consistent and robotic.

"If the orchestra has been well rehearsed and they have been playing the same score why would the conductor need to do that on a daily basis? Musicians are artists too. It's not like the director of the show is there on a daily basis to "conduct" the actors."

Two-parter answer here. First, technically, part of the stage-manager and dance captain's jobs are to help keep the show fresh. In effect, doing what a conductor does. Second, the musician's union is pretty open to pit musicians subbing out, so on any given performance it's likely that there will be at least one musician who was not part of the rehearsal process and may be playing the music for the first time.

Also, the conductor is not just directing the orchestra, he or she is also the liaison between the singers and the orchestra. If the soloist decides to take a little liberty with the song, the conductor has to make sure that the orchestra keeps in time with the soloist and that the over-all musicality of the song has a consistency (for instance...if a soloist decides to milk the bridge going into an instrumental break, the conductor may ease the tempo back up as opposed to just switching back to the original tempo which could completely break the moment the soloist just created).

Okay...guess that was a three parter:)

PS...great question
Updated On: 8/28/07 at 12:34 PM
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re: The role of the Conductor#4
Posted: 8/28/07 at 12:55pm
I thought this was about the conductor in CURTAINS :).

Sasha, yee haw.
And then what if you are?
What a Prince would envision?
Although how can you know who you are till you know
What you want, which you don't?
So then which do you pick:
Where you're safe, out of sight, And yourself, but where everything's wrong?
Or where everything's right And you know that you'll never belong?
Fenchurch
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re: The role of the Conductor#5
Posted: 8/28/07 at 1:08pm
Sorry, but the real truth is that when you have musicians in the pit who are worth anything, the conductor is no more than a glorified first-base coach.
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re: The role of the Conductor#6
Posted: 8/28/07 at 1:36pm
No matter how well rehersed, it is very easy to fall out of the correct dynamics, cues, tempos,vamps,length of a fermata, time signature,ritards,key changes, accents, rests, etc... An orchestra without a conductor could not be aware of all this. It only takes one musican to fall from the correct marking of the music to get the rest of the orchestra off. If there were no conductor, by the end of the month the orchestrations would be completely off and the show would be chaotic. Also as someone said in a previous post, musicans are allowed by the union to miss half of the shows a week. There's always a sub in the pit. Once a musican has played and rehersed the music several times and know their notes, they look at the conductor 3/4ths of the time. It's true, the longer the show goes on the less vital the conductor may become but it's still live theatre.
Updated On: 8/28/07 at 01:36 PM
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re: The role of the Conductor#7
Posted: 8/28/07 at 1:40pm
The conductor is in charge of the tempos, not the singers.
Ms. LaPone is probably in charge of everything.
Updated On: 8/28/07 at 01:40 PM
Fenchurch
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re: The role of the Conductor#8
Posted: 8/28/07 at 1:42pm
"No matter how well rehersed, it is very easy to fall out of the correct dynamics, cues, tempos,vamps,length of a fermata, time signature,ritards,key changes, accents, rests, etc... An orchestra without a conductor could not be aware of all this. It only takes one musican to fall from the correct marking of the music to get the rest of the orchestra off. If there were no conductor, by the end of the month the orchestrations would be completely off and the show would be chaotic."

-That is opinion...and in my experience...bullsh*t

"Musicans are allowed by the union to miss half of the shows a week. There's always a sub in the pit."

-That, however, is true.

"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." -Keen on Kean
"Fenchurch is correct, as usual." - muscle23ftl
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re: The role of the Conductor#9
Posted: 8/28/07 at 1:47pm
Perhaps it's an opinion, but it's an opinion based from my experiances.


You can't possibly tell me that an entire pit orchestra can keep the correct dynamics, time signatures, ritards, fermatas, tempos, rests, accents, and vamps, the same every night without a conductor.
Updated On: 8/28/07 at 01:47 PM
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re: The role of the Conductor#10
Posted: 8/28/07 at 2:08pm
Also, the conductor is not just directing the orchestra, he or she is also the liaison between the singers and the orchestra.

Please pardon my own ignorance on answering this question. I'm not a musician so I don't really know how it all works.

But I have observed that at times the conductor is cueing the orchestra to begin based on the actions or preparedness of the actor, and at times he is cueing (or reminding) the actor to start singing at a certain point within the music.


p.s. I am certain that oftentimes the actors are watching (or looking at, or glancing at) the conductor (either directly or on monitors). And for sure, the musicians are watching him as well.

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re: The role of the Conductor#11
Posted: 8/28/07 at 2:09pm
I thought this thread was going to be about the Train Conductor in THE MUSIC MAN.
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re: The role of the Conductor#12
Posted: 8/28/07 at 2:19pm
Markymatt- I have to disagree with you. The tempos come from the conductor. The performer of course can work with the conductor and ask for a tempo but really the conductor is in charge. The conductor should FEEL the tempo. Of course a metrenome (sp) would help. But really as a musician the conductor should feel the same tempo night after night. I don't think its possible that a show can cut off 30 mins of play time just from the tempos.
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re: The role of the Conductor#13
Posted: 8/28/07 at 2:28pm
After seeing her work in GREASE, I think Kim Grigsby should make an aerobics workout video for conductors.
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"I have also met him in person, and I find him to be quite funny actually. Arrogant and often misinformed, but still funny."
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re: The role of the Conductor#14
Posted: 8/28/07 at 2:55pm
"I thought this was about the conductor in CURTAINS :).

Sasha, yee haw."

Me too! I thought it was "Sasha, E sharp", though. haha.
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re: The role of the Conductor#15
Posted: 8/28/07 at 2:57pm
Funny, Foster, I said that after I saw her conduct 2 Gentlemen of Verona.

It makes me tired just thinking about it.
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re: The role of the Conductor#16
Posted: 8/28/07 at 3:05pm
Kimberley Grigsby annoyed the crap out of me at GREASE. I understand she was trying to keep the energy up and give the audience something to look at during set changes but she really took a lot away from the show (not that there was much to take away from in the first place but...).
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re: The role of the Conductor#17
Posted: 8/28/07 at 3:20pm
i've personally never seen Kim Grigsby, but based on her desctiptions she sounds a lot like Alex Lacamoire who've ive seen conduct several times (a couple at Wicked and at Feeling Electric at NYMF in 05). He is VERY High energy when he conducts and did draw my attention at times, but never to the point of distraction. He is clearly into what he's doing and enjoying his job, which i think makes for a better performance and a higher likely hood to get a great performance from one's orchestra.


on an unrelated note, Alex is a very nice man. I had the pleasure of speaking to him during intermission at wicked the two times i saw him conduct (I was sitting in lottery seats) very personable and genuine man.
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re: The role of the Conductor#18
Posted: 8/28/07 at 3:26pm
I didn't mean to make it sound like the soloist is in charge and the conductor merely helps the orchestra keep up with him or her. The tempos absolutely come from the conductor. But, that shouldn't hinder singers from taking slight liberties. Sometimes the singer won't take a proper breath and have to cut a note short, or maybe someone will really be in the moment and give a "money" note an extra beat and a half (especially if there is a fermata in the score). If it causes a problem or gets out of hand, the conductor/MD will give the note. If not, he or she will lead the orchestra to follow and let the singer utilize his most important tool: His instinct.

As I think ILoveMyDictionary meant, it's a little far-fetched to believe that you can expect every member of an orchestra to stay together for even one song through all of the tempo and dynamic changes. The art of music is not an exact science. The conductor is needed to keep cut-offs clean, dynamic changes direct and purposeful and tempos together.
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re: The role of the Conductor#19
Posted: 8/28/07 at 4:13pm
He does it twice, BroadwayEnthusiast2. Once before "The Woman's Dead" and once before "Kansasland".
And then what if you are?
What a Prince would envision?
Although how can you know who you are till you know
What you want, which you don't?
So then which do you pick:
Where you're safe, out of sight, And yourself, but where everything's wrong?
Or where everything's right And you know that you'll never belong?
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re: The role of the Conductor#20
Posted: 8/28/07 at 4:36pm
conductor still has to conduct because the orchestra would be out of place even if they had 20 rehearsals unless its really small.
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re: The role of the Conductor#21
Posted: 8/28/07 at 5:04pm
I've conducted and played in pits before (not professionally) and a few times certain pieces of technology are used. A conductor will more often or not wear headphones so he can keep in contact with stage manager and other technical crew members. Every so often there will be conductors with a metronome (Beat keeping device) system included in the head phone device and several players (most likely keyboard) will have them too. This of course makes sure the beat is consistent each night.
I know for a fact that almost every player in the LB band wears headphones. I no of a lot of shows that are long or sung-through have them too.
A little known fact is that in the original screenplay, Pan's Labyrinth was Pan's FLAByrinth. Hmmmmmmm...glad they changed it.
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re: The role of the Conductor#22
Posted: 8/28/07 at 5:09pm
But I have observed that at times the conductor is cueing the orchestra to begin based on the actions or preparedness of the actor, and at times he is cueing (or reminding) the actor to start singing at a certain point within the music.

That's what I thought too. It was very noticeable when I saw "Wicked". The conductor was the youngest I've ever seen at a Broadway show, so I had fun watching him as well as the show. I'm glad I did because it caused me to start thinking more about the conductor's role.

Anyway, he cued the little 'ding' right before "Popular" to be perfectly timed with Kendra jumping on the bed. I watched a bootleg of the panties gag Meg Hilty did, and noticed that her 'ding' was perfectly timed to certain movements as well. I find that to be kind of cool.

I felt bad for the conductor in "Chicago". She had to keep turing around to see the stage.
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re: The role of the Conductor#23
Posted: 8/28/07 at 5:12pm
Grigsby is a little distracting, but I don't remember her going crazy durring Piazza when I sat near the orchestra pit, except in Aiutami. Again, that was in a pit and I could barely see exactly what she was doing. She was distracting in Spring Awakening, and certainly in Grease. However, I found her dancing in Grease to be more entertaining than Kathleen Marshall's.
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re: The role of the Conductor#24
Posted: 8/28/07 at 5:13pm
I hears she stole the show!
A little known fact is that in the original screenplay, Pan's Labyrinth was Pan's FLAByrinth. Hmmmmmmm...glad they changed it.