Question of the week

I’m in Seattle Airport on my way home from the 2007 Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop. It was quite a week- exhausting, exciting, entertaining and really inspiring for all of us on the faculty. I just hope the students got even half as much out of it as we did.

I’ll share some more detailed thoughts and highlights from the week when I have more time, if they still seem interesting to me when I’m next at a computer. Meanwhile, one question stays with me…..

Last night was the final concert. It’s truly baptism by fire- each student conducts a movement of something, but the concert is not rehearsed (although it uses the repertoire we’ve been working on all week). The orchestra and soloists may doing things for the first time, and the conductor might be doing something they’ve never done before.

By and large, everyone did very well, and the soloists were splendid. I think I have the world’s best living Azucena on my hands right now. However, there were a few scary moments- hopefully those who went through them will look at this as a low-key chance to find out what their weaknesses are right now rather than to learn them in a concert that really matters.

My lingering question is this- In the concert I was struck that almost everyone’s conducting at the end of the week looked much the same as at the beginning of the week (with a few huge and interesting exceptions), although generally more specific and refined, and the level of the performances was very high. Even in some instances were there things I really wanted to encourage the student to change visually, some still looked the same in the end. Everyone still looked like themselves.

Does this mean we did a good job teaching them or a bad job?


My first reaction was to think that somehow the message didn’t get through to some people, but maybe if a young conductor can be bombarded with information, ideas and feedback and go onstage and maintain a sense of their own musical personality and cope with an unrehearsed concert at the end of the week, we’ve done something right? It’ll be interesting to see what stays with them over the next six months, or two years, but it’s ultimately not my business what any of them do from here. I’m just a curious observer from this point on. Readers- any comments? What do you think?

c. 2007 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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7 comments on “Question of the week”

  1. REID

    Now it would really be something if they came out looking like William Hurt, only less depressed.

  2. michelle

    Hmmm… is it realistic to expect noticeable change in a week? Sure, there will be a few exceptions, but I think for most students (of any musical discipline, not just conducting) an intensive week’s work will just be one more building block in a lifetime of effort. Change is usually pretty gradual (and usually more lasting and valuable if it is gradual rather than rapid). I see this in some brass players who are always after “the next great thing,” expecting overnight change and results, which usually results in confusion and stagnation.

    If you gave the conductors concepts and skills that they can build on and continue to develop over the next year, that would be the mark of successful teaching, I’d imagine.

  3. composerbastard

    Im not sure you are the one to mseasure success .They need to measure that themselves. You don’t know what information affected or influenced them. I’m not sure they do either. Over time, as that information makes it’s way into a personal Schema, they will become aware. what they learned may not even apply against what you are intending. It could be totally unrelated – such as how they might approach writing or performing or even recording.

    As for too much information. Yes, this is a problem. Short term memory and chunking are limited. Best to restrict information to between 7-10 points and reinforce it. Could be 7-10 points a day or whatever timeframe you have set aside for reinforcement.

  4. Jen

    Anytime I have gone to a workshop or lesson, There is almost always a phase of information overload. I need time to really process the information I’ve received,and Impliment it. This process usually takes about a week after getting the information. So, while you may not see results by the end of the week, you may see them the next time they show up to your workshop.

  5. Pingback: Kenneth Woods- a view from the podium » Archivio » Anwser of the Week

  6. Kenneth Woods

    Hi everyone! Thanks for the comments.

    You’ll see my latest thoughts on this. There were some massive changes during the week, but it was interesting that the most advanced students changed the least, and also that the changes were least apparent in the concert. I think that’s all fine and normal- under pressure we all tend to revert to what we know has worked in the past, but maybe that means we shouldn’t bother with a concert?

    I agree with Jen that a certain amount of overload is normal at these things. My feeling is that everyone does have the rest of their lives to apply things, so our job is to give them everything we can in a week.


    Anyway, an amazing and fascinating week.

  7. Pingback: Kenneth Woods- a view from the podium » Rose City International Conductor’s Workshop- digest of journal entries

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