Saturday, 29 March 2014

Conducting Class Day 1

Saturday March 29th. I slept for about 2 hours last night. Not feeling quite on top of the world I got up for the conducting course organized by Pirkanmaan Pinna beginnig at 10 AM.

Pirkanmaan Pinna is a organization, founded in 2011 by Janne Vanonen, Anna-Leena Lumme and Tanja Karjalainen, that organizes private conducting courses, mainly in Tampere. This course I am now attending is two weekends long (7 hours per day, 4 days), we have two teachers, the theme is vocal music/opera and it costs 400 euros. The orchestrated version of my song cycle Dagbok will be conducted by us conductor students and performed at the final concert next weekend! Other repertoire during the course is extracts from Morzart’s Cosí fan tutte  and Don Giovanni. This weekend our teacher is Juha Törmä. He is very much into technique and similar issues.

Pirkanmaan Pinna has paid an orchestra for the whole course, and each of us conductor students gets to conduct for about 20 minutes per day. Our teacher can interrupt and suggest how we could get things to sound better etc. All sessions are video recorded and after the musicians have left, all conductors watch the videos together with the teacher, who gives comments for about 12 minutes per person. This time we were nine conductor students.

Jacintha Damström reading the score of Dagbok and a part of the orchestra.
Pirkanmaa Pinna's conducting course 29.3.2014. ©C.Damström

All students were free to conduct whichever pieces they wanted. I am not interested in conducting anything else than my own piece Dagbok, so that the orchestra for sure will know it at the concert. But I was also very happy about that a few other students had chosen to conduct parts of my song cycle! Janne Vanonen, Tuomas Kettunen and Hannes Merisaari have taken on the brave task of conducting something you can’t listen to from a ready recording (except for my version with piano).

Hannes Merisaari conducting Dagbok, Jacintha Damström soprano.
Pirkanmaa Pinna's conducting course 29.3.2014. ©C.Damström

I was quite nervous about the course. While I was watching the other students conduct I could see that I was one of the students with least experience and routine. Moreover going in front of a orchestra knowing there will be probably loads of mistakes is my parts (because they were done in a rush in one night) wasn’t a very easing though either.

The final outcome of the orchestra (the sounding music), actually was slightly better than I had expected. But the actual conducting part was even harder than I had thought! Because even though I know my score very well, it is a very different thing to show in all the instruments BEFORE they should start to play. And I had before only once conducted a string band with about 10 people, but this time I had a small orchestra with about 25 musicians including woodwinds and everything! So I had a really hard time trying to read my score but remembering often enough to look up at my woodwinds for showing them where to come in. I think I didn’t really manage to do it a single time today!

Me conducting my song cycle Dagbok, Jacintha Damström soprano.
Pirkanmaa Pinna's conducting course 29.3.2014.

It was also funny, I felt the orchestra was sagging after and slowing down, but when I looked at the video after the musicians had gone home, I got to see how the orchestra is actually playing exactly according to my beat and that it actually is I who am (once again) sagging and slowing down. So once again I got to experience one of the main rules of conducting, don’t start listening to the orchestra, keep your tempo firmly and they will follow (although many times with a bit delay).

I noticed almost at once there was something odd about the horn in my piece, but it took me a while to figure out what it was: I had forgotten to transpose his score into F! (Horn is a transposing instrument, so it sounds a fifth lower than what is written, which you have to take in consideration as a composer. With the notation program Sibelius you can simply press one button and it transposes all the instruments which should be transposed, but you have to make sure you remember to push that button before printing. Well, I had forgotten, so now the horn was playing a fifth too low the whole time.) Luckily the horn player Olavi Kallasjoki is a very good horn player, so when I noticed my mistake he just concluded “Oh this part is in C? Oh no problem then!” and so he transposed it while sight-reading the rest of the practise and everything went fine on that front.

Olavi Kallasjoki

While I was conducting the first movement called Stanna, which begins with a soft pianissimo I was trying to sow the orchestra a very small nuance. On this occasion Juha Törmä made a very good and interesting point and said to me “You are standing with a bad posture, and this is followed by that the musicians begin to play with a similar uptight way, which makes the sound squeaky and tense. You should try opening your chest and have a more relaxed posture, which will make the sound of the orchestra more relaxed and soft instead of squeaky. And for making a smaller nuance, just beat smaller beats with your right hand.”

Example of bad posture by me, which was corrected by Juha Törmä (left corner).
Pirkanmaa Pinna's conducting course 29.3.2014.

One other thing Törmä kept saying to all of us students was mainly about how we conducted the tempo. “Stop bouncing so much with your right hand. The musicians want to follow you, so your movement should be as smooth as possible, so that they easily can predict when the next beat will come. Think of like if you would be playing the timpani, the mallet falls evenly towards the timpani and bounces evenly away. But if you want legato it should be even more smooth, like if you were moving your hand under water.”

So the orchestra played today from 10-15 o’clock (including a lunch break), and then we still cleaned up and watched the videos and got commentary from 15-17 o’clock. I was quite exhausted after the long day of conducting.

After the course I went home for cleaning up. I have been in such a hurry the past weeks that my flat is an absolute mess! But today my sister Jacintha is coming, so I have to make space so that her madras gets space on the floor. I’m very happy she is staying the night at my place! This is the FIRST time she is staying the night at my place in Tampere while I am here, since five years! (She once stayed the night in my flat with my parents during summer while I was working at sea, but I can’t really count that, as I wasn’t here.) Moreover she is always so busy, just like me, so we hardly have time to speak to each other even on the phone, so I’m very happy we have one evening time to speak about everything what is going on, I value her opinions very much. But we both are very tired, so we are going to bed early tonight.

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