Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Conductor and the Viola Player



                                                 


Even in his diminutive stature, the conductor stands above the rest; his long, wild, curly hair tossing every which way as he gracefully and intentionally flails his arms to and fro. He seems strangely connected and yet separate, and to those not trained, he appears off the beat from the rest of the orchestra, or they lagging behind. Yet in reality, he stays ever so slightly ahead of the beat so the orchestra can follow well.

But how fascinating it is to study the members of the orchestra! The conductor passionately cuts the atmosphere with his hands or baton, pointing, cueing, guiding, and directing each note and each section with precision. And yet, the musicians almost never look up at him. There may be an infrequent glance, but almost never from the concertmaster or first violinist. The whole of them are concentrated on the written score. Having been diligently trained and highly disciplined, the score is enough to keep them in perfect sync. Their focus remains intent with those infrequent gazes to their incomparable leader.

Still, he remains fixed and steady at his post, dancing and swaying, directing each individual musician, each section of instruments, and the whole orchestral body. He understands that in his absence, even the most gifted and seasoned musician may fall astray and lead the others with him. The conductor’s faithful presence is a source of security even for those who never have to lift their eyes-their faith is rewarded by his sure presence, and they fulfill their mission in notes and chords and measures and scores, both individually and as a magnificent whole.
But wait! Did I neglect to tell you about the viola player? She sits next to the concertmaster; a clear indication of her expertise. Yet, she looks at the conductor with great frequency while she plays. It isn’t because she needs him to direct her more than the others do--she knows her score and its timing well. On the occasion when her instrument isn’t being played in a piece, she moves slightly to the music, or she looks at the other musicians and smiles--although this gesture is never returned. Or she watches the conductor with that sweet, gentle smile. It is clear, she enjoys him! She enjoys her fellow musicians, and she relishes being a part of something so wonderful.
The unity of the orchestra is the conductor’s great achievement. Without the use of a single word, the strings and the woodwinds, the percussion and brass, although so obviously different from one another, work meticulously as one to evoke emotion from hearers and move them deeply.
After each masterfully executed piece, the audience shares their high praise. The conductor steps down from his podium and bows slightly. Then with great enthusiasm, he turns and points to each section, directing them to rise and receive recognition. And they never do so without the conductor’s direction! When the concert has ended, the audience rises to their feet in a show of gratitude. After once again taking his bows, the conductor goes into the sections and personally greets the musicians, shaking their hands and congratulating them on a job well done!

(This allegory was inspired by Jeffrey Kahane, the conductor and pianist in the photo, and the NY Philharmonic Orchestra at Lincoln Center, NY.)