As well as going to school for bassoon, I am also doing a minor in the Music Education program at McGill. Due to extremely poor course planning on my own part, I only officially added the minor to my program this year. However, I had taken music education courses in the past, played in shows conducted by an excellent conductor in the education program who recruited mostly education students for his pit orchestras (well, no bassoonists in the education program anyway), attended workshops hosted by the music education council (there was an awesome one last year where some drumline guys came in and taught a bunch of us simple drumline patterns, an activity which due to the sheer amount of noise involved I suspect is probably better suited to a football field than a classroom) and went to the parties and events hosted by the music ed council. However, now that its actually on my transcript I have quite a few music ed classes to finish up this year before I graduate. Among them are two conducting classes: Basic conducting this semester, which is exactly as the name would suggest, and Instrumental conducting next semester, which is where you get to conduct the "lab band" made up of the students learning secondary instruments in the wind, brass and percussion techniques classes. (I played french horn in the lab band last year while I was taking Brass tech! :P ) I'm preparing for the first practical test in Basic conducting this week, and I have to say it's kind of kicking my ass. The simplest thing, such as making it clear in advance that the next beat will be legato and not marcato like the previous beats, looks awkward and completely unfollowable when I conduct the test material in front of a mirror. Even the beat patterns, which I hardly had to think about when we did conduct + sing assignments in musicianship/aural skills class, just don't look quite good enough when I have a baton in my hand. (Also, I already broke my baton. Oops. I was very disappointed to find that there was in fact no unicorn hair inside of it, or indeed any other magical object appropriate to a wand core. That's what you get for $10 I suppose. It is now sporting some classy yellow electrical tape.)
I'm trying to approach the 5-10 bar fragments that we have to conduct for our test like I would prepare an excerpt. First I need to think of the tempo that's indicated based on a melody I know I can call to mind in the correct tempo. I'm using the opening of the Mozart concerto for the two fragments that are around 60, the opening of the Poulenc sextet for the one that's around 132, and Beethoven 4 for the one that's at 80. None of these are entirely satisfactory since the tempi are all a tiny (hopefully unnoticeably) bit off from the indicated tempi and none of the moods or time signatures match up to what I have to then conduct based on their tempo. However, I would rather use slightly less accurate pieces of which I'm used to having to remember the tempo than pieces that match exactly in metronome marking, character and meter but that I have to search for and call to mind with more difficulty. Then I have to remember to breathe! When I played in lab band, it always seemed like the silliest thing that none of the student conductors could ever remember to breathe with the ensemble. Now I understand that it's actually hard to get used to breathing as if with the intention of making sound, and then... not producing any sound with the air you've taken in. After that, what I find most difficult about the actual conducting is being able to prepare character the next beat without taking over the character of the previous one.
Fortunately, since I'm taking this class later in my degree than I would have if I had planned to do the minor from the start, I know lots of other students who have finished that class and gone on to more conducting classes. I'm meeting with a friend tomorrow night to conduct for her. Hopefully I'll feel comfortable with the basics soon!
In other news, this weekend was the first MGSO concert of the year. The program was Verdi's Forza del Destino, the Ginastera Harp Concerto, and Dvorak 8. My only part for that concert was principal in the harp concerto, which was awesome since it was a unique piece to get to play and the schedule gave me lots of free time. However, today we had out first rehearsal for the next concert, including an initial run through of Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2. This concert I'm playing principal on that and on a piece by Kaija Saariaho which involves quite a lot of spoken German in the wind parts, and third on the overture to the third act of Lohengrin. So I have more work in orchestra this semester, but that's okay since this concert will be at Maison Symphonique!
Okay... now back to trying to figure out how to conduct fermatas.