Lest semester I wrote a little bit about a conducting class I was taking. In that class, all we got to conduct was a recording. However, this semester I'm in the next class, in which we get to conduct actual people! We get to conduct two different groups: he lab Band and the Wind Symphony. The Lab band is made up of the combined Wind Techniques, Brass Techniques and Percussion Techniques classes-- the music education classes where you learn to play every instrument in a family. So, the lab band is made up of very competent musicians, all of whom are playing instruments they don't know how to play! (Last year I took Brass tech and played French Horn in lab band.) That combination of musical expertise and technical uselessness makes for kind of a unique group, which by the end of the semester usually progresses to the point that it could pass as a reasonably advanced high school band. On Tuesday I conducted the Lab band for the first time, which was my very first experience conducting people! Of course it was rather different from conducting the recordings we've been doing in class... for instance, I felt kind of silly even bothering to indicate dynamics at all, since I knew that they knew that their dynamic range consisted of "on" or "off", and even the "on" option was still a little beyond a few sections. However, there's no point in just standing there beating time when the experience is supposed to help me improve as a conductor!
Later in the semester, we get to try conducting the Wind Symphony, and the members of that group get to vote on which members of the conducting class they would like to conduct a movement each from the Candide Suite in their concert! (The movement I'm preparing is Glitter and be Gay, which was a terrible choice because it's been stuck in my head for the past month and it's starting to get irritating.) The Wind Symphony, along with the Contemporary Music Ensemble and the McGill Symphony Orchestra, is one of the credited large ensembles at McGill, and I played in it for the first two years of my degree so I remember this process from the other side! The Wind Symphony conductor, Alain Cazes, is also the conducting teacher, so he prepares the piece with the ensemble before the student conductors get to have a go at it. Although of course I can't know if I'll be voted to conduct in the concert, everyone gets to go through their movement with the group at least once, so it'll be interesting to see the differences between how the lab Band responds to movement and how the Wind Symphony responds.
Although we have lots of classes in the undergraduate program that are supposed to somehow improve you as a general musician, and even a series of required classes entitled "musicianship" (it's solfege, okay, the class is about learning fixed-do solfege) Alain's conducting classes are the first non-performance classes I've taken that I really feel fulfill that purpose. Learning about the intricate connection of movement to sound and expression to technique isn't something we really spend time on other academic classes. With Alain we watch a lot of videos of great conductors and great orchestras, and he is always telling us stories about the conductors he's worked with as a tuba player in L'Orchestre Metropolitain and elsewhere. Even though the class is technically supposed to be to train high school band teachers, he makes it relevant and important to all musicians. I've found that of a lot of my Music Education classes, actually; although they're not required or even often allowed for students in the Performance program, they've been some of the most worthwhile classes of my degree.