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Book Review

Beyond The Baton

Beyond The Baton by Wittry

What Every Conductor Needs to Know

Diane Wittry
Oxford University Press. 2007.
ISBN-10: 0195300939
ISBN-13: 978-0195300932
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon UKFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan Find it at JPC

Diane Wittry, conductor of the Allentown Symphony and the Norwalk Symphony, has written a book that every seasoned conductor and novice student might want to consider adding to their personal library. In her writing, Wittry provides a path that will successfully guide the aspiring student who has decided to pursue a career as a conductor. It lists the steps laying a foundation needed for a successful job search and audition. These preparatory steps must be planned before a professional conducting position can be considered. For established and veteran conductors this book does exactly what it claims to do. It takes the reader Beyond the Baton to consider and explore the inner workings of the modern-day professional orchestra. This book offers a picture of what every successful conductor must deal with on a daily basis. Also included are the interviews with three highly accomplished American conductors. The concluding "Resource" section gives invaluable lists of information critical to the profession.

Beyond the Baton is divided into six main sections. Chapter one, "Preparing for Success," includes the basic topics relating to formal musical training, character development and choosing a path. Chapter two develops the idea that "there is no one path to success as a conductor" (p. 27). Conductors Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano and JoAnn Falletta are interviewed. Here they share stories of success and frustration experienced on the path to their current positions. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 address the question of how to secure a first job. It also focuses on understanding the intricacies of artistic leadership and programming. In chapter 6, "The People Factor," Wittry reviews the communication skills essential in all business. These topics range from "Implementing the Artistic Plan" to "The Music Director's Role with the Board" and "Rehearsal Techniques" to "Union and Orchestra Relations." The 7th chapter addresses the director's role when it comes to finances, fundraising and creating a visible presence in the community. The book concludes with an extensive resource section. It provides valuable information that must be readily available at finger tips' reach for the fast-paced and often hectic schedule of a conductor.

The beginning of the book outlines the path to success. It is emphasized that there is not just one path but many possible paths for a conductor to follow. To be successful, the path chosen must include a musical degree and character development. Before a position in a professional orchestra can be secured, a master's degree at a high-quality university must be completed. During one's developmental years, attending conferences and workshops should not be overlooked. Several exciting conferences and conductor workshops are mentioned in the book. These activities are needed to begin the channels for networking and communicating with conductors and musicians in general. People must know one's name and that one is a conductor. Attending conducting seminars is an excellent way to build a vibrant resume. Wittry writes that it is important to continue development as an instrumentalist. A working knowledge of strings, winds, percussion as well as piano proficiency are givens. As dedicated efforts are put into the study of scores, foreign languages, theory, conducting technique and performance, one must be cognizant of the importance of character development. On this subject, helpful suggestions are presented for serious consideration. When discovering the best path to follow, a conductor should start deciding what type of orchestra with which to be associated. Different orchestras are listed, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Chapter 2 contains interviews with Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano and JoAnn Falletta. They share details of their career paths and the challenges they encountered. They discuss specific topics such as "The Conductor's Role," "Skills Set," "Management," "Understanding Priorities" and "Community Interaction." Slatkin talks about The National Conductors Institute. This is an organization he established to bridge the gaps between conductors in the educational, amateur and community levels who might be making a debut with a major full-time orchestra.

For the conductor who has finished the requirements of formal education or the conductor who has just been hired, chapter 3 is of vital importance. Here are the steps in specific order needed for securing a position as musical director. Listed are the professional organizations that regularly announce job openings to their members. A conductor becomes known in the field by regularly applying for jobs and attending conferences. To help prepare for the interview and audition process, the author provides extensive and useful advice. The items listed as parts of the press package are well-developed and highly detailed. Advice and tips are given for the live interview, the audition and guest conducting opportunities. Among the most important items to deal with once a position has been secured, is negotiating the contract. Eight pages cover this in detail.

The focus of the book's middle section is on the practical issues of running the orchestra during the first year of employment. Wittry masterfully relates from her extensive experience every imaginable job-related topic. Not only does she explain many different issues but she gives practical advice on how best to handle them. Two full chapters cover the core topics of artistic leadership and artistic programming. Conductors will find the procedures for auditions, rehearsal tactics, and stage set-up quite helpful. There is a chapter dedicated to effective communication skills. The development of these skills is useful for several situations, e.g., motivating the orchestra or board of directors, programming restraints and how to work efficiently with staff and personnel. Concluding discussions focus on the issues that are often overlooked in formal training. Some of these are working with budgets, finance, effective fundraising, rallying the community's assets and establishing the orchestra's presence in the community.

After reading this book, it might be difficult for any aficionado to suggest that some specific issue was left out or improperly addressed. This book is a map. It is also a field guide and concludes with an extensive "Resource" section with which the wise conductor would want to become familiar. This resource section includes some of the following categories: "Internet Resources and Forums," "Networking Organizations," "Directories," "Magazines and Journals," "Music Purchasing," "Rental Music Publishers," "Pop Music Publishers," "Special Collections," "Training and Personal Development" and "Programming Resources."

It can boggle the mind when one stops to consider all that a modern-day conductor must deal with on a day-to-day basis. It has been suggested that no other profession offers greater challenges than that of the symphony conductor. Here, Diane Wittry generously brings to light a full compliment of strategies to assist conductors throughout their developing careers. This book, written in a smooth and flowing common-sense style, is intended to be the close companion of the dedicated conductor to be used throughout ones career. In closing it should be mentioned that in summers the author of the book hosts the "Beyond the Baton" Conducting Seminar and Workshop to provide a forum for preparing conductors for conducting positions with regional orchestras in the United States (www.beyondthebaton.com and www.DianeWittry.com).

Copyright © 2010 by David Sawtelle.

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