10 Lessons from Interviewing over 100 Conductors on Podium Time

After over 100 interviews with conductors on Podium Time, we have learned a lot about conducting and the life around it.  Every conductor has a different story and every conductor has a different perspective. This episode of the podcast attempts to distill all that wisdom into just 10 lessons from the Podium Time Podcast.

Listen above, or, watch this episode on Youtube.

10 Lessons from Interviewing
over 100 Conductors
on Podium Time:

1.  Conducting is barely about conducting. (0:49)

What we actually do on the podium is just one small part of what we do as conductors. Between score study, rehearsal, pacing, balance, crafting the music, and communicating with the ensemble, there’s only a little bit left. The non-verbal communication and physical gesture of conducting comes in as only just a sliver of where we should be putting our full energies. Not to mention the leadership, programming, and education/community parts of what we do as music directors.

2. There are a lot of paths to becoming a conductor…but actually there are only just a few. (2:59)

Everybody has their own path to becoming a conductor. But if you know where you want to be as a performer or teacher, then there is probably a path for you to follow to get there. For example: if you want to be a top-level conductor, then become excellent at your instrument, go to a great school, and get into Aspen. Start with the frameworks that work for most people to build a career as a conductor.

3. Harmony and Structure are (possibly) the most important parts of music. (4:54)

Coming from the violin, I was all about melody and rhythm in my study. But as I learn more about music I see that harmony and structure are really what makes a piece work. This is true in both the small and the large scale. A section in F may not be dissonant when you look at it chord by chord, but if we’re in Bb and we’re leading back to it, then it is a dissonant section of the music structurally. The heart of classical music, and even most Western art is tension and release. Harmony is the source of most tension and release.

4. It’s hard to talk about “music.” (6:09)

Like, it’s really hard to talk about music. It’s easy to talk about the generalities, but unless we’re sitting down with a single score to analyze, there’s only so much we can cover. The podcast has tended to focus more on career, leadership, rehearsal, and other general topics because we rarely get a chance to actually talk about music with a guest. And that’s just one limitation of the podcast genre.

The best workshop I’ve found that’s really effective at talking about music is Make Beautiful Music with Markand Thakar, where we get the chance to analyze and compare different recordings. Listen to our interview with Markand here, and find our discussion of his philosophy and class here.

5. There’s always more work than you think there’s going to be. (7:10)

But you probably knew that already. Everything you do in life is going to take more time and have more steps that you didn’t know about once you get started. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a podcast, starting an orchestra, or just starting a new score; it’ll take longer than you think.

6. Sometimes things are just out of your control. (8:00)

Your career was probably held back this year because of a little thing we all recognized called a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. The people who didn’t get any chances to conduct this year were the ones that really needed it the most. I’m looking at both you and myself. But sometimes things like that are just out of your control. Similarly, no matter how much time I spent crafting the perfect Podium Time episode last summer, the listenership was down because nobody was driving and more podcasts are competing for your attention now. The only thing you can do is to expect it and roll with it.

7. There are SO MANY conductors in the world. (9:42)

Just like lesson number 2, there are so few of us in the world but there are also so many. I thought I knew a lot of conductors, but just like number 5 I learn every week that there is so much out there than I could have ever imagined. And we only really come in contact here on the podcast with orchestral conductors. How many other band and choir conductors are there out in the big wide world of music?

8. People like to give advice. (10:18)

It’s easier than ever to reach out to somebody and learn from them, so reach out to somebody and learn from them. Most people don’t get interviewed every day or get to talk about how awesome they are or that one story that nobody ever asks. So get somebody on the phone and do it! We’re all used to zoom, by now and there’s never been a better time to make a new connection and learn something new.

9. Listen again and again. (11:13)

Things will always hit you a different way the second time you experience it. Read a book a second time. Watch a movie a second time. Conduct a piece a second time. And listen to Podium Time a second time. A recent study from Spotify and MAGNA revealed that 75% of people listen to podcast episodes a second time. That’s awesome! But you don’t even know what you missed the first time, so hit up the archives and give your old favorites (and even something you didn’t like) another listen.

Also, go watch Galaxy Quest. As of June 2021 it is streaming on Amazon Prime, Paramount+, Roku, and Pluto.

10. You’ve just got to stay in it as a conductor (13:10)

Becoming a conductor takes a long, long time. But you’ve just gotta stay in it and keep yourself in the game for long enough to get the break. Find the thing that keeps you in the game no matter what. For Jeremy, without a job or any chances to conduct, that was Podium Time. It kept him feeling like a conductor and helped keep his identity as a conductor alive and well and front of mind.

And that’s it! 10 lessons from our interviews with over 100 conductors to send you off into the second half of this year. Please keep conducting, keep leading, keep studying, and keep putting great music into the world. If you’re listening to this podcast then I know you’re serious about becoming a better conductor. And the good news is that you’re in the right place!

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