I've had the pleasure of working with some very good conductors recently, and the last few days have made me realize just how lucky I am. To any aspiring conductors out there, I have a few top tips from the back row of the orchestra.
Ten Top Tips for Choral Conductors
1. When planning a rehearsal involving people from out of town, look at the train schedules. Please don't end the rehearsal six minutes before the hourly train leaves.
2. In pieces of standard repertoire where no set changes are necessary, runthroughs are appropriate for the dress rehearsal only and don't qualify as "rehearsal". Rather, if you have four 3-hour rehearsals, break them down into pieces where the choir is needed, pieces where the soloists are needed, and then again to those which use full orchestra and those which use only the strings. You can also rehearse tutti before the break and then let people go and catch the train, but for crying out loud, don't let the trumpets and trombones sit there for three hours to play the first and last pieces and 4-6 pieces in between when the concert has 87 in total.
3. When we at the back don't catch your mumbling to the front row of string players and don't play because we don't know where you are, please don't just plow on. We do quite enjoy taking part in those 6-8 movements where we do have something written.
4. If the brass don't play in the Big Brass Movement (BBM), they might not have parsed where we were since our parts just say 58-64 TACET and don't give any helpful hints of how long they are and which ones run into each other. (Or perhaps they were tired from having missed the train the night before and getting home at 1 am instead of 23:30?) Just stop. Give them a chance. Check out whether they're actually holding their instruments before you start the piece. It looks very bad when conductors don't appear to notice or care and now their only chance to play through it is in the concert.
5. Rather than just look crossly at your choir when they miss an entry, try looking at them encouragingly before their entry. If you breathe with them it helps them too.
6. If you want the orchestra to look at you, look at the orchestra more than once per page - don't bury your head in the score. Don't just look at the cute viola player.
7. Rather than look crossly at your choir for sounding afraid, look at them and mouth the text with them when they have something to sing.
8. If you've not rehearsed things properly in the 12 hours you've allotted and when you start the rehearsal late, then you've no right to extend the dress rehearsal beyond 10:30 or to cut the break down to five minutes. We trombonists need the break to play a bit or our instruments get cold.
9. Sending the tempi by email attachment a month before the rehearsal doesn't let you off the hook for sloppy conducting.
10. Try to look like you're enjoying yourself now and again - you chose the piece!