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June 4, 2024 50 mins

You've probably been to a symphony performance and wondered, what in the heck are conductors doing up there anyway? Well we're here to explain that as best we can.

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Stuff you should know, a production of iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:11):
Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh, there's Chuck,
there's Jerry, and you put the three of us together, sika, bassoon,
a tuba and an obo in our mouths. We'll pump
out some stuff you should.

Speaker 1 (00:25):
Who plays what?

Speaker 2 (00:26):
I play tuba?

Speaker 1 (00:28):
Okay, I guess I'll play the obo that leaves Jerry
with a bassoon?

Speaker 2 (00:31):
Okay, I think that's fair.

Speaker 1 (00:34):
That sounds right.

Speaker 2 (00:35):
When I think Jerry, I think bassoon and vice versa.

Speaker 1 (00:39):
Uh, that's right. So we need to thank Livia for
this one because she did a bang up job. And
we need to thank BBC Music Magazine and Andrew Green
because Livia and us got a lot of help from
Andrew Green's primer on conductors. Yeah, and this one was

my idea of because I think I just saw it.
Wasn't from seeing the movie Tar, even though I did
see that. I saw that in the theater a while
ago when it was out, But it kind of hit
me then, even like, what is such a weird job
that I know nothing about? And what are they doing
up there? And can anyone just get up there and

wave their arms around?

Speaker 2 (01:22):
Sometimes from what I hear, Yes, there are some people
doing that out there.

Speaker 1 (01:26):
But I found this thoroughly enjoyable to research and hopefully
talk about.

Speaker 2 (01:31):
Yeah, good pick. I'm not sure I ever would have
gotten to this one, so good job.

Speaker 1 (01:34):
All right.

Speaker 2 (01:36):
So I think I think you're probably in the majority
of people who don't really understand what a conductor does,
aside from standing up there and waving their arms. Yeah,
I know I was in that camp until fairly recently.
But the stuff you see conductors doing, which is again
conducting a symphony, waving their arms, there's a lot of

methods to that seeming madness, and what you're seeing when
you see that a conductor conducting a symphony is the
culmination of a lot of other work that's done behind
the scenes before the performance that the conductor does. Like
they really earn their money from what I can.

Speaker 1 (02:15):
Tell, Yeah, absolutely, And just to be clear, I'm not
such a rube that I was like, what are they
just waving their arms around? Because I grew up in choir,
singing tenor in the choir, and so I certainly had
my share of choral conductors doing that stuff at me,
So I get what's going on there. But I was

just trying to make a joke.

Speaker 2 (02:38):
Oh okay, yeah, I don't think anybody thought you were
a rube.

Speaker 1 (02:41):
Well you never know, maybe.

Speaker 2 (02:43):
A new listener, who knows, but you'd win them over
by the end of the episode, guaranteed.

Speaker 1 (02:47):
I'm not a roob. I'm a tenor.

Speaker 2 (02:49):
You're a tenor. Huh. I've never really been much of
a singer, even though I sang in a band, but
as a reminder, then broke up and reformed without me.

Speaker 1 (02:58):
Oh man, Yeah, satis Josh stories.

Speaker 2 (03:02):
But also one of the most telling, isn't it.

Speaker 1 (03:04):
No. Should we go back in time though, please, So
when you first joined that band.

Speaker 2 (03:10):
Yeah, I'm going to take another shot at it.

Speaker 1 (03:14):
No, we're going to go back in time to tell
you about the history of conducting. And this is sort
of prehistory stuff, because conducting an orchestra to perform a
symphonic orchestral piece wasn't really a thing early on as
far as using a conductor. That it started with what
I was talking about, which was choral music and vocal music.

And we're talking you know, in the early century CE
there were people that would keep a beat and stomp
a foot or wave their arms around to get a
choir on point.

Speaker 2 (03:51):
Yeah, because one of the really important things to remember
throughout this episode is that when you're playing music by yourself,
you have to to keep on tempo. But as you
add other people, whether you're playing music or singing, as
you had other people, they have to keep on tempo too,
but you all have to keep on the same tempo. Yeah,

and it really does help to have one person who's
keeping the tempo for everybody else. And that became a
parent very early on, and that does seem to be
kind of like the predecessor to the conductor, but it
wasn't until the i think eighteenth and nineteenth century. Yeah,
that kind of transition between the two where what we

think of as a conductor today kind of came along.

Speaker 1 (04:37):
Yeah, I mean it was you know, choirs got bigger,
orchestras got bigger. You know, early on you might have
you know, a six piece ensemble or a four piece
or maybe you know, it would even climb as high
as like you know, fifteen or twenty what. And in
those days, you would have somebody that was actually playing

in that orchestra keeping the time. A lot of times
it was a violinist and they would use their bow
to tap things out or wave the bow around a little.
I think that's probably due to the fact that a
bow you can see even when you're sitting down, you
can hold it up and people can see it. Also,
a violinist, a violin is very small. It would you know,

you wouldn't ask the tuba player even though the tuba
is the bass and the bass is me the beat
that would be you. It'd be hard to like keep
the beat and play the tuba at the same like
indicate the beat to the rest of your orchestra while
playing the tuba.

Speaker 2 (05:34):
I would think it'd be hard to conduct while playing
the violin too.

Speaker 1 (05:39):
Well, you're not doing it while you're playing, because the
violin isn't always playing, Okay, you know what I mean.
I think it's like during the time where the like,
because they're not waving their bow around and also playing
at the same time. That's impossible.

Speaker 2 (05:54):
Okay, let's get and go see ourselves.

Speaker 1 (06:05):
Yeah. Yeah, there's someone They've got a bow in their
hand and they're playing the violin and they certainly are
not able to wave it around at the same time.

Speaker 2 (06:12):
All right, here's your five bucks.

Speaker 1 (06:14):
Okay, Yeah, let's go forward.

Speaker 2 (06:26):
It does seem, then, yes, to have started with the
violinists who apparently did conduct while they weren't playing. Also
the keyboardist whoever was playing like the piano or the
harpsichord or something like that, they might be doing it too.
But the reason why, even as impressive as it is
for somebody to be in the actual orchestra playing music

and then also conducting, whether they're playing at the moment
or not, it's pretty impressive. But one of the reasons
it was possible is because technically speaking, or comparatively speaking,
the music that was being made until the early nineteenth
century was fairly predictable, like it stayed on this a
general tempo. It didn't have all sorts of like sudden

surprising changes in twists and turns, so you could actually
keep an orchestra together while you were playing the violin
or in between the moments you were playing the violin.
It wasn't until Beethoven came along that the real need
for a person whose entire job it was was to
conduct everybody else playing the music, that really became a

necessary role.

Speaker 1 (07:35):
Yeah, absolutely in the classical era, and that's not classical
music is the broad term, but classical with a capital C,
which is to say, the period from seventeen fifty to
eighteen thirty. Yeah, a lot of times you had composers
that would step in and conduct their own orchestras. Mozart
certainly did things like that. And these were as orchestras

were growing. I mentioned, you know, the size of the
orchestras being maybe as you know, small chamber groups and
things like that. As it got bigger and bigger and
you had, you know, thirty forty fifty people in an orchestra,
it wouldn't do to have that violinist. So the composer
themselves would lead the orchestra. And then, like you said,
once Beethoven came along and brought his really groundbreaking compositions,

that they needed a conductor. A lot of times it
was still the composer, but then came the idea of
someone that didn't compose it, is not playing in it,
and that the only job they have is to direct
the orchestra.

Speaker 2 (08:42):
Yeah. And there's a great story that seems to be
true and accurate that at the debut of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony,
which is the Ode to Joy, which is the part
of which is playing when they opened the vault and
die hard.

Speaker 1 (09:00):
That's what it's best known for.

Speaker 2 (09:01):
I think he wanted to conduct it himself, but he
had fallen death by then. Well he was Beethoven, this
is his ninth he'd already made a name for himself
even during his lifetime. So they led him. But they
had another conductor, the real conductor that the orchestra was
instructed to follow, because Beethoven was not able to keep

on time and conduct the symphony correctly. So apparently when
the whole thing ended, he was still conducting and somebody
had to tap him on the arm and be like,
turn around. The audience is applauding for you right now?

Speaker 1 (09:35):
Yeah? Is that scene is captured very very well in
the Boogey Beethoven movie Bookie Knights and Immortal Beloved, the
great movie about Beethoven.

Speaker 2 (09:48):
Gary Oldman, Oh, yeah, is it good?

Speaker 1 (09:51):
Yeah, it's good. I haven't seen it in a long time,
but I loved it back then, and also I was able.
It was lucky enough. I was so broke back when
I was living in New Jersey back in the nineties.

Speaker 2 (10:01):
But how broke?

Speaker 1 (10:01):
Were you so broke that the only way to get
into Carnegie Hall, not practice to see Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
performed by the New York Philharmonic, was to hand out the.

Speaker 2 (10:15):
Hour later.

Speaker 1 (10:17):
No, no, the the not the bulletin, just the program
for the performance. Yeah, like the playbill. Somehow got on
that little volunteer staff. Oh, and they're like, you can
hand out these playbills and then you can stay and
see the performance. And so I got to see O
de Joy at the Carnegie Hall and oh wow, with
a full German choir, and it was just like unbelievable.

Speaker 2 (10:38):
So you go, hey, what's that guy doing waving his
hands around?

Speaker 1 (10:42):
I did.

Speaker 2 (10:44):
Back. Let's get serious, though, Chuck. Okay, we said that
Beethoven was the reason why conducting became a necessity because
the music he was making was so complex that it
required way more people, like you said, and the more
people play saying, the more you need a conductor. And
so it was actually more about just keeping tempo as

it had been when you had the violinists like waving
their bow or some dude smacking his foot on the ground.
Even before then, it was about like actually interpreting the
music because the more dense and expressive and sophisticated the score.

The harder it is to write out exactly what every
single instrument is supposed to be doing at every single
moment in exactly what way. So there was a lot
of interpretation left and that role fell on the conductor,
And here we finally reached what a conductor really does.
This is like the foundation. The basis of their job

is interpreting the score and then getting the orchestra to
produce the sounds that meet that interpretation.

Speaker 1 (11:59):
Yeah, exactly. You know, even something written by Beethoven or
Wagner or something, it can be pretty detailed. But like
you said, there's there's no way to indicate every single
nuance that comes through in an orchestral performance by writing
it down on paper, and that's where interpretation can come from.

In fact, I believe it was Heyden and Mozart both
at times didn't indicate tempo like super clearly for things,
and they had the expectation that, hey, you know, the
musician should get in there and understand the spirit of
what's happening and they will instinctively kind of go to

what the right speed is. So that's where interpretation comes in, certainly,
not to you know, change the actual notes. But there's
so much more beyond the actual notes that goes into
a performance.

Speaker 2 (12:53):
Right, right, And there was a I guess I think
Mahler had a second symphony where he noted that trombones, violins,
and viola should only play if necessary to prevent the
chorus from deflating. And I mean that who's going to
decide whether the chorus is deflating or not the conductor.
So as that music became more and more sophisticated, the

need for conductor became greater and greater. And I say
we take a break and we'll rejoin the conducting profession
afterward in about the nineteenth century.

Speaker 1 (13:27):
Great, all right, so I guess we'll talk a little

bit about how this happens, right, Like what happened? If
you're a conductor and you're like, here's the piece that
you're going to play for the Christmas concert in Atlanta
this December, first thing you're going to do as a conductor,
and really want to recommend this wired video on YouTube.

It's an interview with a conductor named Kent Tritele tr
I t l E. I can't remember exactly what the
video is, but it's just a really good interview with
an actual conductor kind of talking about the job of conducting,
and Kent points out that like kind of what you wanted,
what you're trying to do when you first get that piece,

and this is you know, you're not in a room
with the orchestra at this point. You're on your own.
It's like a movie director or a play director getting
a script. You want to really just figure out the
architecture of the piece as a whole and really dig
into every instrumental part, like every single one. You have
to know a understand where they come in, where they

come out, where it should be a rising sound or
falling sound, and of course there's great Italian names for
all this stuff, whether it should be punchy or whether
it should be flowy, and sort of notate just like
you would break down a movie script or something or
replace script, just the architecture and the feeling that you're

trying to convey and really just take note of all
that stuff.

Speaker 2 (15:27):
Yes, So, I mean that's like the first step in
putting on a symphony concert, Like that's what the conductor
has to do is go through and figure out how
they're going to present it. And then comes the time
where you have to teach or work with all of
the musicians that are going to perform this with you

to explain this is how we're going to do it.
And there's a couple of ways to do this, and
one was practiced by some of the most well known
conductors of the twentieth century. It is like the Golden
Age of conductors. One was that you could be a
dictator and a jerk and what was known as now

kind of derogatorily is a maestro. That was one way
to do it. Fortunately, there seems to be a much
larger push these days toward much more communal I guess,
a nicer, kinder, gentler way of approaching it, working together
rather than bossing around, and that that's kind of the

way that composers seemed to do it. Apparently there's a
lot of there's some old maestro is still working, yeah,
and that a lot of people are waiting for them
to die apparently. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (16:45):
I think the collaborative approach in general and the arts
can be a great way to go. Although all tourship
and films and I guess the maestro, maestroness, you know,
some people made great work doing that stuff. So it's
not to say that that can't work, but it just
seems as a whole like the arts have become a

little more collaborative. Sure in the last fifty years, forty years.

Speaker 2 (17:12):
Yeah, I read a really good description of that. It
was a blog post from the Symphony Nova Scotia, their
director of music, their lead conductor, Holly Mathieson wrote, Maestro
maestra or Holly and it's about, you know, which one
does she want to be called? And she goes kind
of into detail about, you know, the history of those

ill tempered, mean, dictatorial maestro maestros. I can't remember what
the plural would be. I guess maestree.

Speaker 1 (17:46):
I think it would No, I mean that sounds right,
all right, I'm.

Speaker 2 (17:50):
Just going to keep with maestros. That like how that's
changed and how like you said, it's become much more
collaborative over time. So it was definitely worth reading. It
gives a really clear picture of, you know, just a
couple of different approaches to the whole thing.

Speaker 1 (18:06):
Yeah, for sure. What is also can kind of vary
as how, you know, how flashy they are and how
much attention they might be trying to draw. Because if
you've ever seen a conductor who is really getting down
up there. They may just be feeling that passion and
just getting into it. They may have an ego which

is saying, look at me, look at me. That certainly happens,
but not always. Sometimes they're you know, everyone has their
own their own style. Sometimes there's not much emotion. Sometimes
you know, you're they have their back to the audience,
so the only time you're going to see their faces,
and like a televised performance or something like, that's what
your orchestra is seeing. But I do want to recommend

another video. I hope you watched this one that just
look up Candide the dancing conductor on YouTube and his
conductor named our Old Fear Wits.

Speaker 2 (19:02):
I guess I am going with the left for Wits.

Speaker 1 (19:05):
Okay, I'm going with whatever he wants to be called,
because this guy is a treasure and the fun and
emotion that he has while he's conducting is just infectious,
and I just I want to, like, I want to
hug this guy. I want to have him over for dinner.

Speaker 2 (19:20):
Yeah. And I saw that, you know, he's kind of
putting it on pretty thick because he knew that this
was being filmed. But it does. I've seen other stuff
of his too, when he's you know, a little more subdued,
but compared to other conductors, he's you know, very expressive.
And yeah, you definitely want to hang out with him
and maybe give him a hug here or there, just

because he seems like a great guy.

Speaker 1 (19:42):
Seems dude.

Speaker 2 (19:43):
Yeah, So that's I mean, that's what the public, the
concert going public who don't really know what's going on,
tend to notice the most. But the the behind the
scenes work that leads up to that. Again, when you're
interpreting a score, you have to figure that out yourself,
and then you start working with the musicians. You have

to work with every single musician to get the absolute
most out of them. You have to gain their trust.
And if you can gain their trust, then you can
actually get them to play the way you want. If
they don't trust you, they're going to kind of go
around your back and collaborate together without you, kind of
like me. It's the lead singer of that band I

was in in dust school, right. They were not listening
to me or following my lead. And I saw a
great quote about that. There's an ama on Reddit with
a conductor from twenty eighteen and this conductor who I
think was at the Flagstaff Symphony at the time, they
said that when a bad conductor makes a mistake, no

one notices. When a good conductor makes a mistake, it's
a disaster. And that's because the symphony doesn't follow a
bad conductor, so when he makes a mistake, it doesn't
translate through to the symphony. But a good conductor, if
they make a mistake, the symphony is actually following them,
and so that mistake gets telegraphed through the actual sound.
So that's a huge part of it is gaining the

trust and the respect of your orchestra, and one of
the ways that you do that is working closely with them,
but also knowing what you're talking about. You have to
be a master not necessarily how to play, but in
understanding how every single instrument, what you can get out
of it, and how to do that.

Speaker 1 (21:27):
Yeah. Absolutely, So, you know, backing up a little bit,
if you want to get this job, the first thing
you have to do, basically is get a degree in music.
I don't know that that's a requirement as far as
like a standard or anything, but I can't imagine anyone
rising to the level of you know, kind of prominent
conductor that didn't have a degree in music. So you

have your degree in music, you are almost one hundred
percent of the time a former player in an orchestra.
You can just you know, be someone who can play
an instrument and decides right away you want to get
into conducting. So you you go to a civic group
or a high school and you kind of start and
work your way up. But chances are you have played

in an orchestra and that you can play at least
one instrument very very very well, at a very high level,
probably like orchestral professional orchestra level, right, But chances are
that conductor plays more than one instrument, you know, that
can play a little violin, a little piano, maybe even

a little tube every now and then you never know.

Speaker 2 (22:36):
Well then they've captured my heart.

Speaker 1 (22:39):
But if you are that conductor, usually like in a
if you're the conductor for like a city, uh and
there and their their symphony, then you are probably also
the music director. So your job is not just like
all right, I got to get this piece together. It's
I have a full time job of running being the
musical director, running this program, working with a community any

sort of like kind of stuff the conductors probably don't
love doing as far as like, oh, if you've got
you got to go to dinner with these fund funders
and people who are raising money, like all the kind
of stuff that goes along with just as you would
if you were if you ran a theater and you
were directing plays, like the directing of the play is
the least of your job at times, I'm sure.

Speaker 2 (23:26):
Yeah, that's a really good analogy too. Like imagine that
you have like a good like a playhouse in your town. Yeah,
there's like one person who's like running the playhouse, and
they're probably also the lead director. They're the director who
has the highest esteem among the directors probably other directors
that work for too. Same thing. With a symphony or

an opera, you have a lead conductor who's probably also
the musical director, so that in addition to conducting symphonies,
they have to do all the other stuff that you
said too. And then there's assistant directors who might direct
a symphony and they help in other ways, but they
don't have the responsibility heaped on them that the music
musical director does as well. I saw it down to

things like helping design and approve those those programs that
you were handing out to get into. Yeah, they have
their their hands and like basically everything that's going on
for you know, a particular symphony that they're they're working on.

Speaker 1 (24:24):
They have their fingers in every woodwind hole. Yeah, let's
probably have a name.

Speaker 2 (24:31):
Uh, I think it's just holes.

Speaker 1 (24:33):
Yeah great, Hey.

Speaker 2 (24:35):
You nailed it.

Speaker 1 (24:37):
Let's talk about the baton a little bit because when
I when I asked Livia to help us with this article,
I specifically said, you know, what's up with the history
of that thing and what's it all about? And it
hopefully comes as no surprise that the baton is is
not some magical wand that a magician might use. It's
just something that's bigger and then you can see it

better and it's more wavy, and it allows you to
make bigger gestures. Not all conductors use the wand or
the baton, but most of them do these days. And
I think you generally kind of think of that baton
being held in the hand when you think of a conductor.

Speaker 2 (25:14):
Yeah, apparently you can thank Louis Spoor, the German composer
and conductor from the I guess early nineteenth century for
adopting the baton first, And it was a kind of
a cone shaped wooden implement at first, And then I'm
sure Louis born. People who follow were like, I'm getting
carpal tunnel here. Can we use something a little a

little lighter, a little thinner, And so the baton kind
of evolved became longer, a little pointier. It used to
be made of wood or ebony. Today it's much more
likely to be made of like like carbon fiber or
something like that. Yeah, high tech stuff. And I saw
that they're between about ten to twenty six inches in length.

And what they're doing with that, it's like you said,
it emphasizes gestures. And the reason why most conductors do
use a baton is because the size of symphonies today
are so huge. The people in the back need to
see your hands and what they're doing a lot better
than they would have if you had just like a

twenty piece group that you know, we're all sitting all
close up on you.

Speaker 1 (26:23):
Yeah, exactly, did I get that across?

Speaker 2 (26:26):
I want to make sure because I can say it
all over again.

Speaker 1 (26:29):
I think you got across. Okay again, I want to
recommend that Kent Tritle wired video because over about twelve minutes,
an actual conductor really breaks down what they're doing with
their hands. And I'm not going to just repeat what
he said or pretend to actually understand all of that,
but overall what's going on is because most people are

right handed, the right hand is generally the one with
a baton, and it's generally the metronome. It's the timekeeper,
and that is one of the biggest parts to the
job still is keeping the time for everyone to see.
And you have to be really, really, really good at it.

You got to have a great, great sense of tempo.
You know, a drummer probably obviously is somebody who would
be a little more prone to be a good conductor,
I would imagine. But it's very hard to do because,
as Kent Tritele explains, keeping time period is hard and
when he has students, the first lesson is literally just

keeping a sixty second beat, so lowering your hand and
stopping at the bottom every second to a click track
or a metronome, And he said, doing that is just
hard enough. But then when you add you know, one
hundred and twenty beats a minute, that's still kind of
easy because it's just double. But what if it's one
hundred and thirty two, one hundred and forty one right,

seventy three, and you're in this performance and you're adrenaline
and is surging, and somebody might mess up or do
something and that makes you takes you out of your
mindset and you have to like throw out all that
emotion and still be able to keep that perfect beat
with your right hand for everyone to see.

Speaker 2 (28:15):
Yeah, Because the point he was making was that when
when somebody does mess up, or when you're adrenaline is surging,
time starts to take different shape than it does like
under normal circumstances when everything is calm and you're just rehearsing.
But you have to be able to keep that sense
of time no matter what the circumstance. I just think
it's amazing.

Speaker 1 (28:36):
Yeah, Like a drummer in a rock band, you know,
it's it's very common when you perform like a show out,
that you play all of your songs faster than you
do in a rehearsal because you're up there, you're jazz,
and all of a sudden, that drummer behind you instead
of one two, three four counting it out. It's like, well, two, three, four,

and you're the ramones.

Speaker 2 (28:58):
Right, pretty great, No, the ruins are great.

Speaker 1 (29:01):
Yeah, but that's just sort of a thing. And it's
kind of the same thing. You have to be able
to block all that out. You're keeping time with that
right hand and then your left hand. The other thing
your right hand is doing is not just tempo, but entrance,
like when you would wait for the strings to come in.
Your left hand is generally indicating the exit and then

everything else the emotion, the flow, the rising and falling,
whether or not it's punchy and staccato or like really flowy.

Speaker 2 (29:33):
So smooth is Billy D.

Speaker 1 (29:36):
It smooth as Billy D. And while you're doing that
with that left hand and pointing at you know, the
brass section to stop, you still have to be keeping
that perfect beat with the right hand. So again, like
a drummer, you have to have real independence of your
left and right hand.

Speaker 2 (29:51):
Yeah, the left hand can't know what the right hand
is doing, and vice versa. Yeah, And that takes a
lot of practice too, not just keeping time, but like
making your hands do different things at different time while
also keeping tempo. It is like like that's why there's
just really a handful of people running around on the
planet right now. We're qualified to conduct an orchestra because

of all the effort and training and understanding that it
takes to do that. I mean, I thought that was
pretty neat before, but it was just so alien to
me that I just kind of admired it out of
its status in the world of art high art. Now
that I understand it even more, I admire it even further.

I mean, like just what they do is mind blowing.

Speaker 1 (30:39):
Yeah, it's super cool. And just to put a little
button real quick because I know we'll probably get letters.
You know, the right hand is keeping that beat, and
I said, it's always sort of doing that, but the
right hand can take breaks from just that metronomic rhythmic
thing that you're doing. Because sometimes you'll see a conductor
using both hands kind of mirroring one another and opposite directions.

That's when you know, you might be a big sweeping
sort of motion with both hands, but then it'll go
back to kind of keeping that beat. But there are
little breaks here and there with that tempo.

Speaker 2 (31:13):
Yeah. The only thing is is if you're giving your
right hand a break, you don't want to shake the
wrist out or else. Security impact the score. Oh, that's
one thing I said, It impacts the score. The other
thing about the conductor is they're the only person in
that whole orchestra up there performing that has the entire

score in front of them. All the other people are
playing the violent parts, or the tuba parts, or the
obo or bassoon parts. That's what they have in front
of them. They don't know, at least not on paper,
what the people around them are playing, so they have
to rely on the conductor to help to help them
understand who's doing what by watching the conductor at any
given moment.

Speaker 1 (31:53):
Yeah, you know what I couldn't find, And I know
someone will know this because I know for sure we've
had listeners that play in orchestras. But what actually do
they have in front of them, as like a violinist.
I know it's obviously the violin part, but is it
just the violin pages or is it.

Speaker 2 (32:13):
Like really like a Hustler magazine.

Speaker 1 (32:18):
Or or they're you know, like, you can't just only
have your thing. You've got to know kind of what
else is going on a little bit No, because it
seems like that'd be like having only your lines in
a script, right.

Speaker 2 (32:31):
I think that's why some conductors are dictators. There can
be dictators because you are so reliant on them. And
I think you figure it out during practice and rehearsal,
like you understand. But I think, well, what I saw,
they have just their their part in front of them.

Speaker 1 (32:49):
So there's no you know, spaces in between that says
like woodwind part or anything like that.

Speaker 2 (32:55):
I don't know if it says that, but it wouldn't
have the notes the woodwinds are playing.

Speaker 1 (32:59):
No, no, no, that's what I'm saying. I'm saying anything to
indicate where they are in the piece. That's not only
I see. Yeah, like a framework.

Speaker 2 (33:07):
I have no idea. I can make up an answer
if you want, please do. Uh. No, they don't have
any frame of reference.

Speaker 1 (33:15):
Now we'll hear from someone and we'll follow up on that.

Speaker 2 (33:18):
I say, we take another break. I'm two for two
for calling the breaks today.

Speaker 1 (33:22):
Nice work.

Speaker 2 (33:23):
Uh And then we'll come back and we'll talk about well, well,
we'll answer a question. Okay, I'm not even gonna say
what the question is.

Speaker 1 (33:31):
I think they know.

Speaker 2 (33:57):
All right, Chuck, So here's the question. Do you really
need a conductor to perform a symphony as an orchestra,
Well do you huh?

Speaker 1 (34:08):
Yeah, great question, because you know when you see that
kind of showmanship up there, and you might think, I mean,
for me personally, I'm there for that, like I want
to see my conductor just going off, and I want
to see hair flying around yea, and I want to
see somebody really getting into it. Other might people might
be turned off by that. We should mention that. Tritle

and others confirmed that, like, hey, that's that's part of it.
But you can't let that, let that get in the
way of things. But all that sort of leads to
what you're saying is like, do we even need these
people up there?

Speaker 2 (34:43):

Speaker 1 (34:43):
And there have been efforts to find that out right.

Speaker 2 (34:47):
Yeah. There's a very famous conductor named Andre Previn who
I've even heard of. He too, is or was, I'm
not sure when he stopped. He was definitely performing up
until recently if he's not still, but he was the
conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. When a TV documentary
back in nineteen seventy three was made, it was called
Who Needs a Conductor? Yeah, And he started out conducting

the London Symphony Orchestra with Beethoven's Fifth Right, Yeah, they
get started and going and he's conducting, and then all
of a sudden he just stops and exits the stage,
and the orchestra just keeps going without literally without missing
a beat, and they perform Beethoven's Fifth Symphony for the
rest of the time without any incident or hardship. And

that does kind of lead to the question like, could
you just do away with conductors? The answer seems to
be to an extent, but you really wouldn't want the
results as like a concert going public, and really no,
the answers kind of no, you don't want to do
away with conductors.

Speaker 1 (35:52):
Yeah, And I think a lot of it has to
do with everything we talked about that has everything to
do with anything other than just standing there and your arms,
like all the preparation, leading the rehearsal, being the director
of their performance. And Livia points out that you know
that singular sort of vision for how you're going to

do the piece. If you don't have that, then it's
not saying that people will all just be doing their
own thing and it would be garbage, but getting everyone
on the same page eventually which is where you would
have to get to to perform it in front of people.
I would think that would just be a nightmare trying
to get that many people on the same page as
far as that interpretation.

Speaker 2 (36:34):
Right, I mean, think about it. If you've got a
beef between your tuba player and your bassoon player, and
everybody is talking about how, you know, how this one
part's going to be played, and they're disagreeing, who's gonna
win out right? That's where the conductor comes in. The
conductor says, I'm winning out both of you. Shut up,

shut up, and they sit down and shut up, and
you do what the conductor tells him to.

Speaker 1 (37:01):
Yeah, tuba would win though, because the old saying in
the in the symphony, you don't with the tuba player.

Speaker 2 (37:08):
It's true. Goodbye sixth grade classes.

Speaker 1 (37:11):
Right, So should we mention if you mentioned Andre Previn?
Of course? Should we go over a few of these
other famous conductors.

Speaker 2 (37:20):
Yeah, let's start with Tuscanini.

Speaker 1 (37:23):
Yeah, you mean Arturo Tuscanini.

Speaker 2 (37:26):
Very nice. That is a spinning image impression of how
Tuscanini talked.

Speaker 1 (37:32):
So Tuscanini was obviously Italian, directed the met Opera in
New York and Tuscanini sort of spanned a couple of
time periods I'm bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and
was a child prodigy and kind of one thing he
was known for was his photographic memory, such that his

eyesight failed later in his career and he still could
conduct because he had these orchestral pieces, you know, just
committed to his memory.

Speaker 2 (38:02):
Yeah, and apparently he was one of the ones who
started to form this image of like the temperamental, dictatorial conductor, right, Yeah,
But I also read that he was very well known
for working very closely with musicians to help get things,
you know, hammered out like he was a dedicated leader.

I guess so he you know, he was a very
complex and complicated person, and he helped kind of lay
the groundwork for what the general public understood is the
maestro and what was acceptable, some of which is kind
of unacceptable. But he overall seems to have been generally,
at the very least a great conductor, if not a

you know, so so person. But you know who isn't.

Speaker 1 (38:48):
Yeah, well, you know it's a position of power. And
have you seen the movie.

Speaker 2 (38:52):
Tar I No, I don't know what you're talking about.

Speaker 1 (38:55):
It's oh god is Tar? No? No, oh god, no,
people are screaming at me right now. It's uh. It's
a movie about a woman who is a conductor, made
by Todd Fields, one of the few movies he's directed. Oh,

Kate Blanchad, of course.

Speaker 2 (39:19):
Oh you're talking about Tron.

Speaker 1 (39:23):
Oh man, you just you're you're in a roll today.
Huh uh No, this is out a couple of years ago.
I feel like, no, I haven't heard of it. Yeah,
twenty twenty two, t Ar. And it's a movie about
a woman, Lydia Tar, who is a conductor, and kind
of like a little bit of the how power can

go wrong in that position, And it just seems like
it is one of those positions where you know, hopefully
you use your power wisely, but like you mentioned, with
these temper tantrums and dictator dictatorial sort of methods, it's
definitely a position that can historically get out of hand.

Speaker 2 (40:02):
Oh and Tuscanini also is well known for as a
philanderer too, And I think that that was a big
deal during the twentieth century for some of those maestro conductors.
They were playboys, to say the least. For sure, and
they did, and they found some of their conquests from
their orchestra. And yeah, I mean today we look back
when we're like, yes, that's an abusive power. You're abusing

your power because you're in such a powerful position. These
people are looking up to you, and you're leveraging that
to sleep with them. So that's like one of the
big criticisms that twentieth century maestro have leveled at them.
And then they say like, hey, we were all like
Boomers and Boomer's parents. This is what we did.

Speaker 1 (40:46):
Well, talking and touches on that stuff. So I think
you'd like it. You and you me should watch it.

Speaker 2 (40:50):
Oh, I like Kate Blanchette any day, she's great.

Speaker 1 (40:53):
I'll mention Leonard Bernstein another famous conductor. Yeah, he's great,
gentleman from Massachusetts, from Lawrence, mass and was the first
American conductor and musical director of the New York Philharmonic
from fifty eight to sixty nine and really just sort
of brought classical music to a really big audience. And

one thing we haven't talked about is just the impact
that the recording industry and recording orchestras did not only
for just making classical music and orchestral music more popular
and bringing it to the masses, but making some of
these conductors stars because the record you got wasn't just
Beethoven's Knight. That was you know, Leonard Bernstein and the

New York Philharmonic to Beethoven's Knight.

Speaker 2 (41:38):
Yeah, pretty cool. We also we can't not mention von Carrion,
Herbert von Carrajon. He was one of those bad boy maestros,
but he was also well known as being like one
of the greatest that's ever lived too. Like that's the
other thing too, That's why these guys got away with
this is because they were so good at what they did.

They were just looked up to in so many ways.
It just excused all this other behavior. And then there's yeah,
that's one thing. I'm glad you brought that up. Carayon
was a literal Nazi. He was born in Austria. He
was a member of the Nazi Party, and he's like,
we're just gonna leave that behind the past. Let's not
talk about that anymore.

Speaker 1 (42:20):
Yeah, he was to be fair, he was cleared by
an Allied tribunal, but that sort of followed him through
his career for sure, as it does, even though it
didn't seem to hurt it that much.

Speaker 2 (42:29):
No. On the other side of the isle is Carlos Kleeber,
whose father Eric Kleeber, was also a conductor, and they
left Germany because of the Nazis because they were like
Nazis suck. So they moved to Argentina and Carlos Kleeber
developed his craft there and became a very well known
not just conductor, but recluse and carry on. Said that

Kleeber only conducts when the fridge is empty, like he
just for the last like ten or twenty years of
his life, he just he did not want to conduct.
He conducted only what he wanted to and he only
did it when he absolutely had two basically.

Speaker 1 (43:04):
Yeah, I want to shout out yol Levy, who this
was the musical director at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra starting
in nineteen eighty eight for about twelve years, and I
just remember it was a very big deal. Yo Levy
really kind of vaulted Atlanta's Symphony into a world class
organization and really put him on the map as far

as you know, it was Atlanta and it was the
late eighties, and so I think there was this idea
of like you know, the sort of the third Area
Podunk Symphony, yea, and he really really changed that. In
Atlanta is a world class symphony now being directed musical
director and lee conductor by Natalie Stutzman, who was the

first woman to be musical director here in Atlanta. And
it's a good time to talk about women because we
probably said he quite a bit. The history of conductor
is just rife with white European men. In general, I
think eleven percent of musical directors were women, and this

is a twenty twenty three report, and you know that's
changing more and more. There have been women here and there.
Cap Lanchette certainly one of them, but we got one
here in Atlanta, Natalie Stutzman. That's neat French.

Speaker 2 (44:26):
Yeah. There was a woman conductor who was back in
the early twentieth century, Antonio Rico. She was like the
first one. But I read that like after the first
decade or so of her, like the novelty kind of
wore off, and she had trouble finding work. So she's like, final,
just found my own symphony, and she did in Denver,

and she kept that position for decades until her death.
And I think nineteen eighty nine, but she really opened
the door for female conductors to come.

Speaker 1 (44:55):
Yeah. Absolutely, And we're talking about a lot of Americans too,
you know, considering where classical music came from, not surprising
that Europeans are mainly conductors. But they've also pointed out that,
like you know, they they don't do it well here
in America as far as having a real system in place,

right to get great young assistant conductors and things like that,
a real pathway to leading like a major orchestra in
the United States, and that's something that they're i think
trying to work on and get better at.

Speaker 2 (45:30):
Yeah, which would be a big deal because among conductors
and musical directors it's mostly white European men. If you
look at assistant directors, it's much more diverse. So if
you can start figuring out how to promote talent from there,
then yeah, you'd have the whole field would be a
lot more diverse, which is great. Anytime you ad diversity,

things expand.

Speaker 1 (45:53):
Yeah, and you're right when you look at the ranks
of assistants and then even on down the line, because
there are many many people that together, more and more
people of color getting involved. I think only four the
twenty five largest ensembles in the United States. Twenty one
of the twenty five are European. Still, so still a

lot of work to do.

Speaker 2 (46:17):
Yeah. Oh, one more person I want to shout out
is Simon Raddle. He's with the Berlin Philharmonic, which is
typically either the first or second best symphony in the world,
depending on who is rating it at the time. I
also saw Cleveland very frequently falls into the top five

to ten.

Speaker 1 (46:40):
Nice Cleveland rocks, Yeah, exactly.

Speaker 2 (46:43):
But Simon Rattle, I think is kind of emblematic of
the way that conductors are going these days. He started
instituting free lunchtime concerts, educational programs for underserved communities, streaming
stuff online. He's doing more twentieth century composed, not just
people who've been dead for a couple hundred years.

Speaker 1 (47:03):

Speaker 2 (47:03):
So it's really like it's just it's expanding. I think
it's always good when things expand, because it's not like
they're going to just abandon all the traditional stuff. You can't,
why would you. But that doesn't mean you can't also
incorporate new stuff too. Why do you have to go
see the same thing year after year?

Speaker 1 (47:21):
Casual Friday, flip flop Wednesday.

Speaker 2 (47:24):
That's right, Taco Tuesday, Taco Tuesday.

Speaker 1 (47:28):
Yeah, that's perfect man. I want to be in that organ.

Speaker 2 (47:30):
Yeah for sure. Well, if you want to know more
about conductors, just go online and start watching some videos
of them. It's pretty fun and you'll hear some pretty
good music too. You might even hear something you heard
and die hard. And since I said that, it's time
for listener mail, I'm gonna call this.

Speaker 1 (47:47):
Hey, let's get into the weeds with quartz vibration.

Speaker 2 (47:50):
Oh no, I saw this one.

Speaker 1 (47:52):
There were a couple of these, because there are some
people out there that know a lot more about this
than we do. Thankfully. Hey, guys, been a consistent listener
for about ten years. Your enlightenment and witty banter has
seen me through many good times and bad. I'm a
computer design engineer and listen to the Atomic Clock episode yesterday.
I want to clarify what seems to be a misunderstanding
about the resident frequency of quurts. You commented that Courts

repeatedly vibrates at thirty two, seven hundred and sixty eight
hertz when energize, which is often the case of many
time pieces, but Quurtz does not inherently vibrate at thirty
two point seven to six eight killer herts. Yeah, that
was just different than the herts.

Speaker 2 (48:31):

Speaker 1 (48:32):
Sorry, there would have to be some sort of divine
miracle for courts to vibrate at thirty two thousand, seven
hundred and sixty eight herts, which just happens to be a
very computer friendly number for a time piece. As you know,
almost all computers are designed to work based on ones
and zeros, and those binary numbers are stored as a
vector of binary digits bits. Hey, so they tend to

support a number of range a number range up to
some value. That's a power of two point three two
seven six ' eight just happens to be two to
the power of fifteen, which means thirty two thy seven
hundred and sixty eight is the upper limit represented by
a fifteen bit digito. Whow by a fifteen bit number

in a computer that can count the ticks and a
digital watch before incrementing the seconds.

Speaker 2 (49:23):
Whoo, Now I know how other people feel when I
try to explain something.

Speaker 1 (49:28):
Scott finishes up by saying, quartz crystal will naturally have
a variable resonant frequency depending on its size, though it
could be thirty two point seven to six a killer
hertz or two megahertz or two hundred megahertz depending on
its size. The mass produced thirty two point seven six
a killer hertz crystal, commonly used in time pieces, was
specifically grown and laser trimmed to the exact size and

shape to make it computer and time piece friendly. I
actually finally understand. That is excellent, Scott, he says, come
see us in San Jose, California sometime.

Speaker 2 (50:01):
Yeah. Nice, Scott, thank you very much. We have to
go back and reread that one so I can absorb
it fully.

Speaker 1 (50:06):
Sure you will, I will, okay.

Speaker 2 (50:10):
Fine, If you want to be like Scott and explain
something to us in depth, we love that kind of thing.
It just might take us reading it a couple of times.
You can send that email to stuff podcast at iHeartRadio
dot com.

Speaker 1 (50:28):
Stuff you Should Know is a production of iHeartRadio. For
more podcasts my heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts,
or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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