Essentials in Conducting
by Karl Wilson Gehrkens
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There are eight elements upon which expression in instrumental music rests. These are:

1. Rhythm 2. Melody 3. Harmony 4. Pitch registers 5. Timbre 6. Phrasing 7. Tempo 8. Dynamics

Of these, the composer is able to indicate exactly the first four, to convey his meaning fairly well in the fifth and sixth, but to give only a relative idea of the seventh and eighth. The interpreter is thus concerned with the first four only as it becomes necessary for him to find out from the notation what the composer intended to express. On the other hand, he is considerably concerned with the fifth and sixth factors (timbre and phrasing) and has the main responsibility in the last two (tempo and dynamics). This being the case, we shall treat tempo and dynamics first of all, as being the two primary factors of expression with which the conductor is concerned.


Wagner, in his famous essay on conducting, takes the rather radical ground that everything else is dependent upon the proper selection and management of tempo. He says:[12]

The whole duty of the conductor is comprised in his ability always to indicate the right tempo. His choice of tempi will show whether he understands the piece or not.... The true tempo induces correct force and expression.

[Footnote 12: Wagner, On Conducting, translated by Dannreuther, p. 20.]

In another place in the same work he treats the matter further, as follows: (p. 34)

Obviously the proper pace of a piece of music is determined by the particular character of the rendering it requires. The question therefore comes to this: Does the sustained, the cantilena, predominate, or the rhythmical movement? The conductor should lead accordingly.

It is doubtful whether many modern conductors would entirely agree with Wagner's statement that correct tempo always "induces correct force and expression." Nevertheless tempo is so important that probably no one will quarrel with us if we at least give it first place in the order in which the elements of expression are discussed.

In modern music the composer indicates the tempos of the various movements much more definitely than was true in earlier days, so it would seem as if not nearly so much responsibility rested upon the conductor; and yet there is still a wide difference of opinion among musicians about the matter, and in many cases the conductor substitutes his own judgment for that of the composer, assuming that the latter either made a mistake in indicating the tempo, or else that he had not tried the composition at the tempo preferred by the conductor, and therefore did not realize how much more effective it would be that way.


In the main, there are five methods upon which the conductor depends for determining the correct tempo of a composition. These are:

1. The metronome indication, found at the beginning of most modern scores.

2. The tempo or mood expressions (andante, allegro, adagio, et cetera), which have been in universal use for two centuries or more, and which are found in practically all music, even when a metronome indication is also given.

3. The swing and, in vocal music, the general spirit of the text.

4. Tradition.

5. Individual judgment of tempo as depending upon and resulting from the "quality" of the music.

Of these, the fifth, viz., individual judgment is most important, and is the court of final resort in the case of the mature musician; but the amateur who has had but little experience and who is therefore without any well developed musical taste must depend largely upon his metronome, upon his knowledge of Italian tempo terms, and upon tradition. A brief discussion of these matters will accordingly be in order at this time.


The metronome[13] is a sort of clock with inverted pendulum, the ticks or clicks or which can be regulated as to rate of speed by means of a sliding weight. When this weight is set at the point marked 64, for example, the metronome gives sixty-four clicks per minute; when set at 84, or 112, corresponding numbers of clicks per minute result; so that in this way the composer is able to indicate precisely the rate of speed of his composition by indicating the number of beats per minute. The indication [quarter-note symbol] = 84 means that the sliding weight is to be set at the point marked 84, the metronome then clicking eighty-four times per minute, each of these clicks indicating a quarter-note. But if the marking is [half-note symbol] = 64, this means that sixty-four half-notes are to be performed in a minute,—a tempo equal to one hundred and twenty-eight quarter-notes in the same composition. In compound measures such as 6-8, 9-8, et cetera, the tempo indication shows the number of eighth-notes per minute if the composition is in slow tempo; but in moderate and rapid tempos the direction is usually given by taking the dotted-quarter-note as the beat unit, thus: [dotted quarter-note symbol] = 84. It is of course obvious that in this case the composer is thinking of each measure as having only two or three beats instead of six or nine.

[Footnote 13: The metronome is supposed to have been invented, or at least perfected, by a Bavarian named Maelzel, about 1815, and for many years the Maelzel metronome was the only one in existence. Hence the letters M.M., still found in many scores, in connection with tempo indications.]


Many instrumental compositions (particularly the older ones) are not provided by the composer with definite tempo directions; and in this case the Italian tempo terms usually give at least a clue to what the composer has in mind. These terms do not of course give us the precise tempo, but by indicating the mood of a composition they at least help one to determine the rate of speed (adagio—at ease; allegro—cheerful; largo—large, broad; andante—going; et cetera). A comprehensive knowledge of these terms from the twofold standpoint of definition and derivation is indispensable to the conductor. The most common of them are therefore defined at this point. They are given in groups in order that the student may note how much the various terms overlap in meaning.

THE VERY SLOWEST TEMPO larghissimo (superlative of largo) adagissimo (superlative of adagio) lentissimo (superlative of lento)

A VERY SLOW TEMPO largo (from Latin largus, meaning broad, large) adagio (at ease) lento (slow)

A SLOW TEMPO larghetto (diminutive of largo) adagietto (diminutive of adagio)

A MODERATELY SLOW TEMPO andante (going or walking) andantino (diminutive of andante and therefore meaning literally "going less," but because of a misconception of meaning now often understood as meaning slightly faster than andante)


A MODERATELY RAPID TEMPO allegro (cheerful) allegretto (diminutive of allegro; a little slower than allegro)

A VERY RAPID TEMPO con moto (with motion) vivo (lively) vivace (vivacious) presto (quick) presto assai (very quick)

THE MOST RAPID TEMPO POSSIBLE prestissimo (superlative of presto) vivacissimo (superlative of vivace) allegrissimo (superlative of allegro) prestissimo possibile (hypersuperlative of presto)

The expressions given above are frequently used in combination with one another, and with certain auxiliary terms, but to attempt to define these combinations in this book would be altogether impracticable. The conductor should however understand the significance of the following qualifying expressions:

non tanto (not too much) non troppo (not too much) ma non tanto (but not too much) ma non troppo (but not too much)

These expressions are used by the composer as a warning to the performer not to overdo any indicated effect. Thus, largo, ma non troppo means that the composition is to be taken slowly, but not too slowly. Presto (ma) non troppo, on the other hand, indicates a rapid tempo, but not too rapid. For a fuller discussion of these matters, see the author's text book on terminology.[14]

[Footnote 14: Gehrkens, Music Notation and Terminology. The A.S. Barnes Co., New York.]

The third means of finding tempo has already been discussed, (see p. 45) and the fifth needs no further explanation; but a word should perhaps be said to the amateur about the matter of tradition. The young conductor must not fail to take into consideration the fact that there has grown up, in connection with many of the classics, a well defined idea of the tempos most appropriate to their rendition, and that any pronounced departure from this traditional tempo is apt to result in unfavorable criticism. Tradition is of course apt to make us hide-bound in all sorts of ways, and yet in many respects it is a very good thing, and before our conductor attempts to direct standard works it will be well for him to hear them rendered by some of the better organizations, so that he may ascertain what the traditional tempo is. In this way he may at least avoid the accusation of ignorance which might otherwise be made. This latter point will remind the reader of the advice already so frequently given—viz., "study music and listen to music a long time before you attempt very much conducting."


Our treatment of tempo thus far has taken cognizance of only the generalized tempo of the movement, and we have not discussed at all the much more difficult matter of variation in tempo. The more evident changes of this sort are indicated by the composer through such expressions as ritardando, accelerando, et cetera; and it may be well to give at this point a list of the commoner of these terms together with their meanings. Obviously, such indications are of two general types dealing respectively with increasing and decreasing speed, and we shall accordingly give the definitions in two classes:


1. A gradual acceleration accelerando affrettando stringendo poco a poco animato

2. A definitely faster tempo at once piu allegro piu presto piu animato piu mosso piu tosto piu stretto un poco animato


1. A gradual retard ritardando rallentando slentando

2. A definitely slower tempo at once piu lento meno mosso ritenuto

3. A slower tempo combined with an increase in power largando } allargando } (literally, "becoming broad")

4. A slower tempo combined with a decrease in power morendo } perdendo } perdendosi } (Usually translated, "gradually dying away") calando } smorzando }

(After any of the terms in the above list, a return to the normal tempo is indicated by such expressions as a tempo, tempo primo, et cetera.)


But in addition to the variations in tempo more or less definitely indicated by the composer there are (particularly in modern music) innumerable tempo fluctuations of a much subtler nature; and since these are now recognized as a part of really artistic choral and orchestral interpretation, (as they have long formed an indispensable element in expressive piano performance) a brief discussion of their nature will be included before closing this chapter.

In some cases a variable tempo is asked for by the composer by means of one of the following expressions:

tempo rubato (literally, "robbed time") ad libitum (at pleasure) a piacere (at pleasure) a capriccio (at the caprice) agitato (agitated)

(The term tempo giusto—in exact tempo—is the opposite of the above expressions, and is used to indicate that the music is to be performed in steady tempo.)

In the majority of cases, however, the composer gives no indication whatsoever, and the whole responsibility therefore rests upon the performer or conductor. It is because of this latter fact that the amateur must study these matters indefatigably. The advent of a more elastic rhythm and tempo has undoubtedly made all musical performance infinitely more pleasurable to the listener than it formerly was; but unfortunately (especially since the advent of Chopin's music) there has been a great deal of misunderstanding as to the use and meaning of this valuable new expressional element.

Tempo rubato may be compared to speaking certain words more slowly or more rapidly in order that the essential meaning of the entire sentence may be more strongly impressed upon the listener. It must not however break up the continuity of the tempo; as one writer has said "we must bend the tempo, but not break it." Another well-known author, in treating the same point, states that[15]

Freedom in tempo does not mean unsteadiness.... We must have in music the sense of equilibrium, of stability. A careless, spasmodic hurrying and retarding leads only to flabbiness and inconsequence.

[Footnote 15: Dickinson, The Education of a Music Lover, p. 21.]

The most common kind of rubato is probably that in which the first part of the phrase (up to the climax) is accelerated, the climacteric tone lingered upon slightly, then the remainder of the phrase rendered a tempo or possibly slightly ritardando. But there are many phrases that demand a totally different sort of treatment; e.g., a ritardando in the first part instead of an accelerando. Which is the appropriate way of delivering any particular phrase must be determined in every case by musical feeling.

The thing that the beginner is apt to forget at the period when his musical feeling though sincere is yet characterized by lack of refinement, is that these nuances must always be subtle, and that the listener ought not to have fluctuations in tempo thrust in his face at every turn. Indeed we may say that he should hardly know that they are present, unless he is making a definite attempt to analyze the performance. The familiar story of Chopin's breathing toward a candle flame and making it flicker slightly, with the remark, "That is my rubato," then blowing it violently out and saying "This is yours," is quite to the point in this connection.

It is of course understood that rubato is to be employed almost exclusively in moderate or slow tempos, having little or no place in rapid, strongly rhythmic music. It should also be remarked that the more severe the form of the music,—the more architectonic it is—the less variation in tempo should there be in its rendition, for in this type of music the expression is primarily intellectual. Such instrumental works (of which certain compositions of Bach and Mozart are typical) must not be played sentimentally, as a modern English writer has remarked, and yet they must be played with sentiment. The remarks of this same author may well be quoted in closing this discussion:[16]

Rubato is necessary in emotional music and is an excellent means of picturing longing, persuading, dreaming, et cetera. That is why its use is so characteristic in performing the works of the romantic school and why it must be used with such caution in the classics. The classic must be clear as daylight—the structure must be evident even on the surface; but the romantic composition needs often to be played in a veiled manner in order to produce atmosphere. In such a case the rhythm is veiled as it were, draped in gauze, but the rhythmic design is there under the veil just the same. To express calmness, decision, et cetera, avoid rubato.

[Footnote 16: Matthay, Musical Interpretation, p. 88.]

It must now be evident to the reader that this whole matter of musical nuance is too subtle to be treated adequately in a book of this character, and it becomes necessary for us once more to advise the amateur to study music, both vocal and instrumental, in order that his latent musical feeling may be developed into a ripe and adequate musical taste.


In concluding the chapter let us emphasize the fact that the establishing of a tempo is a matter of muscle even more than of mind, and that before beginning to beat time the conductor should have the tempo recorded in his muscular memory. Before rising to conduct a composition then let him feel its tempo in the muscles of the arm and hand wielding the baton; for if not thus felt, the work will rarely be begun with a clearly defined rate of speed. This consideration receives added weight when it is recalled that if the conductor does not set the tempo, the chorus accompanist or first violinist will, and they, not having studied the music from this standpoint, will rarely succeed in hitting upon the correct rate of movement.






Another important factor in the expressive rendition of music is dynamics, i.e., the relative loudness and softness of tone. The composer is supposed to have a fairly large share in this phase of expression, and in modern music always indicates in the score at least the most important dynamic changes that he has in mind. But our observation of musical performances tends to make us feel that in this aspect, even more than in tempo changes, it is the conductor or performer who must bear the greater responsibility, and that the amount of dynamic contrast to be employed certainly depends entirely upon the taste of the conductor or performer.

It is safe to say that the dynamic factor is easier to control than is the tempo, and yet in spite of this fact, there is no question but that the rendition of most choral and orchestral music could be made much more interesting if it could be given with a greater variety of dynamic shading. Nor is there, in our opinion, any question but that the changes from forte to piano and vice versa, the gradually worked up crescendos, the vigorous accents on certain important tones or chords, together with those subtler shadings often referred to as dynamic nuances, may become just as important and powerful a means of conveying emotional effects as tempo. Joy and triumph and exuberance are of course expressed by forte and fortissimo effects (the crowd at a football game does not whisper its approval when its own team has made a touch-down), but the image of a mother singing a lullaby would demand altogether different dynamic treatment.

The crescendo is one of the most powerful means of expression that the composer has at his disposal—especially in writing for the modern orchestra, but there seems to be a good deal of misunderstanding on the part of amateur conductors and performers about the real meaning of the term. Crescendo does not mean forte; indeed Weingartner (op. cit., p. 6) quotes von Buelow as remarking that crescendo signifies piano,—meaning of course that a crescendo usually implies a soft beginning.

It should perhaps be noted at this point that there are two varieties of crescendo; one being produced by performing succeeding tones each more loudly than the one immediately preceding it; the other by prolonging the same tone and increasing its power gradually as it continues to sound. The first type is much commoner than the second, and is indeed the one kind of crescendo that is possible in piano playing; but the second variety can be secured in the case of an organ with swell box, the human voice, and in both string and wind orchestral instruments. Since some of the most beautiful musical effects may be produced by the use of this second type of crescendo, it should be employed very much more than it is in choral and orchestral music. The English conductor Coward takes the ground that the swell (a combination of crescendo and diminuendo) is the most powerful choral effect in existence.[17]

[Footnote 17: Coward, Choral Technique and Interpretation, p. 112.]

When the composer wishes to build up a really tremendous climax and sweep all before him by the intensity of the emotional excitement generated, he frequently indicates an increase in the amount of tone, coupled with a very gradual acceleration in tempo, all proceeding by slow degrees, and perhaps accompanied by a rise from a low pitch register to higher ones. If on the other hand, he wants to let down in emotional intensity, he does the opposite of all these things. The combination of crescendo and ritardando is also tremendously effective.

In order to bring together in fairly comprehensive array the terms that are ordinarily used by the composer to indicate various expressional effects, a table of the most frequently encountered dynamic expressions is here included.

Pianississimo (ppp) } pianissimo possibile } (as softly as possible)

pianissimo (pp) (superlative of piano—very softly)

piano (p) (softly)

piu piano (more softly)

il piu piano (most softly)

piano assai (very softly)

mezzo-piano (mp) (moderately softly)

forte (f) (loudly)

fortissimo (ff) (superlative of forte—very loudly)

fortississimo (fff) (as loudly as possible)

piu forte (more loudly)

il piu forte (most loudly)

il piu forte possibile (as loudly as possible)

mezzo forte (mf) (moderately loudly)

forte-piano (fp) (loudly followed immediately by softly)

forzando (z) } (These words and signs indicate that sforzando (sf or sfz) } a single tone or chord is to be forzato (fz) } accented, the amount of stress sforzato (sf or sfz) } depending upon the character of the [accent hairpin symbol] or } passage and of the composition) [accent symbol] }

rinforzando (rinf) } (reinforced; a definite increase in power rinforzato (rfz) } extending through a phrase or passage)

crescendo (cresc. or [crescendo symbol]) (gradually becoming louder)

decrescendo (decresc. or } [decrescendo symbol]) } (gradually becoming softer) diminuendo (dim. or } [diminuendo symbol]) }

crescendo poco a poco (becoming louder little by little)

crescendo subito (becoming louder immediately)

crescendo molto (becoming much louder)

crescendo al fortissimo (becoming gradually louder until the fortissimo point has been reached)

crescendo poi diminuendo } (gradually louder then crescendo e diminuendo } gradually softer)

crescendo ed animando (gradually louder and faster)

diminuendo al pianissimo (becoming gradually softer until the pianissimo point is reached)

morendo } perdendosi } (gradually dying away, i.e., becoming slower smorzando } and softer by very small degrees) calando }

con amore (with tenderness)

con bravura (with boldness)

con energia (with energy)

con espressione } espressivo } (with expression)

con brio (with brilliancy)

con fuoco (with fire)

con passione (with passion)

con grazia (with grace)

con tenerezza (with tenderness)

dolce (gently) (literally, sweetly)

giocoso (humorously) (cf. jocose)

giojoso (joyfully) (cf. joyous)

con maesta } maestoso } (majestically)

pastorale (in pastoral, i.e., in simple and unaffected style)

pomposo (pompously)

scherzando } scherzo } (jokingly)

sotto voce (with subdued voice)

We shall close our discussion of the subject of dynamics with a brief presentation of a few practical matters with which every amateur conductor should be familiar.

The pianissimo of choruses and orchestras is seldom soft enough. The extreme limit of soft tone is very effective in both choral and orchestral music, and most conductors seem to have no adequate notion of how soft the tone may be made in such passages. This is especially true of chorus music in the church service; and even the gospel singer Sankey is said to have found that the softest rather than the loudest singing was spiritually the most impressive.[18]

[Footnote 18: On the other hand, the criticism has been made in recent years that certain orchestral conductors have not sufficiently taken into consideration the size and acoustics of the auditoriums in which they were conducting, and have made their pianissimos so soft that nothing at all could be heard in the back of the room. In order to satisfy himself that the tone is as soft as possible, and yet that it is audible, it will be well for the conductor to station some one of good judgment in the back of the auditorium during the concert, this person later reporting to the conductor in some detail the effect of the performance.]

Pianissimo singing or playing does not imply a slower tempo, and in working with very soft passages the conductor must be constantly on guard lest the performers begin to "drag." If the same virile and spirited response is insisted upon in such places as is demanded in ordinary passages, the effect will be greatly improved, and the singing moreover will not be nearly so likely to fall from the pitch.

The most important voice from the standpoint of melody must in some way be made to stand out above the other parts. This may be done in two ways:

1. By making the melody louder than the other parts.

2. By subduing the other parts sufficiently to make the melody prominent by contrast.

The second method is frequently the better of the two, and should more frequently be made use of in ensemble music than is now the case in amateur performance.

The conductor of the Russian Symphony Orchestra, Modeste Altschuler, remarks on this point:

A melody runs through every piece, like a road through a country hillside. The art of conducting is to clear the way for this melody, to see that no other instruments interfere with those which are at the moment enunciating the theme. It is something like steering an automobile. When the violins, for instance, have the tune, I see to it that nobody hurries it or drags it or covers it up.

In polyphonic music containing imitative passages, the part having the subject must be louder than the rest, especially at its first entrance. This is of course merely a corollary of the general proposition explained under number three, above.

In vocal music the accent and crescendo marks provided by the composer are often intended merely to indicate the proper pronunciation of some part of the text. Often, too, they assist in the declamation of the text by indicating the climax of the phrase, i.e., the point of greatest emphasis.

The dynamic directions provided by the composer are intended to indicate only the broader and more obvious effects, and it will be necessary for the performer to introduce many changes not indicated in the score. Professor Edward Dickinson, in referring to this matter in connection with piano playing, remarks:[19]

After all, it is only the broader, more general scheme of light and shade that is furnished by the composer; the finer gradations, those subtle and immeasurable modifications of dynamic value which make a composition a palpitating, coruscating thing of beauty, are wholly under the player's will.

[Footnote 19: Dickinson, The Education of a Music Lover, p. 123.]

In concluding our discussion of dynamics, let us emphasize again the fact that all expression signs are relative, never absolute, and that piano, crescendo, sforzando, et cetera, are not intended to convey to the performer any definite degree of power. It is because of misunderstanding with regard to this point that dynamic effects are so frequently overdone by amateurs, both conductors and performers seeming to imagine that every time the word crescendo occurs the performers are to bow or blow or sing at the very top of their power; and that sforzando means a violent accent approaching the effect of a blast of dynamite, whether occurring in the midst of a vigorous, spirited movement, or in a tender lullaby. Berlioz, in the treatise on conducting appended to his monumental work on Orchestration, says:[20]

A conductor often demands from his players an exaggeration of the dynamic nuances, either in this way to give proof of his ardor, or because he lacks fineness of musical perception. Simple shadings then become thick blurs, accents become passionate shrieks. The effects intended by the poor composer are quite distorted and coarsened, and the attempts of the conductor to be artistic, however honest they may be, remind us of the tenderness of the ass in the fable, who knocked his master down in trying to caress him.

[Footnote 20: Berlioz, A Treatise on Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration, p. 255.]






Having devoted considerable space to discussing the two expressional elements for which the composer is mainly responsible, let us now present briefly certain matters connected with the other six elements in our list (see p. 46). The two described as being partly controlled by composer and partly by the interpreter are timbre and phrasing, and we shall accordingly treat these first. Timbre or tone-quality is less important than either tempo or dynamics, and is obviously less under the control of the conductor. The vocalist may be induced to sing more loudly or the violinist to play more rapidly, but it is often impossible to get either to so modify his actual tone quality as to make his rendition more expressive. And yet, in spite of this difficulty, there are many passages in both choral and orchestral music in which the essential significance depends absolutely upon beauty or ugliness or plaintiveness or boldness of tone; and especially in choral music is it possible for the conductor to induce his chorus to bring out many more such effects than is usually done. A positively ugly and raspy vocal tone may convey a certain dramatic effect that no mere variation in dynamics is able to bring about, an example of this being found in the Chorus of People who sing at various points in the cantata by Dubois called The Seven Last Words of Christ. Another very short passage of the same sort is found in Stainer's Crucifixion in the scene at the cross. Mr. Coward has written more in detail upon this point than anyone else, and we may well quote his discussion of the topic "characterization."[21]

[Footnote 21: Coward, Choral Technique and Interpretation, p. 73.]

One of the distinguishing features of modern choral technique is what I term "characterization," or realism of the sentiment expressed in the music. Formerly this kind of singing was tabooed to such an extent that when in rehearsals and at concerts I induced the Sheffield Musical Union to sing with graphic power musicians of the old school voted me a mad enthusiast, extravagant, theatrical, ultra, and many other things of the same sort. These people wondered why I wanted variety of tone color—who had ever heard of such a demand from a choir?—and many of my friends even thought I was demanding too much when, in rehearsing Berlioz's Faust, I asked for something harder in tone than the usual fluty, mellifluous sound in order to depict the hearty laugh of the peasants in the first chorus. They were almost scandalized when I asked for a somewhat raucous, devil-may-care carousal, tone in the "Auerbach's Wine-cellar" scene, and when a fiendish, snarling utterance was called for in the "Pandemonium" scene they thought I was mad. However, the performance settled all these objections. It was seen by contrast how ridiculous it was for a choir to laugh like Lord Dundreary with a sort of throaty gurgle; how inane it was to depict wine-cellar revelry with voices suggesting the sentimental drawing-room tenor, and how insipid it was to portray fiendish glee within hell's portals with the staid decorum of a body of local preachers of irreproachable character.

Of course the battle in the rehearsal room had to be fought sternly inch by inch, but frequent trials, approval of the progress shown, and brilliant success at the concert won the day. It was so convincing that many said they could taste wine and smell brimstone....

Contrasts of tone-color, contrasts of differently placed choirs, contrasts of sentiment—love, hate, hope, despair, joy, sorrow, brightness, gloom, pity, scorn, prayer, praise, exaltation, depression, laughter, and tears—in fact all the emotions and passions are now expected to be delineated by the voice alone. It may be said, in passing, that in fulfilling these expectations choral singing has entered on a new lease of life. Instead of the cry being raised that the choral societies are doomed, we shall find that by absorbing the elixir of characterization they have renewed their youth; and when the shallow pleasures of the picture theater and the empty elements of the variety show have been discovered to be unsatisfying to the normal aspirations of intellectual, moral beings, the social, healthful, stimulating, intellectual, moral, and spiritual uplift of the choral society will be appreciated more than ever....

Tender-handed stroke a nettle, And it stings you for your pains, Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains.

Before stating how to produce the laugh, the sob, the sigh, the snarl, the moan, bell effects, ejaculations and "trick-singing," all of which come under the head of characterization, I would say that if an ultra thing is undertaken it must be done boldly. The spirit of the old rhyme above quoted must be acted upon, or fear will paralyze the efforts put forth, and failure will be the result. In choral singing, as in other things, the masculinity of the doing, the boldness, the daring, the very audacity with which an extreme effect is produced, carries success with it. Therefore do not attempt a daring thing feebly or by halves.


In instrumental music, timbre is also a highly potent influence in arousing emotional states, and we are all familiar with the fact that an oboe passage is often associated with the simplicity of outdoor rural life; that a melody for English horn has somehow become connected with mournful thoughts; the sound of trumpets, with martial ideas; and the grunting of the lower register of the bassoon, with comic effects. It is well known, also, that the skilful violinist can cause his instrument to sound an infinite variety of shades of color. But these means of expression are almost wholly under the control of the individual players and of the composer (as orchestrator), and cannot therefore be profitably discussed in a work on conducting.

[Sidenote: PHRASING]

The phrase in music is very similar to the phrase in language. In both cases, it is a thought (usually incomplete and forming a part of some larger idea) which must be slightly separated from the preceding and following phrases, that it may be correctly understood; yet must be so rendered in relation to the neighboring material as to seem an integral part of the whole. In addition, it is of course necessary to emphasize the important words in a language phrase and the most significant tones in a musical one, as well as to subordinate the comparatively unimportant parts, in such a way that the real significance of the whole may be clear. Phrasing is thus readily seen to be an extremely important factor in the expressive reading of language, since one could scarcely interpret intelligibly if he did not first of all read as a group the words that belong together as a thought; and one could certainly not convey the correct idea of the group to a listener if the most important words in it were not stressed so as to stand out more vividly than the others. Although not so readily understood because of the absence of symbolism, phrasing is quite as important an element in the expressive rendition of music as it is in the case of language. In order to interpret properly the conductor must first of all determine what tones belong together in a group; must make the individuality of these groups evident by slightly separating them, but usually not to the degree of disturbing the basic rhythmic flow; and must so manage the dynamics and tempo of each phrase as to make its content clear to the listener. Many phrases are so constructed that their proper delivery involves a gradual crescendo up to the climax (usually the highest tone) and a corresponding diminuendo from this point to the end of the phrase.


In vocal music, the matter of phrasing is comparatively simple because here the composer has, in general, adapted the melody to the phrasing of the text; and since in language we have definite ideas and concrete imagery to assist us, all that we usually need to do in studying the phrasing of vocal music is to follow carefully the phrasing of the text. But even then a warning ought perhaps to be given the young conductor regarding carelessness or ignorance on the part of singers about some of the most fundamental principles of phrasing. The most common mistakes made are:

1. Taking breath unnecessarily in the middle of a phrase.

2. Breathing between the syllables of a word.

3. Dividing a long phrase improperly.

4. Running over breathing places where a pause is really necessary in order to bring out the meaning of the text.

5. Pronouncing the unaccented syllable of a word at the end of a phrase with too much stress.

6. Failing to stress the climax sufficiently.

Mistakes of this kind are made because the singer all too frequently fails to recognize the fact that the interpretation of vocal music must be based upon the meaning of the text rather than upon purely musical considerations (cf. quotation from Caruso on page 44).

A comma or rest ordinarily indicates the end of a phrase in vocal music. If, however, the phrase as marked is too long to be taken in one breath, the conductor should study it carefully for some point in it where another breath may be taken without too greatly marring the continuity of the text. Sometimes in a large chorus various sections of a division may take breath at different points, thus preserving the integrity of the phrase in certain cases where this is particularly desirable. It should be noted that when a breath is taken in the middle of a phrase or between the phrases where no rest occurs, the time for breathing must always be taken from the last note of the preceding phrase, in order that the continuity of the rhythm may not be sacrificed.

The importance of studying phrasing from the standpoint of the effective rendition of sacred music will be realized more vividly if one takes the trouble to inquire of some of the members of the congregation how well they understood the words of the anthem or solo. The replies that will ordinarily be given to such a question will probably astonish the director of the church choir; and although he will sometimes be inclined to put the blame on the ears and minds of the congregation, there is no doubt that in very many cases the difficulty may be traced to poor enunciation and faulty phrasing on the part of the singers. The following examples are reported to be authentic instances of phrasing by church choirs:

Jesus lives no longer now, Can thy terrors, Death, appall us?

The poet had quite a different thought in mind when he penned these words, with the correct punctuation marks:

Jesus lives! no longer now Can thy terrors, Death, appall us!

The wild winds hushed the angry deep, Sank like a little child to sleep.

What this verse means is, of course, easily seen by inserting the correct punctuation marks:

The wild winds hushed; the angry deep Sank like a little child to sleep.


In instrumental music we have no definite ideas and no concrete imagery to guide us; and the conductor, in company with all other students of instrumental music, will find it necessary to study his score most carefully if he is to unravel the threads that are woven together in such complex fashion in orchestral music. As implied above, phrasing in instrumental music means:

1. The grouping together of tones that belong to the same musical thought, this implying a slight break in continuity between phrases, as in language.

2. Making evident the musical significance of the group by accenting or prolonging its most important tones.

These are only general principles, however, and the details of phrasing in instrumental music cannot be treated adequately in writing because of their too great complexity. It is only through practice, reinforced by the intelligent criticism of a real musician, that skill and taste in the art of phrasing can be acquired. A few concrete suggestions are offered, and these may be of some slight help to the amateur, but they are not to be thought of as "a complete guide."

1. The first tone of the phrase is often stressed slightly in order to mark the beginning of the new idea.

2. The final tone (particularly of the short phrase) is commonly shortened in order to make clear the separation between phrases.

3. The climacteric tone of the phrase is often prolonged slightly as well as accented, in order to make its relationship to the other tones stand out clearly.

[Sidenote: RHYTHM]

Closely connected with phrasing is rhythm, and although the rhythmic factor should perhaps theoretically belong wholly to the composer, since he is able to express his rhythmic ideas in definite notation, yet in actual practice this does not prove to be the case because the amateur player or singer so often finds that "time is hard"; and there are consequently many occasions when the rhythm indicated by the composer is wholly distorted, either because the performers are weak in their rhythmic feeling or because the conductor is careless and does not see to it that the rhythmic response of his chorus or orchestra is accurate and incisive and yet elastic.

Rhythm is the oldest of the musical elements and there is no question but that the rhythmic appeal is still the strongest of all for the majority of people. Rhythm is the spark of life in music, therefore, woe to the composer who attempts to substitute ethereal harmonies for virile rhythms as a general principle of musical construction. Mere tones, even though beautiful both in themselves and through effective combination, are meaningless, and it is only through rhythm that they become vitalized. In order to have interesting performances of choral and orchestral music the conductor must see to it that the performers play or sing all rhythmic figures correctly, that long tones are sustained for their correct duration, and that in general the musical performance be permeated by that steady throb of regular pulsation which is the foundation of all rhythmic coherence.

Modern musical rhythm is so complex in its frequent employment of syncopations, "cross accents," et cetera, that the prospective conductor must study indefatigably if he is to unravel its apparently inextricably snarled-up threads. We assume, however, that detailed study of rhythm has constituted a part of the student's work in piano, singing, et cetera, and shall therefore not attempt to treat the matter further. Let us advise the would-be conductor, however, to continue his study of rhythm and phrasing unceasingly and never to allow himself to be deluded into believing that an accurate knowledge of these things is less necessary now than formerly. It has seemed to us that some public performers of the present day were cloaking their inability to play or sing with rhythmic accuracy under a pretense of being highly artistic and flexible in their rhythmic feeling. Needless to say, the existence of such a state of affairs is to be greatly deplored and the student is admonished to make sure that he is able to perform every detail of his music with metronomic accuracy before he attempts rubato effects.


The second, third, and fourth of the elements of expression as cited in our list on page 46 belong almost wholly to the composer since he is able to indicate them precisely, and the conductor's chief concern in dealing with melody, harmony, and pitch registers will be to make certain that the composer's wishes are carried out to the letter. For this reason no attempt will be made to discuss these matters further, the topic belonging to composition rather than to conducting.


Now that we have reviewed the elements of expression somewhat fully, what of the conductor? Shall we give him a set of specific directions for making his chorus or orchestra sing or play more loudly or more rapidly or more dramatically? Our reply is—no, not any more than we should attempt to show the student of acting or oratory exactly what gestures he is to make use of in playing upon the emotions of his audience. As implied at the outset, the thing that is necessary in both cases is that the interpreter have:

1. General scholarship.

2. An intimate acquaintance with the content and spirit of the particular work to be interpreted.

Granting the presence of these two things, the actual gestures will usually take care of themselves. The conductor Altschuler remarks on this point:

There is no artificial code of signals needed between the conductor and his men; what the conductor needs is a clear conception of the composition.

We are fully in accord with this sentiment; but for the benefit of the tyro it may be well to note again that, in general, a quickening of tempo is indicated by a shorter, more vigorous stroke of the baton, whereas a slowing down in rate of speed, especially when accompanied by a letting down of emotional intensity, involves a longer, more flowing movement, with more back stroke. Louder tone is often indicated by the clenched fist, the fortissimo effect at the climacteric point often involving a strong muscular contraction in the entire body; while softer tone is frequently called for by holding the left hand out with palm down, by loosening the grip upon the baton, and by a generally relaxed condition of the entire body. Dynamic changes are also indicated to a certain extent by the amplitude of the beat and by the position of the hands. In calling for a pianissimo effect, the conductor usually gives short beats with the hands close together (if the left hand is also used), but in demanding fortissimo the beat is usually of much greater amplitude, and the hands, therefore, widely separated. For the swell ([crescendo-decrescendo symbol]) the hands are usually close together at the beginning, are then gradually separated as far as possible, coming together again at the end of the decrescendo.

Changes in quality are perhaps most frequently suggested by variation in the facial expression, poise of body, et cetera, while phrasing is often indicated by a movement of the left hand (thus signaling some part to begin or stop) or by a lifting of the arms and shoulders at the breathing point, thus simulating the action of the lungs in taking breath, and causing the singers or players actually to take a breath by instinctive imitation. The manner in which the baton is grasped and manipulated is of course another way of indicating these various expressional effects, this being especially noticeable in the case of phrasing, which is perhaps most often indicated by simply raising the baton higher at the end of a phrase, thus preparing it for a longer sweep at the beginning of the following phrase. But all of these things are done in different ways by various conductors, and no set rules can therefore be formulated.

The most important point to be noted by the beginner in conducting is that one must not direct with merely the hand and arm, but must use the entire body from head to toe in communicating to his chorus or orchestra his own emotion. Facial expression, the manner of grasping the baton, the set of the shoulders, the elevation of the chest, the position of the feet, the poise of the head—all these must he indicative of the emotional tone of the music being rendered. But be sure you feel a genuine emotion which leads you to do these various things, and do not play to the audience by going through all kinds of contortions that are not prompted at all by the meaning of the music, but are called into existence entirely by the conductor's desire to have the audience think that he is a great interpreter. If the conductor does his work at any point in such a fashion that the audience watches him and is filled with marvel and admiration because of the interesting movements that he is making, instead of listening to the chorus or orchestra and being thrilled by the beautiful music that is being heard, then that conductor is retarding rather than advancing the progress of art appreciation; in short he is failing in his mission. One of the sincerest compliments that the writer has ever received came when he asked his wife whether he had conducted well at a certain public performance, and she replied that she guessed it was all right, but that she had been so absorbed in listening to the music that she had not thought of him at all!

The development of modern orchestral and operatic music has brought about a tremendous change in the prominence of the conductor, and there is no doubt but that his part in musical performance is now more important than that of any other type of interpreter, being probably second in importance only to that of the composer. From having been originally a mere time-beater, he has now come to be the interpreter par excellence; and as Weingartner remarks (op. cit., p. 9) in referring to Wagner's conducting:

He is often able to transform as if by magic a more or less indefinite sound picture into a beautifully shaped, heart-moving vision, making people ask themselves in astonishment how it is that this work which they had long thought they knew should have all at once become quite another thing. And the unprejudiced mind joyfully confesses, "Thus, thus, must it be."

It will soon be discovered by the amateur that in every case where an effect such as that described by Weingartner has been brought about, it is because the conductor has studied the music and has then made gestures which were prompted by his sympathetic response to the thought of the composer. In other words, the conducting was effective because the feeling which prompted the gestures came from within, as is always the case when an orator or an actor moves us deeply. This is what is meant by interpretation in conducting; and we can scarcely do better, in concluding our discussion of the whole matter, than to quote once more from a writer to whom we have already referred.[22]

[Footnote 22: C.F.A. Williams, The Rhythm of Modern Music, p. 18.]

The great interpreters of instrumental music are those who can most nearly enter into the composer's ideals, or can even improve upon them, and who are able to give a delicacy or force of accentuation or phrasing which it is outside of the possibility of notation to express.... The days of cold, classical performance of great works are practically over. The executant or conductor now seeks to stir the deeper emotions of his audience, and to do so he must pay homage to the artist who conceived the work, by interpreting it with enthusiasm and warmth.




The phenomenal progress which has been made during recent years in the music departments of both the grades and the high schools of our great public educational systems, together with the fact that a large number of young men and women of real musical ability are entering the field of public school music as a life work, make it seem worth while to include a chapter upon the work of the music supervisor as conductor. The writer has long contended that the public school systems of this country offered the most significant opportunity for influencing the musical taste of a nation that has ever existed. If this be true, then it is highly important that the teachers of music in these school systems shall be men and women who are, in the first place, thoroughly trained musicians; in the second place, broadly educated along general lines; and in the third place, imbued with a knowledge concerning, and a spirit of enthusiasm for, what free education along cultural lines is able to accomplish in the lives of the common people. In connection with this latter kind of knowledge, the supervisor of music will, of course, need also to become somewhat intimately acquainted with certain basic principles and practical methods of both general pedagogy and music education.

We are not writing a treatise on music in the public schools, and shall therefore not attempt to acquaint the reader, in the space of one chapter, with even the fundamental principles of school music teaching. We shall merely call attention to certain phases of the supervisor's work that seem to come within the scope of a book on conducting.


The first point that we should like to have noted in this connection is that teaching a group of from forty to one hundred children all at the same time is a vastly different matter from giving individual instruction to a number of pupils separately. The teacher of a class needs to be much more energetic, much more magnetic, much more capable of keeping things moving and of keeping everyone interested in the work and therefore out of mischief; he needs, in short, to possess in high degree those qualities involved in leadership and organization that were cited in an earlier chapter as necessary for the conductor in general. In teaching individual pupils one need not usually think of the problem of discipline at all; but, in giving instruction to a class of from thirty to forty children in the public schools, one inevitably finds in the same group those with musical ability and those without it; those who are interested in the music lesson and those who are indifferent or even openly scornful; those who are full of energy and enthusiasm and those who are lazy and indifferent and will do only what they are made to do; those who have had lessons on piano or violin and have acquired considerable proficiency in performance, and those who have just come in from an outlying rural school where no music has ever been taught, and are therefore not able to read music, have no musical perception or taste whatsoever, and are frequently not even able to "carry a tune." In dealing with such heterogeneous classes, problems of discipline as well as problems of pedagogy are bound to arise, and it requires rare tact and skill in working out details of procedure, as well as a broad vision of the ultimate end to be accomplished, to bring order out of such musical chaos. And yet precisely this result is being secured by hundreds of music teachers and supervisors all over the country; and the musical effects of a fifteen-minute daily practice period are already surprisingly evident, and will undoubtedly become more and more manifest as the years go by. The outlook for the future is wholly inspiring indeed; and no musician need fear that in taking up public school music he is entering upon a field of work which is too small for one of his caliber. The only question to be asked in such a case is whether the teacher in question is big enough and is sufficiently trained along musical, general, and pedagogical lines to handle this important task in such fashion as to insure a result commensurate with the opportunity.


Charm of personality has a great deal to do with the success of many directors of children's singing. School superintendents are well aware of this fact, and of two equally capable candidates for a school position (especially one involving work with small children) the supervisor who is attractive in appearance and neat in attire, is almost sure to be chosen. We mention this fact not in order to discourage those not possessing an average amount of personal charm, but to encourage them to take physical exercise, and by other means to increase the attractiveness of their physical appearance; to enhance their charm further by tasteful dress; and most important of all, to cultivate a sprightly and cheerful attitude (but not a patronizing and gushing manner) toward children as well as adults. Attractiveness of personality may be increased further by the cultivation of refined language and a well-modulated voice in speaking, as well as by schooling oneself in the habitual use of the utmost courtesy in dealing with all people.


In the lower grades, it is best not to conduct formally with baton in hand, but rather to stand (or sit) before the class, and by facial expression, significant gesture, bodily pose, et cetera, arouse an appropriate response to the "expression" of the song. Every song tells a story of some sort and even little children can be caused to sing with surprisingly good "expression" if the teacher makes a consistent effort to arouse the correct mental and emotional attitude toward each individual song every time it is sung.


In teaching a class of older children, it is well for the supervisor to stand at the front of the room with baton in hand, giving the conventional signals for attack and release and beating time in the usual way during at least a part of each song in order that the children may become accustomed to following a conductor's beat. It is not necessary to beat time constantly, and the teacher, after giving the signal for the attack and setting the tempo, may lower the baton, until a fermata, or a ritardando, or the final tone of the song makes its use necessary again.

A word of warning should perhaps be inserted at this point against tapping with the baton, counting aloud, beating time with the foot, et cetera, on the teacher's part. These various activities may occasionally be necessary, in order to prevent dragging, to change the tempo, to get a clear and incisive rhythmic response in a certain passage, et cetera; but their habitual employment is not only exceedingly inartistic, but is positively injurious to the rhythmic sense of the children, because it takes away from them the opportunity (or rather necessity) of each one making his own individual muscular response to the rhythm of the music. The more responsibility the teacher takes, the less the pupils will assume, and in this way they are deprived of the practice which they need in working out the rhythm for themselves, the result often being that a group of children get to the point where they cannot "keep time" at all unless some one counts aloud or pounds the desk with a ruler as an accompaniment to their singing.


A very large element in the success of all public performances is the selection of just the right type of music. In the case of small children, unison songs with attractive music and childlike texts should be chosen. When the children are somewhat older (from eight or nine to twelve) longer and more elaborate unison songs provided with musicianly accompaniments may be selected, while rounds and unaccompanied part songs are effective by way of contrast. In the case of upper-grade children, part songs (sometimes even with a bass part, if there are enough changed voices to carry it successfully) are best. But it should be noted that the voices in these upper grades are not usually so clear and brilliant as they have been in the two or three preceding years, the beauty and brilliancy of the child's voice culminating at about the Sixth Grade.


In planning public performances for a high school chorus, many difficult questions arise. Shall the program consist of miscellaneous selections or of a connected work? If the latter, shall it be of the operatic type, involving action, scenery, and costumes, or shall it be of the cantata or oratorio type? And if the latter, shall heavy works like the Messiah and Elijah be given, or shall our efforts be confined to presenting the shorter and simpler modern works which are musically interesting and in the rendition of which the immature voices of adolescent boys and girls are not so likely to be strained? A discussion of these matters properly belongs in a treatise on public school music, and we can only state our belief here that, in general, the musical development of the children will be more directly fostered by practice upon choral rather than upon operatic works; and that extreme care must be exercised by the high school chorus director in handling immature voices lest they be strained in the enthusiasm of singing music written for mature adult voices. Whether this implies the entire elimination of the Messiah and other similar works, is left to the discretion of each individual supervisor, it being our task merely to point out the responsibility of the high school chorus director for recognizing the difference between mature voices and immature ones.


In giving public performances with a large group of small children, the director will need to learn that it is necessary to teach in advance the precise shading to be employed at the performance. In working with an adult chorus, the conductor expects every singer to watch him closely throughout the selection, and many slight changes of tempo and dynamics are made at the performance that have perhaps never been thought of during the rehearsal. But children are usually not able to keep their minds on the task in hand to this extent, and if there is to be a ritardando or a crescendo at a certain point, the only safe thing is to teach this change in tempo or dynamics when first taking up the song, so that the expressional element may become a habit in the same way as the tones and rhythms. This is particularly necessary in teaching the same songs to several different groups separately in preparation for a public performance in which various groups that have not practised together are to sing the same numbers.


The conductor must always appear cheerful and confident when conducting children (or for that matter, adults) in public, for if he seems anxious and distressed, or worse yet, if he informs the singers that he is afraid that they will not do well, his uneasiness is almost sure to be communicated to the performers and there will probably be a panic and perhaps even a breakdown. If the conductor seriously feels that the compositions to be performed have not been rehearsed sufficiently, it will be far better for him either to insist upon extra rehearsals (even at considerable inconvenience), or else upon a postponement of the performance. A good rule to follow in preparing for a public performance of any kind is this: Go through the work over and over until it is done correctly; then go through it enough times more to fix this correct way in mind and muscle as a habit. Too many performances are given upon an inadequate rehearsal basis, and it has happened again and again that performers have been so busy watching the notes that they have had no time to watch the conductor, and the rendition of really beautiful music has been made in a tame, groping, and consequently uninteresting manner. Our American impatience with slow processes of any sort is as often to blame here as the negligence of the conductor, the latter often arranging to have a performance at an earlier date than he really wishes to because he knows that his chorus will become impatient with the large number of repetitions that a really artistic performance requires.


In directing a large high school chorus (sometimes numbering from five hundred to fifteen hundred singers), the conductor will find it necessary to study his score in advance even more than usual, for here he is dealing with large numbers of bright and lively American boys and girls, many of whom are not particularly interested in the chorus practice and all of whom love to indulge in mischievous pranks of various sorts. The conductor who is likely to be most successful in handling such a chorus is he who, other things being equal, has prepared his work most thoroughly and is able to conduct without looking at his music at all, and who can, therefore, keep things moving throughout the rehearsal period. We might add that if he does not keep things moving musically, the students in his chorus will keep them moving along other and probably less desirable lines!


Many other topics might be discussed in this chapter but the subject is too complex for adequate treatment except in a work dealing with this one subject alone. Let us, therefore, close the chapter by giving a plan for seating the high school chorus that has been found effective in various schools where it has been used.

The advantages of the plan given above are:

1. That it places the boys in front where their less developed voices and often smaller numbers will insure better balance,[23] and where also the teacher can more easily see what is going on in their midst.

2. It places all the boys in the same part of the room and thus removes the chief objection that boys with unchanged voices make to singing soprano and alto. There will probably not be a great number of these unchanged voices in any ordinary high school chorus, but there are almost certain to be a few, and these few should not be attempting to sing tenor or bass when their voice-range is still that of soprano or alto.

3. By placing the mezzo voices (of which variety there are usually more than of any other) between the sopranos and altos, they can be used on either the soprano or alto part, as may be necessitated by the range and dynamic demands of the composition in hand. In seating these mezzo-soprano girls the teacher may furthermore allow those who, although having mezzo voices, prefer to sing the alto part, to sit on the side next to the alto section and the others on the side next to the soprano section. If there are any boys with unchanged voices who are mezzo in range, they may be seated directly back of the bass section, thus keeping them in the boys' division and yet giving them an opportunity of singing with those who have the same range as themselves.

[Footnote 23: The essentials of this same plan of seating are recommended to adult choruses for a like reason; viz., in order to enable a smaller number of men's voices to balance a larger number of sopranos and altos by placing the men in the most prominent position, instead of seating them back of the women, as is so frequently done.]

As will be noted in the plan, the conductor stands directly in front of the basses, the piano being placed on either side as may be most convenient, the pianist, of course, facing the conductor. In directing a large chorus, it is a great advantage to have two pianos, one on either side.




The recent rise of community music has evoked no little controversy as to whether art can be made "free as air" and its satisfactions thrown open to all, poor as well as rich; or whether it is by its very nature exclusive and aristocratic and therefore necessarily to be confined largely to the few. We are inclined to the former belief, and would therefore express the opinion that in our efforts to bring beauty into the lives of all the people, we are engaged in one of the most significant musico-sociological enterprises ever inaugurated. For this reason we shall discuss at this point ways and means of securing satisfactory results in one of the most interesting phases of community music, viz., the community chorus. The development of the community chorus (and indeed to a certain extent, the whole movement to bring music and the other arts into the lives of the proletariat) is due to a combination of artistic and sociological impulses; and it undoubtedly owes its origin and success as much to the interest in the living and social problems of the middle and lower classes, which the recently developed science of sociology has aroused, as it does to purely musical impulses.

Because of the fact that community music is a sociological phenomenon as well as an artistic one, the director of a community chorus must possess a combination of artistic and personal traits not necessarily present in the case of other musicians. In particular, he must be a good mixer as well as a good musician; and if one or the other of these qualities has to be sacrificed in some degree in favor of the other, we should be inclined to insist first of all upon the right sort of personal traits in the leader of community music. In order to be really successful in working among the common people, the leader must be one of them in all sincerity of spirit, and must be genuinely in sympathy with their point of view. This fact is especially pertinent in those types of work in which one deals with large masses of men and women. The director of community singing must therefore, first of all, be a good mob leader. But if, having met the people upon their own level, he can now call upon his artistic instincts and his musical training, and by means of a purely esthetic appeal raise his crowd a degree or two higher in their appreciation of music as a fine art, eventually perhaps finding it possible to interest them in a higher type of music than is represented by the songs sung in this friendly and informal way, then he has indeed performed his task with distinction, and may well be elated over the results of his labors.


One of the fundamental reasons for encouraging the use of carols at community Christmas tree celebrations, as well as other similar forms of group singing, is its beneficial effect upon the attitude of the people toward one another and toward their social group or their country. Through singing together in this informal way, each individual in the crowd is apt to be drawn closer to the others, to feel more interested in his neighbors; and in the case of "sings," where the dominating note is patriotism, to become imbued with a deeper spirit of loyalty to country. In very many cases, individuals who formerly would have nothing to do with one another have been drawn together and have become really friendly, as the result of sitting together at a community "sing." Referring to the effect of the first "Song and Light Festival" in New York City, a well-known artist remarked:[24]

The movement illustrates plainly to me the coming forth of a new consciousness. Outside the park, strikes, sedition, anarchy, hatred, malice, envy; within, beauty, peace, the sense of brotherhood and harmony.... Community singing is teaching men to find themselves, and to do it in unity and brotherly love.

[Footnote 24: Kitty Cheatham, Musical America, October 7, 1916.]

This same sort of an effect has been noted by us and by innumerable others in many other places, and various testimonies to the beneficial social effect of community singing, neighborhood bands, school orchestras, children's concerts, and similar types of musical activity have come from all parts of the country since the inception of the movement.

The impulse to bring music into the lives of all the people is not a fad, but is the result of the working out of a deep-seated and tremendously significant innate tendency—the instinct for self-expression; the same instinct which in another form is making us all feel that democracy is the only sure road to ultimate satisfaction and happiness. It behooves the musician, therefore, to study the underlying bases of the community music movement, and to use this new tool that has been thus providentially thrown into his hands for the advancement of art appreciation, rather than to stand aloof and scoff at certain imperfections and crudities which inevitably are only too evident in the present phase of the movement.


If the social benefit referred to above,—viz., the growth of group feeling and of neighborly interest in one's fellows, is to result from our community singing, we must first of all have leaders who are able to make people feel cheerful and at ease. The community song leader must be able to raise a hearty laugh occasionally, and he must by the magnetism of his personality be able to make men and women who have not raised their voices in song for years past forget their shyness, forget to be afraid of the sound of their own voices, forget to wonder whether anyone is listening, and join heartily in the singing.

There is no one way of securing this result; in fact, the same leader often finds it necessary to use different tactics in dealing with different crowds, or for that matter, different methods with the same crowd at different times. The crux of the matter is that the leader must in some way succeed in breaking up the formality, the stiffness of the occasion; must get the crowd to loosen up in their attitude toward him, toward one another, and toward singing. This can often be accomplished by making a pointed remark or two about the song, and thus, by concentrating the attention upon the meaning of the words, make the singers forget themselves. Sometimes having various sections of the crowd sing different stanzas, or different parts of a stanza antiphonally will bring the desired result. By way of variety, also, the women may be asked to sing the verse while the entire chorus joins in the refrain; or the men and women may alternate in singing stanzas; or those in the back of the balcony may repeat the refrain as an echo; or the leader and the crowd may sing antiphonally. In these various ways, considerable rivalry may be aroused in the various sections of a large chorus, and the stiffness and unfriendliness will usually be found to disappear like magic. But if the director is cold and formal in his attitude, and if one song after another is sung in the conventional way with no comment, no anecdote, and no division into sections, the people will be more than likely to go away criticizing the leader or the accompanist or the songs or each other, and the next time the crowd will probably be smaller and the project will eventually die out. The chronic fault-finder will then say, "I told you it was only a fad and that it would not last"; but he is wrong, and the failure must be attributed to poor management rather than to any inherent weakness in the idea itself.


The majority of people have no opportunity of singing except when they go to church; but many do not go to church often, and even those who go do not always sing, and only have the opportunity of singing one type of music when they do take part. Moreover, for various reasons, the singing of church congregations is not as hearty as it used to be a generation or two ago. The opportunity to spend an hour in singing patriotic hymns, sentimental songs, and occasionally a really fine composition, such as the Pilgrims' Chorus from Tannhaeuser, is therefore eagerly welcomed by a great many men and women—those belonging to the upper classes as well as the proletariat. When once the barrier of formality has been broken down, such gatherings, especially when directed by a leader who is a good musician as well as a good mixer, may well become the means of interesting many thousands of men and women in the more artistic phases of music; may indeed eventually transform many a community, not only from a crowd of individuals into a homogeneous social group, but may actually change the city or village from a spot where ugliness has reigned supreme to one where the dominating note is beauty—beauty of service as well as beauty of street and garden and public building; and where drama and music, pictures and literature, are the most cherished possessions of the people. In a place which has been so transformed, the "eight hours of leisure" that have so troubled our sociologists will present no problem whatever; for the community chorus, the neighborhood orchestra, the music and dramatic clubs, and the splendid libraries and art galleries will assume most of the burden of providing a worthy use of leisure.


Community "sings" (like everything else that is to achieve success in this age) must be advertised, and to the leader usually falls the lot of acting as advertising manager. It will be well to begin the campaign a month or more before the first "sing" is to be held, sending short articles to the local papers, in which is described the success of similar enterprises in other places. Then a week or so before the "sing," carefully worded announcements should be read in churches, Sunday schools, lodge meetings, and high-school assemblies. In connection with this general publicity, the leader will do well also to talk personally with a large number of men and women in various walks of life, asking these people not only to agree to be present themselves, but urging them to talk about the project to other friends and acquaintances, inviting them to come also. On the day of the first "sing" it may be well to circulate attractively printed handbills as a final reminder, these of course giving in unmistakable language the time and place of the meeting and perhaps stating in bold type that admission is entirely free and that no funds are to be solicited. These various advertising activities will naturally necessitate the expenditure of a small amount of money; but it is usually possible to secure donations or at least reductions of price in the case of printing, hall rental, et cetera, and the small amount of actual cash that is needed can usually be raised among a group of interested people without any difficulty. It is our belief that the whole project is more likely to succeed if the leader himself is serving without remuneration, for he will then be easily able to refute any charge that he is urging the project out of selfish or mercenary considerations.


The leader of community singing must not make the mistake of supposing that "everybody knows America, Swanee River, and Old Black Joe," and that no words need therefore to be provided. As a matter of fact, not more than one person in twenty-five can repeat correctly even one of these songs that "everybody knows," and we may as well recognize this fact at the outset and thus prevent a probable fiasco. There are three ways of placing the songs before our crowd of people:

1. Having the words of all songs to be sung printed on sheets of paper and passing one of these out to each person in the audience.

2. Furnishing a book of songs at a cost of five or ten cents and asking each person in the audience to purchase this book before the "sing" begins, bringing it back each succeeding time.

3. Flashing the words (sometimes the music also) on a screen in front of the assembly. The disadvantage of the last named method is the fact that the auditorium has to be darkened in order that the words may stand out clearly; but in out-of-door singing the plan has very great advantages, being for this purpose perhaps the best of the three.

After the chorus has gotten well on its feet, it will probably be best to purchase copies of some larger and more elaborate book, the copies being either owned by individual members or else purchased out of treasury funds, and therefore belonging to the organization. At the first "sing" it will be a distinct advantage if no financial outlay whatever is required of the individuals composing the chorus.


In conclusion, let us urge the leader of community singing to decide beforehand just what songs are to be used, and to study the words of these songs carefully so as to be able to imbue the chorus with the correct spirit of each one, having at his tongue's end the story of the song and other pointed remarks about it that will enliven the occasion and keep things from stagnating. He will, of course, frequently find it necessary to modify his plan as the "sing" progresses, for one of the most necessary qualifications in the leader is flexibility and quick wit. But if he has a definite program in mind and knows his material so well that he does not need to look at his book, he will be much more likely to succeed in holding the interest of his chorus throughout the "sing."

Let him be sure that a skilful accompanist is at hand to play the piano, perhaps even going to the trouble of meeting the accompanist beforehand and going through all material to be used so as to insure a mutual understanding upon such matters as tempo, et cetera. In out-of-door group singing a brass quartet (consisting of two cornets and two trombones, or two cornets, a trombone, and a baritone) is more effective than a piano, but if this is to be done be sure to find players who can transpose, or else write out the parts in the proper transposed keys. When such an accompaniment is to be used, the leader should have at least one rehearsal with the quartet in order that there may be no hitches.


If possible, let the "sing" be held, in some hall not connected with any particular group of people, so that all may feel equally at home (there are decided objections to using either a church or a lodge room); and, in giving the invitation for the first meeting, make sure that no group of people shall have any ground whatsoever for feeling slighted, even in the smallest degree.

Granting the various factors that we have been recommending, and, most important of all, having provided the right type of leader to take charge of the "sings," the enterprise cannot but have significant results along both musical and sociological lines.




Conducting an orchestra from full score is a vastly more complicated matter than directing a chorus singing four-part music, and the training necessary in order to prepare one for this task is long and complicated. In addition to the points already rehearsed as necessary for the conductor in general, the leader of an orchestra must in the first place know at least superficially the method of playing the chief orchestral instruments, the advantages and disadvantages involved in using their various registers, the difficulties of certain kinds of execution, and other similar matters which are often referred to by the term instrumentation. In the second place, he must understand the combinations of these various instruments that are most effective, and also what registers in certain instruments blend well with others; in other words, he must be familiar with the science of orchestration. In the third place, he must understand the complicated subject of transposing instruments, and must be able to detect a player's mistakes by reading the transposed part as readily as any other. And finally, he must be able to perform that most difficult task of all, viz., to read an orchestral score with at least a fair degree of ease, knowing at all times what each performer is supposed to be playing and whether he is doing the right thing or not. This implies being able to look at the score as a whole and get a fairly definite impression of the total effect; but it also involves the ability to take the score to the piano and assemble the various parts (including the transposed ones) so that all important tones, harmonic and melodic, are brought out. A glance at even a very simple orchestral score such as that found in Appendix B will probably at once convince the reader of the complexity of the task, and will perhaps make him hesitate to "rush in where angels fear to tread" until he has spent a number of years in preparation for the work.


The above description has reference, of course, to conducting an orchestra of approximately symphonic dimensions, and does not refer to the comparatively easy task of directing a group consisting of piano, violins, cornet, trombone, and perhaps one or two other instruments that happen to be available.[25] In organizing an "orchestra" of this type, the two most necessary factors are a fairly proficient reader at the piano (which, of course, not only supplies the complete harmony, but also covers a multitude of sins both of omission and of commission), and at least one skilful violinist, who must also be a good reader. Given these two indispensable elements, other parts may be added as players become available; and although the larger the number of wind instruments admitted, the greater the likelihood of out-of-tune playing, yet so great is the fascination of tonal variety that our inclination is always to secure as many kinds of instruments as possible.

[Footnote 25: Let us not be misunderstood at this point. We are not sneering at the heterogeneous collections of instruments that are gathered together under the name of orchestra in many of the public schools throughout the country. On the contrary, we regard this rapidly increasing interest in ensemble playing as one of the most significant tendencies that has ever appeared in our American musical life, and as a result of it we expect to see the establishment of many an additional orchestra of symphonic rank, as well as the filling in of existing organizations with American-born and American-trained players. There is no reason why wind players should not be trained in this country as well as in Europe, if we will only make a consistent attempt to interest our children in the study of these instruments while they are young, and provide sufficient opportunity for ensemble practice in connection with our music departments in the public schools.]

The chief value to be derived from ensemble practice of this type is not, of course, in any public performances that may be given, but is to be found in the effect upon the performers themselves, and the principal reason for encouraging the organization of all sorts of instrumental groups is in order to offer an opportunity for ensemble playing to as many amateur performers as possible. For this reason, unavoidable false intonation must not be too seriously regarded.

An orchestra such as we have been describing is frequently directed by one of the performers; but it is our belief that if the group consists of ten or more players it will be far better to have the conductor stand before the players and direct them with a baton. The type of music that is available for amateur ensemble practice is unfortunately not often accompanied by a full score for the conductor's use, and he must usually content himself with studying the various parts as well as he may before the rehearsal, and then direct from a first violin part (in which the beginnings of all important parts played by other instruments are "cued in"). Directing from an incomplete score is, of course, extremely unsatisfactory from the musician's standpoint, but the necessity of doing it has this advantage, viz., that many persons who have charge of small "orchestras" of this type would be utterly unable to follow a full score, and might therefore be discouraged from organizing the group at all.


Symphony orchestras are always seated in approximately the same way, and if our small ensemble group consists of twenty players or more, it will be well for the conductor to arrange them in somewhat the same manner as a larger orchestra. In order to make this clear, the ordinary arrangement of the various parts of a symphony orchestra is here supplied. The position of the wood winds and of the lower strings as well as of the percussion instruments and harp varies somewhat, this depending upon the composition being performed, the idiosyncrasies of the conductor, the size and shape of the platform, et cetera.

In dealing with a smaller group (not of symphonic dimensions), it will be well to have the piano in the middle, the lower strings at the left, the winds at the right, and the violins in their usual position. The diagram will make this clear. It is to be noted that this seating plan is only suggestive, and that some other arrangement may frequently prove more satisfactory.


In a symphony orchestra of about one hundred players, the proportion of instruments is approximately as follows:

1. STRINGS: 18 first violins 16 second violins 14 violas 12 violoncellos 10 double basses

2. WOOD WIND: 3 flutes } 1 piccolo } (Usually only three players)

3 oboes } 1 English horn } (Usually only three players)

3 clarinets } 1 bass clarinet } (Usually only three players)

3 bassoons } 1 double bassoon } (Usually only three players)

3. BRASS WIND: 4 horns (Sometimes 6 or 8) 2 or 3 trumpets (Sometimes 2 cornets also) 3 trombones 1 bass tuba

4. PERCUSSION: 1 bass drum } 1 snare drum } (One player)

3 kettledrums (Of different sizes—one player)

1 triangle } 1 glockenspiel } (One player) 1 pair cymbals } et cetera

1 harp (Sometimes 2)

It will be noted that out of about one hundred players almost three-quarters are performers upon stringed instruments, and it is this very large proportion of strings that gives the orchestral tone its characteristic smoothness, its infinite possibilities of dynamic shading, its almost unbelievable agility, and, of course, its inimitable sonority. The wind instruments are useful chiefly in supplying variety of color, and also in giving the conductor the possibility of occasionally obtaining enormous power by means of which to thrill the hearer at climacteric points.

Our reason for supplying the above information is mainly in order to direct attention to the small proportion of wind (and especially of brass) instruments, and to warn the amateur conductor not to admit too large a number of cornets and trombones to his organization, lest the resulting effect be that of a band rather than that of an orchestra. If there are available a great many wind instruments and only a few strings, it will probably be better to admit only a few of the best wind instrument players to the orchestra (about two cornets and one trombone) and to organize a band in order to give the rest of the players an opportunity for practice.[26] It will probably be necessary for the conductor to warn his wind players to aim at a more mellow tone than they use when playing in a band, in order that the brass tone may blend with the string tone. In the case of the reed instruments, this will sometimes mean a thinner reed in orchestra work than is used in bands.

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