"Holiday Special 2021"


Page 1.

A Very Holiday The World On A String. Music, Autobio, etc. Ken is in a box seat in a large theater. A performer is onstage, far below. Ken turns to the reader and says, "So what exactly is a conductor doing when they move their hands around. In notation, the first few bars of "Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies" plays overhead. Copyright 2021 Ken Alleman.

Page 2.

Musicians do not naturally play in time together. They need an external indicator of the pace, or tempo, of the music. Image of two cellists arguing. "You're not in time!" "No, you aren't!" In most ensembles, one of the musicians (such as the drummer in a rock band) dictates the tempo for others to follow. In an orchestra, dictating the tempo is the job of the conductor.

Page 3.

But that isn't all a conductor does. There are various hand signals they use, which the musicians interpret as instructions It is therefor the conductor's job to sculpt the performance. Image of a conductor's hands, first instructing the orchestra to hold, then waving in four. "Raised hands indicate that it's time to begin the performance. This is followed by a hand signal to count the orchestra in."

Page 4.

The movement of the conductor's hands doesn't just indicate the tempo, but also the time signature. (The number of beats in each bar of music.) Some examples include: 2/4, or march time. 3/4, or waltz time. 4/4, or common time. Images include diagrams of each.

Page 5.

Some pieces are meant to speed up or slow down. It is up to the conductor, just how much the tempo changes, when it starts, and how quickly. Images of the conductor's hand waving gently, then vigorously. This is one of the many creative decisions a conductor must make. Even the oldest, most well-known pieces of music can vary according to the tastes of the person conducting them!

Page 6.

With one hand occupied by tempo and time signature, the other hand can be used to signal specific sections of the orchestra that their next part is coming. Image of our cellists again. "Who, us?" The conductor's free hand can also instruct that section to bring their intensity up or down, or provide additional cues.

Page 7.

Image of the conductor's open hand. Finally, the conductor can signal the end of a piece or section of music by lifting an open hand and closing it on the final beat. The conductor can stretch that moment out ("rubato") by how slowly they move. Image of the hand closing into a fist.

"The World On A String" site and contents
CC BY-SA 2022 Ken Alleman
except where indicated otherwise.