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Looking at Conductors

A Minute with Miles
Mary Noble Ours
/
SC Public Radio

The other day, a friend asked me if orchestral musicians really look at the conductor when they’re playing. It’s an interesting question, because after all, how can you look at your music and play all the right notes if you’re also looking up at the person waving the baton? The answer is that you do both, but not always in the same proportion and not always at the same time. There are times—the beginnings of pieces, for example, or at other times when the music starts or stops, or when the tempo changes, when you have to look directly at the conductor. 

And there are times when you have to concentrate entirely on playing the notes, especially in complicated or difficult sections. But in fact one of the important skills you have to learn as an orchestral player is to somehow keep the conductor in view out of the corner of your eye at all times, and even now and then to sneak a direct peek. Well… that’s with good conductors. I hate to say it, but with a bad conductors, it’s usually better to look as little as possible. But that’s another story…

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.