Conducting Electricity: Hearing the entire symphony takes years of practice

Hide caption By Courtney Lewis / For the Times-Union A friend recently asked me, “How do you hear everything the orchestra plays?” I’m going to interpret this as asking how a conductor can hear the sound of the orchestra in enough detail to allow him to change it. Change could be anything from mundane tasks like spotting wrong notes in rehearsal, to -term goals that only take place the course of four or five seasons, such as building a distinctive “home sound” for the orchestra by influencing its style of playing. From a very young age, we musicians are trained to hear music our heads with ferocious accuracy. There are many systems of training around the world, but they all work towards musical literacy, which basically means being able to read music and write it down. When I was at Cambridge, the aural tests were infamous, and so difficult that they bordered the absurd. For the dictation exam, a digital metronome would issue four ugly beats before a professor played a wild splatter of notes the piano. We were required to write down the splatter after hearing it three times. Another test (much easier) was […]

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