With a sweep of her arm and a flourish of her wrist, Emily Schaad brought a symphony of Columbia musicians to a crescendo Thursday at the Koger Center for the Arts. She punched the air with her conductor’s baton, eyebrows raised, mouth slightly open, and brought the music to a thundering finish.
Then she sat down quietly at the side of the stage and received a critique.
She was pushing the baton forward too much.
She needed to be more aware of the tempo’s intricacies.
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Schaad, from Asheville, North Carolina, is one of 23 students participating in the Conductors Institute of South Carolina summer training program.
Now in its 31st year, the 2-week program offers instruction to experienced and aspiring conductors from across the country and abroad. Students learn how their hand gestures, facial expressions and body language relay the character, tempo and balance of music to musicians.
Their training sessions are free and open to the public from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. through Saturday.
“Expressivity is what we’re going for,” Schaad said. “The idea is to convey your intent to the musicians, and connecting emotionally is a big part of it.”
Students took turns in front of the symphony orchestra Thursday, alternating between Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Carl Maria von Weber’s overture to Der Freischutz and Johann Strauss Jr.’s overture to Die Fledermaus.
When Theodore Lentz of Port Williamsburg, Pennsylvania took up the baton, composer and guest instructor Samuel Jones quickly stopped him after a few bars.
“You’re too relaxed,” Jones told him. “You were flabby and the winds didn’t know what they were doing. You have to take control.”
After a few more stops and starts, Lentz coaxed a solo out of one musician with his right hand while directing the rest of the symphony with his left, earning Jones’ approval.
“This is much better conducting, you’re taking charge now!” Jones said.
Once his turn was over, Lentz said the experience was nerve-wracking and a little frustrating, “because you’re trying to make immediate corrections.”
“But this art form demands excellence,” he said.
Lentz studied conducting in graduate school, but developed some bad habits, he said. “It helps to have (the instructors) say, ‘Don’t do that.’”
The program’s director, Donald Portnoy, said the goal of the two weeks is to help the conductors improve their technique and make their craft better.
“It’s amazing from the first day they come in to now. The progression is tremendous,” he said. “It’s almost scary to see them get that much better.”
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