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Conducting: the firewalk of Memphis

Yes, it is really hot in Memphis TN,  hot in a couple of ways.

Imagine, if you will, a group of 14 people, enough advanced degrees in music among them to choke a horse, all hopeful of enlightenment and willing to stand up and conduct and perhaps painfully reveal whatever comes up of being in the world in relationship to themselves, to others, and to music.

In specific, these folks are trying to learn and use the techniques codified by Hideo Saito for conducting, in a workshop sponsored by the Eroica Ensemble of Memphis, Michael Gilbert, music director.

Michael, who knew Prof. Saito personally and is married to one of Saito’s former students, has brought in the exegete Wayne Toews, from Canada.  The text is Saito’s book, as edited by Toews.  As my small part, I’ll be doing a personal session with some of the students who choose such.

A lot of gallows humor is going around.  “Trying: Failing while looking good”.  We have a bunch of people here who haven’t had to perform at this technical level in front of an audience since they were five years old.

There is a lot of personal bravery going on:  I’d say that a trip to Esalen and the naked hot tubs would be easier.  A firewalk would be as easy as eating a piece of Memphis peach cobbler compared.

However, progress is being made.  The clarity of what works when it works is starting to show up.  Each person gets a DVD of their efforts and the comments that are made—if they dare look at this DVD.

If all instrumentalists who have a longing to go over to the dark side (conducting, that is) would take this class, they would avoid looking foolish in front of their first conducting gig.  We’re talking study of missing gestures, body schema, capabilities and potentials of action, serious stuff for any performer in any realm.

Not everyone in the world has enough musical chops to get something out of this work, but it looks to me like it is a severe personal growth experience that these talented and chop-full folks will not forget.

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