Piano Lessons and Conducting

 

My adult piano student Josh Tyree is a band director at the school, but his dream is to become a symphony conductor. He is eager to improve his musical education in all possible areas correlated with the symphony orchestra conducting. He has been taking piano lessons with me and successfully participate in all piano events open for the amateur adults. He had a very exciting summer in 2012 participating in the Julliard School Conducting Workshop. In the questionnaire below he identifies how piano lessons influence on his development as a musician and, possibly, future symphony conductor.

 

Where did you have your workshop?

I earned a spot as one of ten conducting participants at the Juilliard Summer Conducting Workshop for Music Educators.  To earn this spot I had to submit a resume, bio, application, three letters of recommendation, a video of me rehearsing my bands, and a video of me conducting my bands in a performance.

What was the goal?

The goal was to increase my skills as a musician in the areas of conducting, score study, performance technique, and musical knowledge required to be an excellent conductor.

 

How can piano lessons help you in a score analyses?

Piano lessons have a given me quite a few tools to help me in reading a score.  Reading a piano score is much more involved process than reading a single line of a voice or wind/string instruments scores. You have multiple responsibilities at all times.  The division of voices on the piano relate directly to the division of voices in an orchestra.  The ability to memorize and coordinate multiple lines of music has definitely helped me to open my mind and ears to hearing more from the ensemble as I conduct.  The piano is also a great tool for figuring out what a piece will sound like before you have to rehearse.

The structure of piano music is similar in many ways to the structure of orchestral music.  We see a lot of the same forms, such as rounded binary, ternary, sonata-allegro, dances, etc.  Performing and memorizing works in these forms helps me more easily recognize and coordinate similar structures in orchestral music.  It is also extremely valuable to have such a high level musician, as my teacher, to look over my interpretation of the structure and phrasing of an orchestral work and give me  feedback.

How can developing of your technical piano skills be applied in conducting?

Developing the ability to hear and perform multiple voices with multiple inflections and tone colors simultaneously makes conducting and listening a much more enjoyable experience.  The piano opens your inner ear, and it forces you to internalize your interpretation.  The specific skill of memorizing a piano score has significantly aided me in memorizing the multiple simultaneous lines in an orchestral score.

How would historical approach in learning piano compositions help you in creating stylistically correct interpretations?

As I am exposed to styles of composition and performance on the piano, I am seeing direct correlation to the orchestral scores.  There are certain stylistic characteristics for each style period, composer, and genre.  Playing through piano works by the major orchestral composers is very enlightening as I learn their voice and style in an intensely intimate way by internalizing, memorizing, and then performing their works.

I see that many of the finest conductors that I am aware of have virtuoso level skills on the piano.  I do not take this correlation lightly.  I think that the study of the piano is a vital tool for the budding conductor.

(Josh Tyree)

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