Conductors often go to great lengths to communicate the passion, the expressiveness, the power of the work they are conducting to their performers. Leonard Bernstein leaped into the air at climactic moments. I once watched a very short conductor make himself very much larger at instances of high musical passion by suddenly flinging one arm high above his head and the other arm straight out from his side in an uninhibited, expansive gesture. And I observed Helmut Rilling reel on the podium like a drunken man as he conducted the drinking song from Haydn’s oratorio The Seasons. He was projecting the essence of the number as part of his gesture!
Now what I have to say next is controversial, but it is whispered that some conductors will even surreptitiously cast spells over their performers, vis-à-vis Harry Potter!
It is even rumored that conductor’s spells pre-date Hogwarts! But these "spells" are much disputed, and those who claim to have experienced them are dismissed by graduate music schools as hysterical members of a Conspiracy Theory camp. And conductors, who are so very sensitive to criticism, shun the issue as a rule, no doubt hoping it will just…disappear!
In the hope of shedding some light on the subject, let us examine the spells themselves to see if it really makes sense for a conductor to use them.
No competent conductor would dream of using curses such as Sectumsempra or Imperio, no matter how the rehearsal or performance is proceeding. Cursing the performers just doesn’t bring out their best qualities. (Now unsilenced cell phones in the audience may be another matter! But the use of such a spell would certainly be obvious.) Putting your performers in an unconscious state through Stupefy, although initially satisfying for the conductor in some instances, is also ultimately useless. One simply cannot make music with stupid players or singers! Plus the red beam of light produced by the baton is a dead giveaway. And the stream of water from the baton produced by Aguamenti?—again initially satisfying during a frustrating rehearsal, but far too conspicuous.
There might be some use in a levitating spell such as Wingardium Leviosa, a summoning spell such as Accio, or an unlocking and opening spell such Alohomora, but only off the podium, such as loading in timpani. The beam of light created by Lumos could be helpful when conducting in the dark, which I have actually done…but of course, I used a glow stick!
The most promising spell is Expecto Patronum. The positive feelings conjured into being by the conductor in the shape of the Patronus could be most useful. The conductor’s own positive energy would take shape directly in front of the performers (something I always try to invoke), and thus inspire them to new heights! But of course, the conductor would have to be joyful to begin with, which is a stretch for some. And two images on the podium could be confusing.
Are these spells, then, nothing more than an urban legend, brought about by the almost uncanny similarity between the gestures used by spell-makers and some conductors, and the supposed resemblance between wands and batons? Or are they real?
My lips are sealed!
Dr. Linda Gingrich
Artistic Director and conductor
Master Chorus Eastside