Beyond the Baton Conducting Workshop

THE ADVOCATE                                           



Making of a Maestro

New book reveals life of a conductor

By James Lomuscio       

Special Correspondent


NORWALK — For years the image of a symphony conductor has been cloaked in the mystique of the maestro — the notion of a great musician who wields a baton with imperial authority, no questions asked. But for a conductor to be truly successful, said Diane Wittrv, music director and conductor for the Norwalk Symphony  Orchestra, skills must go beyond the musical. A good conductor must be a psychologist, educator, marketer, fundraiser, public speaker, and visionary.

In short, a multi-tasking dynamo. These are some of the subjects covered in Wittry’s book, “Beyond the Baton,” scheduled for release this spring from Oxford University Press. She’s quick to note her how-to book, the first of its kind for conductors, “is not about notes, but the logistics of the job.” 


"What orchestras are looking for now is a well-rounded person who can champion music in their community,” said Wittry, a Maplewood, N.J. resident who divides her time between the NSO and the Allentown (Pa.) Symphony Orchestra, where she also is music director.  “It's no longer enough just to be an incredible musician,” she said.  Musical skills alone may suffice in some large orchestras, of which there are several dozen in the country, but Wittry said the majority of the nation’s 1,500 regional orchestras, which are the size of the NSO, demand more. “It’s because your artistic vision permeates not only the orchestra, but the entire community,” she said. “That’s what I feel a music director should do.” The late Leonard Bernstein, she said, did just that by conducting educational concerts as well as teaching at Tanglewood. “He was very visible,” she said.

For Wittry, who took the helm in Norwalk in 2002, making community inroads has meant visiting local schools and libraries, radio and television appearances, and talking to groups such as the Rotary, Kiwanis and the Westport Y’s Men. It also has meant working closely with the NSO’s board of directors, tailoring programs, establishing budgets and seeking funds. “Ideally, you should inspire the organization to develop outreach programs for people of all ages and backgrounds,” she writes, citing the need to inspire people from preschool age to senior citizens.

Wittry’s book divides  the people orchestras serve into five categories: classical music lovers; pops fans; those interested in music education for themselves or their children; those who don’t like classical music; and those who have never heard a symphony orchestra. One way of spreading the net, the book says, is to create more volunteer opportunities in  connection with performances.

Wittry said she decided to write the book two years ago after realizing there was no how-to reference for conductors. Her text is drawn not only from her extensive professional background but also from interviews with  music   directors  Robert Spano of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, JoAnn Falletta of the Buffalo hilharmonic, and Leonard Slatkin of the National Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to practical advice, Wittry’s book addresses intangibles such as a conductor’s character and a sensitivity toward musicians. “We make no sounds, and everything we do is through other people,” she said. “So we have to inspire them. If we can’t inspire them, we can't be a success.” Far too often, she said, musicians are told during practice what they are doing wrong “in front of 65 to 75 people.” 

“I never tell a musician what they're doing wrong, I just tell them what I want,” said Wittry.  Even disruptive and challenging musicians can be turned around, she said, “because one of the reasons difficult people are difficult is because they care more than anyone.”

Devin Thomas, executive director of the NSO, calls Wittry’s book “a real coup,” and said he looks forward to hosting book signings.  “This is a time of real artistic growth for the organization, and with the arrival of Diane, our creativity has taken off,” he said.





Beyond the Baton - What every conductor needs to know

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