Some men are born to be orchestral conductors. Others have batons
thrust upon them. Take my case. When the high school band went
down to have its picture taken for the school annual, I was the
only man in the outfit who didn't carry his instrument along.
I played piano. So when we got to the photographer's, he insisted
I couldn't just stand in the picture with my arms hanging down.
He gave me a baton to hold.
A baton was thrust at me again by an orchestra leader in New York
some years later. He wanted to go out for a smoke. He tossed me
the stick and said, "Here, you lead 'em if you can!"
One good way of becoming an orchestra leader is to watch other
leaders work. In a short time, if you are observant, you will
have them classified as shovel runners, furnace tenders, mane
flappers, score nosers or shimmy dancers. If you are wise, you
will be none of these, but you will study music until you know
more about it than any man in any orchestra you are likely to
conduct. However, that is not entirely essential.
If you want, you can become a glamour boy. This takes practically
no knowledge of music. It does take more than the usual quota
of good looks. He leaves the grinding work of whipping an orchestra
through rehearsal routines up to a real musician. When the band
is all schooled in its pieces, glamour boy gets out in front for
the performance before the audience and waves gracefully about
If you decide to become a conductor in the real sense of the word,
you're in for a study in personalities. There's the musician who
yawns. He was out late the night before playing pinochle. Only
way to counteract this effect is to play pinochle with him, then
you can yawn right back. Another type is the fiddle player who
sits on his collarbone and chews gum out of rhythm.
You will also find among your charges several talent scouts, usually
found in the cello section. Their eyes constantly follow the feminine
portion of your audience instead of the score. There is a stable
boy in every orchestra -- a lad who has a form sheet tucked away
somewhere, and while the band is busy with Beethoven's Ninth,
he's picking one in Empire's fifth.
There are other varieties. The chimney sweep is one. He's the
trombone player who drives a conductor nuts by almost hitting
the music rack every time he extends the trombone slide.