This was Carl’s confession yesterday during the Adult Forum when assessing his abilities to conduct the choir in the early days. He explained that he was originally hired as the organist in December 1972, but that when music director Joseph Hansen left the position for a job in California, Carl became Music Director and Organist and Dr. Malcolm Tait from the University of Hawaii was brought in to do the “hand-waving” (conducting only).
As I wrote in an earlier post, I became organist in May 1978 when Carl’s replacement for the organist was terminated. When Dr. Tait left for a position at Case Western Reserve, Carl was re-hired as Music Director. There admittedly was “a lot of screaming and yelling” because he didn’t know how to communicate what he wanted through his gestures. He was so frustrated with his inadequacies as a conductor.
It was probably not until he had to conduct Bach Cantata 4 that he learned the difference between conducting singers and conducting instrumentalists. He learned that conductors have to convey musically what is happening BEFORE the beat for instrumentalists, but ON the beat for singers. I always say, though, that Carl has a solid musical concept before walking into a rehearsal, despite not having outstanding conducting technique. He knows what he wants the music to sound like and people trust him to bring the music to life — that’s more important than the actual conducting gestures.
And he really learned how to run a rehearsal efficiently when he spent part of his sabbatical with Edith Ho at the Church of the Advent. See my earlier post on Edith Ho, Musical Mentor.
And did you know that Carl never took a conducting class in his life? Apparently, it was not required of piano majors at the University of Washington. I, on the other hand, was required to take one semester of choral conducting and one semester of instrumental conducting, even as an organ performance major at the University of Southern California. I went on to take a second semester of choral conducting. However, I would never consider myself a conductor, or would even attempt to do any conducting since now Carl has nearly 40 years of experience. He has really learned on the job!