The Case of the Missing Conductor

Snowman and friends
Originally uploaded by revsongbird

It's Saturday night, and I'm tucked up in my room at Stone Hotel, looking back over the weekend. This morning, I attended a breakfast for parents, followed by an informative session about college applications and financial aid. Then Snowman took me to the library to listen to a recording of the orchestra concert from two weeks ago. First we listened to the Barber Second Essay, then to the third movement of the Brahms First Symphony, and after that to the second movement. I'm not sure why, I only know that listening to his solo part brought tears to my eyes.

During a wonderful conference with his New Clarinet Teacher, I shed more tears, and so did she, tears of mingled joy and relief that he loves working with her despite the grief he experienced when his previous teacher moved on to the University of Texas.

At lunch we talked about college, and then we parted, Snowman to warm up for the family Collage performance this afternoon, yours truly to rest briefly before attending same.

The orchestra's piece ended the presentation, a beautifully varied and smoothly coordinated 90 minutes. As the last actor finished his monologue, I looked over to the darkened stage, where the curtain had pulled back to reveal the orchestra.

"Hmmm," I thought. "I don't remember an entrance by the conductor last night. I wonder why he isn't there yet?"

As it turned out, I was not alone in wondering.

The lights came up on the orchestra, and before enough time had passed to worry the audience, one of the first violins (not the concertmaster) took command. She raised her bow, and all the orchestra followed her lead.

Snowman tells me it was magical. People listened to each other, he said, in a way they don't usually in the orchestra. Snowman and his good friend, J., the principal bassoonist, sat next to each other with ecstatic expressions! Near the end of this excerpt from the Barber, I saw the tympanist cuing the rest of the orchestra. They finished brilliantly! Perhaps the horns, in an state of excitement, provided a bit more volume than last night, but really, their capacity to work together, on literally NO notice, amazed me.

Outside after Collage the conversation naturally turned to the conductor's absence. I've yet to hear a full explanation, but it seems likely he assumed this performance, like the others, would be in the evening. He is new. The kids hope he won't be in dire trouble.

I'm not sure what I think. I've been on the board of an arts organization, and if I held a similar position at Land O'Lakes, I might be pretty upset tonight. What an awful mistake to make!

It reminds me of the preacher's nightmare of missing church. One summer during seminary, I put my name on the Conference supply list, and I accepted two dates at one church, about a month apart. I preached on a Sunday in late June at 10 a.m. No one told me that the church service started an hour earlier in July and August.

Yes, it was bad. I arrived when the service was half over. An industrious church member ran home at the last minute and printed out a copy of the sermon he had given on Laity Sunday some years before. They waved me in the side door of the chancel, had me give the pastoral prayer and the Benediction, took me to a church member's house for a special coffee hour and insisted I keep the check written for me.

Tonight I'm asking the question: did someone make sure the new, young conductor knew the (familiar to others) landscape of the weekend?

I'll be interested to hear how it all resolves.

(In the picture, left to right: C, who gave the Hamlet monologue; Snowman; J, bassoonist, who visited us this summer; and N, roommate of C, giving us a little "Oliver" moment.)

16 thoughts on “The Case of the Missing Conductor”

  1. What a wonderful example of an effective teacher (conductor)! If the teacher has taught well, the students can do just fine without him or her. Kinda like God and, you know, people. 😉

  2. Forgetting a concert would be my worst nightmare?
    Who is the new clarinet prof?

  3. oh my sure hope conductor is okay … and is recipient of grace! Sounds like you’re having a wonderful visit

  4. It would be lovely to think it had been a “deliberate mistake” to demonstrate to kids and parents alike just how well they can listen…but as this seems unlikely I hope there is a well of kindness available for the hapless conductor. There but for the grace of God…

  5. Argh…the poor conductor…
    But this strikes me as a glorious example of how leadership can rise up from the middle, if we are prepared and empowered for it.
    This gives me chills:
    “Snowman tells me it was magical. People listened to each other, he said, in a way they don’t usually in the orchestra. Snowman and his good friend, J., the principal bassoonist, sat next to each other with ecstatic expressions!”
    From my experience in public school music programs…I doubt most kids would have been so professional and just handled it.
    Taking it further, I see a metaphor for churches in what laity could do if we could shake our everlasting waiting for our ordained leaders and move ahead in faith and service. Not meant as criticism of pastors, but rather our idea that pastor is supposed to do everything and we just sit around like lumps, being done TO.
    It’s early…I must need more coffee…not saying this well. 🙂

  6. I was waiting for you to say as Kathryn suggested that it was a ‘deliberate mistake.’ Glad you are having a good visit!

  7. This is a really cool story – and probably one that the orchestral members will never forget (along with the conductor never forgetting!).
    I am curious as to the schools/ colleges Snowman is exploring. There are a few very good ones, including my alma mater and only a stone’s throw from where we live.

  8. What a wonderful story! So glad they were all so familiar with one another that they could just magically work it out without the conductor. I do hope he was given the benefit of the doubt.

  9. Oh, no, the poor conductor. But kudos to the violinist and the rest of the orchestra. Such mature and capable people!

  10. It does speak really well about how the conductor has worked to prepare the artists! He must be very consistent for them to have been able to do that in a concert!!

  11. I had one of those dreams this week: preaching robe inside out, no matter how many times I took it off and put it on again… no Bible, then Bible in another (unrecognizable) language, then Bible upside down, then no glasses (all interrupted by someone telling me I should watch a brief film on breathing).
    An awful feeling. Truly awful.

  12. This will (eventually, once the shock of it wears off) be a wonderful teaching moment for the entire orchestra, but especially for the young conductor. In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to be that guy. Nu-uh.

  13. Wow! Quite a story! I think that they showed great poise for beginning the concert (and completing it) without a conductor. And I can ONLY imagine how that poor conductor feels today.
    Ah, our young musicians are getting so tall!!
    Enjoyed many posts in a row on your blog this evening…

  14. It totally sucks to be new and unfamiliar with the customs or changes of the day.
    I am glad to ahve a admin asst who s quite good at telling me stuff I need to know.
    Your story remindsme of my first time to preach in a neutral pulpit when I got lost and was late getting to church. Did not get that call, but I had odd feeling all weekend and so, not a bad thing.
    Please give us a Sam update when you get home. Our dogs and cats are family too.
    I am amused that your first dogs are REAL DOGS, nothing small or tiny, not even medium. You went all out!

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