This past summer, I had the wonderful privilege of serving as a clinician for a wind conducting symposium with my dear friend, Dr. Robert Halseth. Bob’s extraordinary abilities as a conductor and teacher are only matched by his kindness, sincerity, and spirit. He is truly one of the most remarkable human beings you will ever meet.

During the week-long symposium, we alternated working with each participant. One morning, while Bob was helping one of the conductors, he used an analogy that was so perfect, so amazingly profound, that I ran up to the podium, interrupted him, gave him a giant hug, and hollered, “That is one of the greatest analogies for what we do as conductors I have ever heard.” I am still in awe of the power of the sentiment. What did he say?

Well, he asked the conductor a simple question: “How many movies has the renowned actress Meryl Streep made?” To which the student replied, “Many.” “That’s right,” Bob continued, “and in each of them, though she remains herself, her artistic challenge is to embody what may be a vastly different character, as dictated by the script.” He went on to describe that we, or more specifically, our conducting, should be just that in each piece, each passage, we embody. His statement was simply brilliant! In my opinion, no words have ever described that aspect of the art of conducting better. Full stop.

For us as conductors, the score is the script for our “movie.” Our interpretation of that script, and then how we use our face, body language, hand shapes, and motions – though recognizable as us – must become that music, no different than Ms. Streep becomes a character for a particular role. So the next time each of us takes to the podium, I think we can do no better than to remember Bob’s wisdom and to work toward capturing its power. See, I told you he was amazing!

Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
KHS America

About the Author

Dr. Boonshaft, Director of Education for KHS America, is the author of the critically acclaimed best-selling books Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music with Promise. He was honored by the National Association for Music Education and Music For All as the first recipient of the “George M. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education.” Dr. Boonshaft was selected for the Center for Scholarly Research and Academic Excellence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he is Professor Emeritus of Music.