Maestroes- doing the jobs that possibly nobody needs to do

Posted On: Wednesday - February 14th 2018 8:00AM MST
In Topics: 
  Music  The Dead  Humor

Are these guys really necessary?
Couldn't they be replaced by Maestro-bots or cheap illegal labor?

Upon reading/viewing this short John Derbyshire blog-post about Korean opera singer, Lee Myong-Joo, singing in Italian (not particularly my cup o' tea), I couldn't help but notice the conducter doing his bit there in front of the large orchestra backing up the singer. This conductor job has been bugging me for a while, which is the subject of this short post.

Yes, I have played in school bands with the teacher acting as conductor. It was highly necessary, as some of the kids were a bunch of screw ups and just couldn't keep time, much less play all the right notes. There's keeping time, as in not varying the meter off of that appropriate for the piece, and then there's the keeping time (more related to rock/country/bluegrass/etc) in which you must get back to the same place after 4 times around, or 8 times around, not some odd-ass number like 7! I've seen both types of problems. The former is something hard to overcome, as it just may be a talent, without the presence of a metronome or conductor. The latter is just plain old lack of attention. It's bad when it's the bass player, BTW.

You would just think that, after playing cello or violin for 2 hours a day for 10 years under the supervision of their Tiger Moms, by the time they get to play at the Metropolitan Opera House, these people would know how to keep time, right? Why do these musicians need this conductor, or "maestro" as they insist on being called. He's probably paid more or as much as the best musicians, but for what? He signals that they might want to play a little softer here, then come on strong with the low sound right now, then ... what? Couldn't they work it all out themselves during practice?

I think it's time to eliminate this union-sandbagging position. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these guys are just Soprano-family mobsters that didn't feel like sitting outside in a lawn chair in the winter for this make-work job. (You see a lot of these guys in New York City, too, come to think of it - mob country.)

Let's contrast the opera house or any large classical music performance requiring a maestro with how it's done in good rock music, OK? In this video, a live version of Cassidy*, Jerry Garcia has been just absorbed in playing his lead, to some unusual chord progression too, from 03:35 on. Then, at 05:18, Jerry tries for about 10 seconds to get Bob Weir's attention to let him know he's about done playing it. Bobby doesn't notice, but then at 05:32, he tries to get Jerry's attention. Jerry is looking back at his guitar then (or maybe just something acid-induced in his head!) so Bobby just yells "Hey" in the middle of the music there, and they all wrap it back up toward the tonic. Who needs a conductor? Those guys were all maestros!

* Yes, this is a repeat of a song featured just recently, in this post about the 10,004th maniac. OTOH every Dead performance has it done differently, and this one just was amusing to me. RIP, Jerry.

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