Beyond the Baton - Book Review
American Choral Directors Association Journal (May 2007)
by Sean Burton
Diane Wittry enjoys a distinguished career as music director of the Allentown (PA) and Norwalk (CT) Symphony Orchestras. In addition to appearing frequently as a guest conductor with major orchestras in the United States and abroad, Wittry has been honored by the American Symphony Orchestra League and profiled in such publications as The New York Times and Newsweek. Her consistent success on the podium serves as an exemplary model to any conductor—emerging or established. Though intended primarily for orchestral conductors, Wittry's insights throughout Beyond the Baton merit consideration by conductors in every discipline.
The opening paragraph of Wittry's prologue, titled ‚"So—You Want to Be a Conductor? It Starts with You" sets an inspired tone:
Many of us will spend our lives trying to perfect this art form, but what truly makes one conductor great, and another conductor just good? People used to say that conductors were born, not taught; that you had to already possess the "right" personality from birth to assume this leadership role; that, if the first time you ever stepped on the podium, you didn't have the mysterious "it" you never would. I do not believe this is true. I believe that anyone who is passionate about music-making, and is willing to work hard and learn, can become a conductor. There are many areas that must be studied and mastered to make this a reality. Beyond the musical skills that must be learned, you must master the essential ingredient that makes the difference between a good conductor and a great one. That quality is leadership (p. 3).
The remaining section of the prologue includes a brief discussion about leadership which segues into the first chapter, a succinct description of preparation for a career in conducting.Wittry outlines the various duties of assistant conductors and music directors in the context of organizations ranging from community and youth ensembles to regional and full-time professional orchestras. Because choral conductors occasionally appear as guest conductors with orchestras in a variety of configurations, this chapter offers helpful background information with reference to organizational structures.
In the second chapter, Wittry features segments from interviews with three outstanding professional conductors: Leonard Slatkin, Robert Spano, and JoAnn Falletta. Their individual career paths and words of advice are as intriguing as they are relevant to all who wield the baton.While readers may not agree with every individual statement made by Slatkin, Spano, and Falletta, their collective experience and national renown are as impressive as they are informed.
The first part of chapter three, "Your First Job," contains a plethora of practical information ranging from the application process, press packets, interviews, and auditions to contract negotiation and artist management. Conductors at all levels of experience could benefit from reviewing the second section of the third chapter,"First Year‚—Do's and Don'ts," (pp. 66). In the closing paragraphs of chapter three, Wittry expounds upon career organization and the importance of time management.
The fourth chapter, "Artistic Leadership," explores leadership styles as applied to the conducting profession. Wittry incorporates additional thoughts from Slatkin, Spano, and Falletta with regards to artistic vision and programming, an effective segue into chapter five, "Artistic Programming." In chapter five, Wittry delves into the many programming considerations of symphony orchestras. Though not always parallel to similar matters in choral organizations,Wittry's discussion of audience-building and overall approaches to programming are thoughtful, relevant, and congruent with contemporary trends.
Words of wisdom abound in the sixth chapter,"The People Factor." Wittry's commentary on communication skills, motivation, confrontation, and conflict resolution are expertly presented prior to the chapter's second section, "Implementing the Artistic Plan." In this segment, Wittry articulates rehearsal organization and general protocols when working with the array of constituent groups associated with performing organizations (volunteers, staff, boards, unions, and musicians). Wittry brings the sixth chapter to a close with concise segments on positive rehearsal techniques and networking.
Chapter seven,"Funding the Artistic Vision‚" addresses the music director's role as fundraiser and spokesperson. Among the many worthwhile points of this chapter are useful tips on public speaking and interaction with radio and television media. The final chapter of Beyond the Baton, "Closing Thoughts," integrates a discussion of professional development with career legacy, concluding with a challenge "to persist, and therefore to succeed‚" (p. 213).
The hefty "Resources" section (more than 100 pages) offers selected listings of networking organizations; directories, magazines, and journals; internet resources and forums; news services; artist managers; publishers; library special collections; summer festivals and workshops; conducting competitions; artist residencies; compositions according to thematic program; encores; orchestra audition repertoire by instrument; sample contracts and resume format; and recommended reading. This portion of the book alone is worth the cost of purchase.
Beyond the Baton is not a text concerned with stick technique or nuances of interpretation. Rather, it is a no-nonsense explanation of the conducting profession with a distinctive philosophy of leadership. I recommend this text enthusiastically and without reservation