To borrow from the old adage about getting to Carnegie Hall, it takes a lot of practice to be a great classical musician.
But to become a great conductor, there’s not too much a would-be maestro can do, according to University of South Florida masters student Brent Douglas.
"When people ask me what it’s like to practice as a conductor without an orchestra, I tell them it’s probably a little bit like being in a NASCAR race," Douglas said. "You’re preparing for it by sitting on your couch at home, you’re turning the wheel, you’re swerving, you’re feeling the curves, experience the acceleration in your head but once you get on the track, in front of a car, it’s completely different, it responds different and you have to be ready for whatever comes at you."
"Absolutely brilliant – not my conducting, per se," Douglas said shortly after stepping offstage. "But the chance to work with those musicians, it’s amazing."
"The sounds are really good," fellow masters student Allison Synnett said with a laugh, after her turn at the podium. "The fact that they’re looking up at you all the time and you’re definitely making music with them rather than maybe informing them of what to do--it’s really you’re making music together and you’re guiding through a symphony together--- rather than just telling them what to do and getting the response, it’s definitely a more fluid relationship."
The conductors worked under the watchful eye of Orchestra Music Director Michael Francis, who often brought the playing to a halt to give them advice.
Francis pointed out to Synnett how the musicians were responding to the pace at which she moved her arms, wrists and hands. After making the suggested changes, the 28-year-old was impressed by the results, in awe of how 60 musicians reacted to just the slightest alteration of her motion.
"So knowing that lifting up your baton just that much faster is going to elicit such a different response is a little scary at first," Synnett said. "It was cool to see how trying something new will get a different response and how that sounds."
The class was one of a number of interactions with students during The Florida Orchestra’s week of visits to USF and the University of Tampa. The event, dubbed “TFO on Campus, like class…but way better,” is part of Francis’ plan to reach out more to the Tampa Bay Area.
"Well, I believe, strongly, that our boundaries are not limited by the size of our concert hall but by the size of our community, so I passionately believe in playing to the community," Francis said. "And one of the big things I've tried to do as a music director coming here is just to really galvanize our community outreach to a new level."
The Orchestra’s schedule included an open rehearsal and an in-depth public discussion and performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 at USF’s School of Music, as well as a visit to patients at the Moffitt Cancer Center.
"The more that we can do to serve the music to our community the better. Music really changes lives, it really transforms people. It heals, it edifies, it encourages, it enriches, it just improves our lives," Francis said. "All of us have our own playlists to our life, and when we hear music, it matters deeply to us, and if I asked you for the pieces that matter the most to you, you could tell me why every time you hear them, you’re taken to a certain place."
"And when we go to the hospitals and play to the children and we see the life on their face, I think it’s almost the music is the one constant that can really penetrate through the pain and bring joy," Francis added.
And the week was also about sharing that joy of music with the next generation of classical musicians, as The Florida Orchestra played Mozart’s Symphony No. 39 alongside students in the USF Symphony Orchestra.
For clarinet player Marshall Mosley, the sheer speed with which the professional players picked things up showed him that preparation is vital.
"There was a lot of things that they were asking me to do, like play louder, play louder, that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable doing at the time but you have to be ready for that," the 19 year old sophomore said, adding praise for the Orchestra's visit. "They don’t have to and the fact that they do represents that they are in touch with the community and they want to give back to younger students."
That interaction is something that Francis wants to see more of.
"I think for us, as musicians in The Florida Orchestra coming here, it's very inspiring to see the next generation come up, to see their enthusiasm, for us to work with them - it's always wonderful to mentor people, to give something back," Francis said.