If you could have any job in the world, what would it be?
Most of us can only dream of that special fantasy job, the one so glamorous and fun we couldn’t wait to get up in the morning and get at it.
Quarterback for the Green Bay Packers? Talk show host on NBC? CEO of a multi-national corporation? Movie star?
Not me. I’d be a symphony conductor. I don’t think there’s much that could match the excitement of bringing the baton down on one of the world’s great orchestras. Well, maybe dunking over LeBron James, but at 5-6 and 66 years of age, I don’t think it’s going to happen.
I can imagine it: the house lights dim, the crowd quiets in anticipation and I stride onto stage to a huge ovation, dressed in tails -- I’d have to toss aside my usual garb of khakis and corduroy shirt -- and ready to lead the best musicians in the world. What could be better?
I’m a frustrated musician, born without talent but envisioning myself as the equal of Mozart. I love music -- everything from the lovely strains of Antonio Vivaldi’s Baroque chamber pieces to the honkytonk tones of the late country legend George Jones.
I can’t sing a lick, and my grandmother, a piano teacher with infinite patience, told my mother after six weeks of lessons I should try a new endeavor. But hope springs eternal, and my fantasies die hard.
If you are a music lover, no job could compare to standing on the podium in New York’s Lincoln Center, the crowd in hushed expectation, waiting for the dramatic opening flourishes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.
If you have a bit of ham in you, then being a conductor is ideal. And the pros have learned how to build anticipation. First, the musicians sort of stroll out, one by one, and start warming up in their individual ways -- notes from everywhere, all melding into a little mini-cacophony. That gets the patrons into the scene as they file into the concert hall, sort of like slam-dunks during warm-ups get the crowd into a basketball game.
Then the lights dim, and the audience falls into an expectant hush. Those who are familiar with the music on the evening’s program are already waiting for their favorites. The concertmaster comes out to a round of applause and takes his seat next to the podium, and the main event is ready to start.
Finally it’s time for the conductor, and he rushes onto the stage -- you almost never see a conductor amble onto the stage -- as the crowd erupts into applause. Good conductors don’t just conduct; they perform.
From the moment they come on stage until the final note has sounded, they become a part of the show, their demeanor just as important as every note the musicians play.
Occasionally you’ll find a conductor who just stands there, mildly moving his arms, but those guys usually stay in the minor leagues. The guys in the big time know how to put on a show.
My favorite is Charles Dutoit, conductor of the Montreal Symphony for many years and now top man with London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Charles is a wild man -- running onstage as if he can’t wait to get started, jumping around like his pants are on fire, gesticulating wildly. I’m telling you, the man has a good time out there. And patrons appreciate it. They know he’s working hard, and it gets their juices flowing.
So, when I finally get my chance in front of the London Philharmonic, don’t expect me to stand there like a bump on a log. I’ll be like Charles, leaping around like a madman and creating a frenzy of excitement.
Even LeBron James would be jealous.