I’ve had a number of people in the Burlington Choral Society, Onion River Chorus, and Montpelier Chamber Orchestra, all groups that I am rehearsing at the moment, ask me solicitously how I am feeling after abdominal surgery on February 23.
My response has been pretty much the same:
“Great! I’m a lucky guy! Music is a fabulous opiate – much better than oxycodone.”
These are honest responses, but in the name of good science it should be noted that I am typically asked these questions at the break in the middle of the rehearsal, or after the rehearsal is over, when the pain killing, euphoria-producing endorphins are flooding my system. If I had been asked after hauling wood in, or shoveling snow, or even during those days when I was worrying about Hannah’s health, I would have given a less positive answer.
But conducting – ah, it really is the best trip in the world. The imperative to be as communicative as one can possibly on multiple levels – musically, physically, and socially – makes conducting an almost out of body experience that absolutely obliterates pain and obsessive worry about non-musical things.
Notice the qualifying word “almost” in the previous sentence though. While conducting does indeed have all those salutary benefits I’ve described, one needs to retain a modicum of awareness of the real world in order to be of value to those you conduct.
Carnegie Hall just posted a delightful video on YouTube of an encore to concert given this past weekend that illustrates the thin line between the ecstasy and control of conducting. In it, Zubin Mehta is the conductor on the podium, soprano Diana Damrau the “disinterested listener” to the Vienna Philharmonic’s rendition of Johann Strauss Jr’s “Unter Donner und Blitz” polka. But Ms. Damrau is ready to party, starts moving and clapping, and Mehta invites her onto the podium. It’s all great fun, and though probably scripted at least a little, so full of infectious joy that Ms. Damrau’s conducting makes her, and us, feel great.