Conductors’ batons cast a type of spell, but not in the Harry Potter sense. They create and control a form of magic when used to lead a band or orchestra. Many people love to watch conductors wave the baton—it certainly looks like magic because it appears that with a simple wave of a “wand,” the musicians obey your every wish and the music soars easily. A lot of people wave their hands in the air, imaginatively leading the orchestra. It seems powerful. We’ve even seen Mickey Mouse and Bugs Bunny try it. The compelling desire for what appears to be such incredible influence is often both intoxicating and confusing.
In reality, wielding the baton comes with an enormous responsibility. I learned this important lesson many times, but none quite as interesting as my appearance at a rather prestigious festival along with two other conductors, both of whom I respected a great deal. I was excited for the opportunity to be on the program and meet these conductors I had admired from afar for so many years. I spent hours and hours preparing the scores. I knew every possible challenge I might face within the structure of the music and every nuance I needed to achieve in order to accomplish a notable and convincing performance.
The real power came from within.
Conductors who use a baton are particular about its selection—it’s a precious personal possession. Upon my arrival at the festival, I was immediately escorted into the rehearsal. As I opened my briefcase, I noticed I had packed only one baton. That was odd, but not troublesome—that is until the end of the first rehearsal when my baton lay unprotected on the edge of the briefcase. As I answered a question, the lid of the briefcase suddenly slammed shut, and the tip of my baton broke off. I was terrified and searched for something to make the repair, but the only thing available was some scotch tape! It threw the entire baton off balance and the tip wasn’t exactly straight. I had to use it for the rest of the rehearsals and the performance. I was worried and terribly embarrassed, so I hid the baton at every opportunity.
As it turned out, the performance was wonderful, the audience was appreciative, and my fellow conductors were gracious and complimentary. I learned, just as with Harry Potter’s broken wand, that the baton had a certain power, but it means nothing without preparation, practice, willpower, and the imagination of the person who uses it. Conductors use the baton to shape the beat, influence the quality of the sound, and guide the pacing so that each moment not only flows to the next, but leads to a full expression of the music. The baton itself is only a tool—the real guiding insight comes from within.
When you think about it, that’s what you have to do in your everyday life. You learn the value of preparation, flexibility, openness, and responsibility. Once you realize your power is within, there is no longer any need to feel helpless or out of control or embarrassed. You can observe and respond however you choose—acting in a fearful manner or with the graceful flow that comes from your learning and preparation—without a magic wand. After that experience, I knew it was just a tool, but I always checked to be sure I had more than one baton in my case.
– Pat Hoy
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