Last Spring I made up my mind to take a chance on trumpet performance, a neglected part of my past. I began practicing in earnest, not just when I had something to perform for. I searched out opportunities, made connections, and started to play much more. Today, I have rehearsals four times a week and teach lessons on two nights. I had the opportunity to play with three big bands over the summer, and now concert season is beginning again. On paper that all looks like plenty, but there was another aspect of my musical past that I was ignoring: conducting.
As a school band director, I conducted daily and almost unconsciously, like breathing. What I conducted was paced more by the limitations of my community band or school group than my conducting skills. Yet when an email fell into my inbox inviting me to guest conduct a piece in the next University Alumni Concert Band concert, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to put myself out there, in front of a group again. After all, I was a member of the group in order to play more, right? Not to conduct. It would just be an added distraction, and it had been years and years since I last held a baton in my hand.
It would have been easy and quick to decline and let them move on to the next person on their list. I have plenty to do, between my playing and my family and my other commitments, and this would just be one thing more to take my time. I haven’t conducted in a long time, I’d rather keep focusing on my playing, I’m just too busy. Then, I started to suspect that there was a deeper reason I was leaning away from the invitation: I wasn’t sure I could do it anymore.
With that realization I reached my tipping point. Last week I stepped onto the podium for the first time in almost fourteen years, rediscovering that wall of sound to mold, my other “instrument” that I had given up on ever “playing” again. My baton shook a little as I made my first prep beat, but I regained confidence as the music blossomed. I found myself making mental notes on what to rehearse next week, what to try, what to change, what to bring out. I forgot my nerves, and let myself submerge in the music, doing what I used to do so fluently.
In seven weeks I’ll be standing on a podium in a major university auditorium, guest conducting the piece we have perfected. Then the only question will be: how do I get more baton time?