Your Conducting Video. (Ugh, we know...)
Welcome to Our Guide to Video Submissions!
For better or worse, our conducting video is how we are advanced in most of our job applications. It is a very imperfect system, especially considering that most of the work we do happens in rehearsal, but it is the system we have! Here is our attempt to make crafting your video a little easier...
First, let me offer the set of guidelines from the League of American Orchestras:
Video Sample Submission Guidelines:
• If your video is password protected, please share the password.
• List the composer, title of work, movement (if applicable), the orchestra, and date of performance in the field provided on the application.
• Please submit no more than four excerpts of contrasting repertoire, demonstrating a variety of styles and tempi.
• Footage must be at least fifteen minutes in duration, not to exceed thirty minutes in length.
• Footage may be of a performance (preferred) or a rehearsal.
• Video should be taken from a camera positioned behind the ensemble, with an unobstructed sight line of the conductor’s baton and body.
• Do not include any publicity videos or promotional segments.
This is a nice place to start of course, so thank you to the League! I do, however, have a few thoughts.
• Date of performance? I don’t think this is necessary, unless they specifically require it.
• Four excerpts is a good number, yes! But five or six is also fine! If they are good excerpts, go for it.
• Yes, of course they should be contrasting - when possible.
• In nearly all scenarios, 15 minutes of video won’t be watched and there is even less of a chance that someone is going to watch 30 minutes, FYI.
• No rehearsal footage if you have equally good performance tape! Unless they ask for it. More about that later.
HERE is the info you may not already know:
The most important thing about your video is it's VERY first impression.
The truth is that most people who are watching videos are watching 100 or more videos at one sitting (or at least over a very small period of time). They won’t watch more than the beginning of the first and then maybe the second excerpt before they decide that they don’t need to watch more. If they like what they see, they will continue watching, skip to other excerpts, and/or flag your resume as one to review again in the next round. So, similar to when they first see your resume, they are LOOKING for reasons to move on. (Trust me, it does not take much for one to dismiss a video when they have another 95 videos still left to watch.) For that reason, the following do’s and don’ts are very important.
Make sure the first 30 seconds contain the best conducting you have on film.
Period. It can even be the climax of a piece and start mid-phrase (just fade in). If the build up is good, include that of course, but as soon as it drops in energy or intensity you risk losing your viewer.
You should not be looking down.
This should not be a working rehearsal (unless requested).
Rehearsals are generally underwhelming. There are usually lulls of energy and also, the people watching may have more of an opinion about the nuances of your rehearsal than your conducting or connection to the sound. This may simply be based on how they rehearse or what they find important, but it still is potentially distracting. Perhaps if they saw the whole rehearsal, they would be able to get to know you (more accurately) as a conductor. However, if they are watching three minutes of one, that is simply a snapshot of your style that may not tell the whole story of how you approach a rehearsal or fix things. If the video is of a run through of a piece during a rehearsal, that is better (but still not ideal).
This should not be a concerto, if possible.
This should not be a modern piece that the viewer couldn’t possibly know.
For example: Conducting a composer friend’s recital piece for 9 random instruments back in college is not a good idea. Nobody truly wants to hear or see that, sorry.
This has to be ‘perfect’ conducting. Of course the rhythm and beat patterns have to be perfect, but it is much more than that… Everything you are showing must be correct musically, dynamically, as well as in the articulation of what you are showing in your gestures. Ideally, everything you show should also be audible to the viewer. For instance, if you make a huge gesture or crescendo in your hands, but the orchestra sound does not match that gesture, it feels like they are not following you. That brings us to...
Make sure the orchestra is following you! (and not vice versa)
The audio has to be perfectly in sync with the video. If not, it is disorientating and the viewer can’t quickly be certain if you are rhythmically behind the orchestra, and therefore not connected to the sound. One way to confirm this is to make sure that the other instruments look correct (i.e. look at the concertmaster to confirm their bow is matching the audio). If that is lining up, but you are still behind the sound, that is a bigger issue that you need to work on. If your physicality is behind the sound, by definition, you are not influencing the sound and therefore not really conducting, just following. This should immediately become a focus of your conducting studies.
The orchestra has to sound good.
Or at least they need to sound okay! Do consider using a microphone placed behind the podium from the audience's perspective and place the camera behind the orchestra so it has direct eyes on you. If no separate recording is available and no microphone, be aware of where your camera is located. (I.e, it should not only pick up the sound out of the bells of the french horns.) As far as the level of the ensemble, do what you can! Ideally you should be conscious about what you are sending out. An egregiously out of tune note or a severely unbalanced mix are not necessarily your fault, but it is not pleasant to listen to and the viewer may watch/listen for a shorter amount of time.
It should not start with ANY dead time.
Examples of what NOT to include: a title ‘card’ with the name of the piece, applause, walking to the podium, you getting ready to conduct, etc... If you are choosing the beginning of a piece, just the upbeat is perfect. The most you can have is your name quickly, but even that (along with the piece, composer, and/or orchestra) can be at the bottom of the screen at the very beginning of the excerpt.
Make it super easy to get to.
The video should be clickable links or a website with all links ready to go and clearly labeled. If it is a longer ‘reel’ with different excerpts back to back, make it known the exact timestamp of when each new clip starts.
Variety vs Quality
Variety is good, but the most important thing is the quality of conducting. So, if you have two great clips from the same work or composer, no problem, put those two first and diversify later.
Length of excerpt can be ANY LENGTH.
One tape that got me advanced a lot when I was younger was one that started with ONLY thirty seconds of the climax of a symphony. Faded in and out. Of course I had longer clips that followed, but I figured since most people were not watching more than a minute or two of my ‘reel’, I didn’t see any reason why I needed four, 4-minute clips. This is especially important to avoid when there may be a small ‘mistake’ in those longer clips (or some less interesting or less connected sections) before or after your very best conducting. I know none of us have our best conducting on film (and technical glitches or small mistakes happen to all of us, all the time), but there is no need to submit those moments - even if they only last a millisecond! If they want a longer tape or specifically ask for longer excerpts or a full movement, go ahead and submit that, but DO put it last.
We hope that these suggestions help in your future applications! Our goal is to make you a little more knowledgable about how to put your best foot forward and also give those who are watching more of what they are really looking for. The actual audition will make the video round irrelevant, of course, but we still want to give you the best possible chance to be invited! One last piece of advice: DO film every time you conduct (rehearsals and concerts) AND watch those videos ad nauseum! This is our best tool (off the podium) to get better. Also, you might find something really wonderful where you least expect it! The other reason to film everything today is that when you start conducting more and more professional groups, you will discover that you are (most likely) unable to record and send out videos of you conducting them. So, get good tape while you still can!
Good luck and look up!
May 6, 2020