Student, Sophie Oliver, shares her experience of attending an RPS conducting course.
Having always been keen to try conducting, I discovered that The Royal Philharmonic Society holds courses for aspiring women conductors. With three different courses available (each targeted at different abilities), I opted for the one aimed at first time conductors, or those with little experience. Led by professional conductor Alice Farnham, this two-day intensive course provided a safe, non-judgemental environment to learn the foundations of conducting skills. There were nine of us taking part, some were university students, others were studying at music conservatoire (this particular course was for those aged 16 and over). The first day began with Alice teaching the basic arm movements, before we tried conducting two pianos. Despite being a little nervous about conducting for the first time, a warm and encouraging atmosphere was quickly established. Alice also had us play ‘conducting charades’, whereby we were given an adjective and had to conduct in that style. This was really good fun and rid us of any self-consciousness!
In addition to conducting the two pianos and the different conducting games, Alma Sheehan (singer and vocal coach) ran sessions on both days, aimed at developing confidence and stage presence. This, alongside her advice on how to keep a clear mind even when nervous, was beneficial not only to my conducting skills, but also my general musicianship and instrumental playing.
The second day began with each of us conducting a string quintet. On both days, each participant conducted multiple times throughout, and Alice gave constant feedback. Conducting a string quintet felt markedly different to that of two pianos, and in the afternoon, we were given a string ensemble to conduct. We had been sent a selection music to learn in advance, and so I conducted the Jig from Holst’s St Paul’s Suite and the 2nd movement from Elgar’s Serenade for Strings. In our final session, we were filmed conducting, and this footage was sent to us after the course. This proved to be really useful as I was able to watch myself at home and pick up on things I was doing well / need to work on.
An unforgettable experience, the RPS conducting course has given me both a solid foundation from which I can build my skills and a real enjoyment for conducting. I do find now that whenever I listen to a piece of music, I always conduct along with it!
The Royal Philharmonic Conducting Courses for Women Phase 1 cost £200. This covered two complete days of specialist coaching and practical sessions with performing musicians.