Conducting Courses at Canford

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For many years, Canford Summer School has had two orchestral conducting courses and one each for wind band and choral conductors among a variety of music courses running during each of its three weeks.

In the first week, Practical Conducting, currently run by Rodolfo Saglimbeni;

in the second and third weeks, Conductors' Course, George Hurst and Rodolfo Saglimbeni, usually assisted by Denise Ham and Robert Houlihan.

The following description is based upon attendance on both orchestral courses, most recently the Practical Conducting course 2003. In 2000, I went on the choral conductors' course with David Lawrence and Patsy was on it in 2002. Since 1994 I have observed the long (Orchestral) Conductors' Course from the outside, sometimes playing in the orchestras on which the conductors are being taught. Minor changes occasionally take place in it, but the general pattern is now well established.

The first course is suitable for amateurs, though in 1994 the students included professional instrumentalists and in 2001 there were several serious students with professional experience. It gives relatively relaxed instruction in stick technique, rehearsal strategy and score preparation. The class usually forms a small orchestra for practical work during its main sessions, missing instruments being supplied from the score by students with adequate piano technique.

In the past, the more experienced have had opportunities to conduct a complete ensemble from one of the other courses (wind chamber music or chamber orchestra).

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The second course is aimed at professionals, though many amateurs also attend it, mostly as observers. High standards are demanded, the pace of working is intense, and the conductors have extra sessions at times when the other courses are free. Baton technique still has an important place. Because a significant number of the students are professional instrumentalists, the standard of the class ensemble is high and the experience is suitable for a recent music graduate seeking a first post as assistant conductor to a professional orchestra (in 1966, one of my fellow students was [now Sir] Andrew Davies). However, relatively few of the students (perhaps fewer than 10 from 80) will get large amounts of time conducting the instrumental ensembles. Another 20 or so will have two or three 5 minute slots and I believe observers, nowadays, are offered one short session at the end of the fortnight.

In addition to the baton technique and practical sessions, there are sessions in which George Hurst passes on his understanding of the works being studied, including insights derived from his studies with Pierre Monteux; and (in 1994; I hope it is still in) a session on the aural skills needed by a conductor. This last was (IMHO) not so much teaching how to do it as warning potential conductors what capabilities they should have before they started telling other musicians what to do! Although not what attracts students in the first place, these sessions appear to me as very valuable, and justify attendance as an observer. However, I do not recommend this course to anyone who wants to take a conventional summer holiday in the beautiful Dorset countryside, since they will have insufficient time to enjoy it: rather they should try the Practical Conducting course during the first week and one of the (15) other courses from weeks 2 and 3. This will give them the opportunity to observe the second course from the outside (or the inside if they are chosen to play in one of the voluntary orchestras) and decide for themselves whether they have sufficient enthusiasm and stamina to work so intensively for a fortnight.

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Ken Moore

For general information and descriptions of the courses,

see the web site at,


or write to

Canford Summer School of Music
5 Bushey Close,
Old Barn Lane,
Surrey, CR8 5AU
telephone 0208 660 4766; fax 0208 668 5273
(in the UK; from abroad replace initial 0 with UK country code).

The Canford conductors also run their own web site.

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