Posts By: willcwhite

Pierre Monteux’s Rules for Young Conductors


by Pierre Monteux


  1. Stand straight, even if you are tall.
  2. Never bend, even for a pianissimo. The effect is too obvious behind.
  3. Be always dignified from the time you come on stage.
  4. Always conduct with a baton, so the players far from you can see your beat.
  5. Know your score perfectly.
  6. Never conduct for the audience.
  7. Always mark the first beat of each measure very neatly, so the players who are counting and not playing know where you are.
  8. Always in a two-beat measure, beat the second beat higher than the first. For a four-beat bar, beat the fourth higher.


  1. Don’t overconduct; don’t make unnecessary movements or gestures.
  2. Don’t fail to make music; don’t allow music to stagnate. Don’t neglect any phrase or overlook its integral part in the complete work.
  3. Don’t adhere pedantically to metronomic time — vary the tempo according to the subject or phrase and give each its own character.
  4. Don’t permit the orchestra to play always a boresome mezzo-forte.
  5. Don’t conduct without a baton; don’t bend over while conducting.
  6. Don’t conduct solo instruments in solo passages; don’t worry or annoy sections or players by looking intently at them in “ticklish” passages.
  7. Don’t forget to cue players or sections that have had long rests, even though the part is seemingly an unimportant inner voice.
  8. Don’t come before the orchestra if you have not mastered the score; don’t practice or learn the score “on the orchestra.”
  9. Don’t stop the orchestra if you have nothing to say; don’t speak too softly to the orchestra, or only to the first stands.
  10. Don’t stop for obviously accidental wrong notes.
  11. Don’t sacrifice ensemble in an effort for meticulous beating — don’t hold sections back in technical passages where the urge comes to go forward.
  12. Don’t be disrespectful to your players (no swearing); don’t forget individuals’ rights as persons; don’t undervalue the members of the orchestra simply because they are “cogs” in the “wheels.”

O Clavis David

Anthem for SATB choir and organ

Commissioned by the American Guild of Organists for the Biennial National Convention in Seattle, Washington, 2022

When I was approached about composing something for the American Guild of Organists, I was presented with a slate of options from a solo organ work to a one-act theatrical piece to a church anthem. I naturally gravitated towards an anthem, since I’m much more comfortable in the world of choral music than organ music.

I was lucky enough to be paired for this project with St. Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal diocese of Western Washington. The cathedral has a major reputation in the world of church music, notably for its Sunday evening Compline service, but also for its annual “O Antiphons“ service, which is sort of like an alternative Lessons & Carols.

Because this is one of their signature services, it was decided that they would recreate it for the AGO convention, in spite of the fact that it’s an Advent service and the conference was in the middle of July. I discussed the options for an anthem for this service with the cathedral’s music director, Michael Kleinschmidt. What he told me is that there was one “O Antiphon” that was harder to program than all the others: O Key of David.

The idea behind the O Antiphons (familiar from the hymn “O Come, o come Emmanuel“) is that Jesus is described in a sequence of seven Messianic titles: “O Wisdom,“ “O leader of the House of Israel,“ “O Root of Jesse,“ etc. The Key of David reads as such:

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

So here, Jesus is viewed as the key that will unlock the gates and set the prisoners free. There’s many ways to interpret this, but it seemed clear to me that this could be a very strong prison abolition / social justice piece. So I went hunting for other biblical passages that pertain to this theme. I found several in the psalms, but I also found some early modern Christian literature that really piqued my interest.

Allow me to introduce you to Elizabeth Hooten (1600–1672), described by Wikipedia thus: “She was beaten and imprisoned for propagating her beliefs; she was the first woman to become a Quaker minister.“

This took me down a major-league wormhole of research, but suffice to say, she led an even more fascinating life than that blurb would lead you to believe. She also wrote several letters from prison decrying the conditions and the widespread imprisonment of innocent people who were locked up behind bars (or in many cases, those who may have been locked up because of unjust laws.)

She was a regular 17th century Martha Stewart!

The text:

          Ps. 102: 1      Hear my prayer, O Lord and let my crying come unto thee.

          Ps. 142: 6     O deliver me from my persecutors for they are too strong for me.

           Hooton      O thou that art set in authority to do justice and judgment, and to let the oppressed go free, these things are required at thy hands. 

       Ps. 102: 20      To hear the groaning of the prisoner; to loose those appointed to death;

           Hooton      I labored to lay before the king the grievances of the innocent, and hither have I come time after time, for equity and for justice.

   Isaiah 22: 22      And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; 

and he shall open it.

           Hooton      Do not join with them that would persecute and wrong the innocent, for if thou dost thou wilt wrong thy one soul. 

Orchestral Fantasy Suite for solo bassoon

I wrote this piece in August 2020. It was clear at that point that I would NOT be conducting a season with Harmonia Orchestra & Chorus (or with anyone else for that matter) so I hightailed it into composition mode. Most of what I wrote during the first months of the pandemic was written for friends and specifically for friends to be able to perform by themselves.

In this particular case, I wrote for Harmonia’s principal bassoonist, Jeff Eldridge, aka Listener Jeff, who also happens to be about the most knowledgeable person I’ve ever met when it comes to orchestral literature. Since he (and all of us) were robbed of the chance to play in orchestra together, I thought I’d give him something to play that was based on great orchestral works but designed to entertain one person solo.

So I took a line for a walk. That’s to say, I wrote a multi-movement suite in several movements where each movement starts with the opening bars of a famous orchestral bassoon solo, but then I took the melody in a different direction.

I gave the movements titles that evoke something about their original source: the dudka is the ancient Russian pipe instrument that Stravinsky evoked with the opening of The Rite of Spring. “Budapest” takes its name from the fact that Bartok’s Dance Suite was written to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the merger of Buda and Pest. “Dawn” refers to Ravel’s “Morning Song of the Jester.” “Broomsticks” should be obvious. “Dervishes” refers to the whirling dervishes of the Ottoman Empire; this is the group (supposedly) to which the Kalendar-Prince belonged. And finally, “Hobgobblins” refers to the troll in Peer Gynt, but since that’s the finale, I went crazy with the references.

This was a tremendously fun exercise and I’ve been meaning to do it for other instruments. But of course, I haven’t, so if any other composer wants to steal the idea, I suppose they should!

What kind of piece is this?

Seriously, I’m looking for an answer

My latest piece is called The Muses. I’d love to tell you what genre it falls into, but I honestly don’t know. Hence this blog post.

To get the ball rolling, here’s how The Muses works: the piece is for chorus & orchestra, and it sets to music an Ancient Greek text by the 1st century historian Diodorus Siculus. The text gives a background summary of the nine muses of Greek myth. Each muse is named along with her area of specialty (music, dance, history, etc.), followed by a short etymological description of what the name means.

Men have given the Muses their name from the word muein, which signifies the teaching of those things which are noble and expedient and are not known by the uneducated. For the name of each Muse, they say, men have found a reason appropriate to her:
Cleio is so named because the praise which poets sing in their encomia bestows great glory (kleos) upon
those who are praised…

Before Diodorus launches into the list of the nine names, he starts with a brief discourse on the word “muse” itself. Of course, that’s where my piece starts, and that first bit becomes the introduction to the nine episodes that constitute the piece.

Given the shape of this text, I considered writing a theme and variations, one variation for each of the muses, but I scrapped that idea when the text didn’t want to coalesce into a clear “theme” (i.e. a single, singable melody.) The introduction, which would have been a “theme” became more of a “thematic field” with melodic bits that I immediately started to develop.

But I didn’t give up on the idea entirely. Which is to say that those melodic bits from the opening section became the basis for MOST of the music in each of the episodes. But each episode also has some stuff that’s new, and occasionally I re-used material that was introduced in one episode in a later episode.

So, you could call this piece a “thematic field and development episodes” but that doesn’t really have much of a ring to it. The next best thing I could come up with was “tone poem for chorus and orchestra.” And I suppose that it might be considered a tone poem, but I’m hesitant to call it one because usually in tone poetry there is a dramatic element, i.e. something happens. (Consider z.B. Dvorak’s The Wood Dove or Strauss’s Don Juan.)

Another thing that it might be but it’s not is a “choral symphony.” I would put something like Rachmaninoff’s The Bells in this group. The Muses is just one movement and has no symphonic impetus behind it.

Now that I’ve ruled all those out, I think I might have put my finger on it. You know what this piece really is? It’s a ballet chanté. It should have been obvious to me that I was writing a dance piece without the dance given that it was a response to Daphnis et Chloé. And yet, someone I didn’t realize it. But I’ll tell you how I figured it out:

Not two months ago, a conductor friend called to tell me that he was planning to perform my Recollected Dances as a ballet with his company in the suburbs of Seattle. I went to the performance and I fell in love with it. It worked incredibly well, and it’s made me realize that a ton of my music (maybe all of it?) would benefit from a choreographic treatment.

The Muses would just work SO WELL as a ballet, and I think that many smaller companies would love it. It’s basically got nine solos for nine ballerinas, any of which could easily be supported by the corps. And there’s no obvious reason it needs to include boys (but there’s no reason it couldn’t) so I think it’s pretty flexible and would play to many company’s strengths.

So I guess this post turned from a plea for help into an exhortative advertisement to regional ballet companies. That’s blogging for you!

The Muses, op. 54

SSA choir (with optional TBB) – – tmp+3 – hp — str
18 min.

Why does the choral score cost so much?

The Muses, op. 54 for chorus and orchestra was composed in early 2022, written specifically for the combined forces of Seattle’s Harmonia Orchestra & Chorus.

The text is in Ancient Greek and comes from Diodorus Siculus’ The Library of History. If the thought of having your choir sing in Greek gives you the heebie-jeebies, let me put your mind at ease: I’ve had the original Greek text transliterated into latin script, and it’s just as easy to read as any modern Romance language. Your choir is probably comfortable singing in Latin, and I’d say there’s a similar “hit rate” in terms of recognizing the meanings of individual words from Greek roots that have found their way into English as there is with Latin.

The piece is a quasi-theme and variations, but I would more accurately describe it more as a “thematic field and development episodes.” (It might secretly be a ballet.) Each of the nine muses of Ancient Greek mythology gets its own episode:

  1. Cleio, the muse of history
  2. Euterpe, the muse of music
  3. Thalia, the muse of comedy
  4. Melpomene, the muse of tragedy
  5. Terpsichore, the muse of dance
  6. Erato, the muse of love poetry
  7. Polymnia, the muse of hymnody
  8. Urania, the muse of astronomy
  9. Calliope, the muse of epic poetry

There is also an introduction and a coda, which invoke and explain the muses more generally.

Program notes from the original performance can be found here and the texts and translations here. The full score for perusal is here.