Small and soundless, the baton
is the engine of the sound
which have to focus on
when they become performance bound.
Some are made of silver birch
or fiberglass, sometimes rosewood
is ideal when conductors search,
for one to make them understood.
They feel the baton that they wield
become electric, live and throb,
to make all the performers yield
to them and their small thingmabob.
With batons you can architect
the shape of music, Tilson Thomas
declares, and audiences expect
him always to fulfill this promise.
They’re an extension of the arm,
as for the fiddler is the bow.
though small and soundless, their cute charm
brings listeners and makes them glow
when hearing sounds not mass-produced
when great conductors wave them well.
Ignore their size, and be seduced
by music that they cause to swell.
Inspired by an article in the December 10,2009 edition of the SF Chronicle by John Guthrie (“For conductor's, magic of music in the baton”) :
The hardwood baton used by San Francisco Symphony conductor Michael Tilson Thomas is 12 inches long and made by a retired stage hand in Amsterdam. The stick used by Nicola Luisotti, the San Francisco Opera's music director, is 13 inches long and crafted by his 82-year-old father using wood from trees grown near the family's home in Italy. Across the bay, Berkeley Symphony's maestra Joana Carneiro wields a baton of rosewood and fiberglass, which she buys at a shop in Paris and cuts down to size herself. There are batons made of silver birch and batons made of fiberglass, batons that are 10 inches long and batons that stretch to 24 inches. Small and soundless, the baton goes unnoticed by most concertgoers but can be an obsession to conductors. Born out of necessity centuries ago, when rooms were lit by candles and the conductor's gestures needed to be seen by musicians, the baton serves unseen roles. The baton is a 'living thing, charged with a kind of electricity, ' Leonard Bernstein once said, 'which makes it an instrument of meaning in its tiniest movement.'… Thomas uses the baton to communicate with the entire orchestra, but especially with musicians seated at the edges of the room. He says he can 'architect a lot of musical shapes' based on the motions he makes with his fingers or wrist, shapes that are 'much more visible with the baton.' And as he's aged, Thomas has found that the baton eases what his body needs to convey. 'Remember that I am now an increasingly, alarmingly, veteran musical athlete, ' laughed Thomas, who turns 65 this month. 'There are not many baseball pitchers my age who are giving these accelerated motions that end in a complete stop. If I'm not using the stick, particularly if it's fast rhythmic music, it's more wear and tear on the shoulder.'…
The weight of a baton is what appeals to Joana Carneiro, Berkeley Symphony's music director. She has a tendency to raise her arm while conducting, she says. 'One thing I like about the baton I use is that the handle is heavier and it makes me feel grounded, ' she said of the baton she buys in Paris. 'It keeps my arm lower.' She added, 'Because I'm short, I always end up cutting the batons myself. The baton needs to feel proportional. It is an extension of my arm.' San Francisco Ballet's music director, Martin West, notes that a baton is to a conductor what an instrument is to a musician. 'I was a cellist and cellists can spend tens of thousands of dollars on their bows, getting the right bow, ' he said. West found his perfect Mollard baton about five years ago, after arriving in San Francisco. Made of Cocobolo wood, it is 16 inches long, has a white stem and a dark handle. 'I had tried out other batons, but hadn't been satisfied, ' he said. 'This baton is nicely weighted but not too heavy.' 'Remember, ' West said, 'the baton is all I have to make noise. The orchestra is my instrument. I need the baton to play it.'
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