This interview with my bonny was put out into cyberland on the BBC Scottish Symphony Facebook page about a year ago, I know not why. Still, I couldn’t resist the temptation to transcribe it verbatim, in its entirety:
John: “I think a lo’ of the successful relationships between the conductor and orchestra are founded on mutual need, so find a group that really needs you, whatever level that is, whether it be a community orchestra, a community choir, an amateur orchestra, a brass band, a musical theater group, and bring what professional skills you have to them so that you can feed off each other. And all that time, never stop studying scores. You know, that’s the single most useful piece of advice to give to any conductor, is learn your scores. Practice your technique and learn your scores. Learning to read a score is really crucial, learning all the transpositions and being able to look at a score and immediately know what that’s meant to sound like, so that when things aren’t right, your ear picks them up and you can correct things quickly and efficiently. Which is another useful skill for a conductor to have, your ears sharpened to the extent that, that you’re able to solve problems. Your early years should be spent learning, you know, learning what it is that you need to do as a conductor… Get in as much practical experience as you can. I did, sort of, at least a decade’s worth of conducting before I dared to stand in front of a professional orchestra, which was the single most terrifying experience of my life.
“I had a friend who was organizing concerts in London and had a concert series and I was invited to conduct… And I worked with the BBC, actually with the Concert Orchestra, as an arranger, and they asked me to conduct one of their recording sessions, a couple of CDs [John’s first 2 recordings, both of Eric Coates, which were released when he was 25 and 26], and so they showed faith in me, and I was grateful for the opportunity… And I guess I was interested in areas of music that didn’t have many champions, so I got a bit of a head start on that front… Um, and happily I’ve never stopped working since. Now the only challenge (laughs) is to keep on working (word fades).
“But there are lots of different routes into becoming a conductor. As Barbirolli said, ‘Conductors are born and not made.’ So if you want to do it badly enough I think you’ll get through.”