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Conducting Imaginary Orchestras at Home

January 27, 1999

Virtual conducting software now on the market comes complete with film clips of the real thing. (PFU Ltd.)

Pretending to conduct an orchestra while listening to recordings at home is becoming a favorite pastime among devotees of classical music in Japan. Books and computer software teaching people how to conduct have come out in droves and have become hits, particularly among middle-aged businessmen. Though others may wonder what fun there is in waving a baton at a stereo set, for fans it is an artistic moment. They pour tremendous energy into every move, becoming, for a short time, famed Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa.

The Stage in Your Mind
A television program aired in December 1998 showed a salaried worker who calls himself "maestro" conducting in his home. Solemnly stepping out in front of the stereo, he lifts his baton in the air, and the music begins. He vigorously swings his baton, picturing in his head everything from the position of each instrument to the facial expression of each orchestra member. Nothing can bother him while he is under this spell: The phone may ring or his children may talk to him, but none of this reaches his ears.

Then the music ends. The man stops moving and lets out a deep sigh. Back to reality and out of breath, he smiles and says, "It helps relieve my stress." His wife, who has been watching all this, comments, "If this is all he needs for a stress reliever, I guess it's a bargain." To most women it may seem a somewhat bizarre hobby, but men who dream of being orchestra conductors are far from few.

Conducting at home is easier than one may think. One professional conductor explains that "memorizing the entire score is a must for professionals, but you don't even need to be able to read scores if you simply want to pretend."

Easy Road to the Podium
Books that introduce the basic conducting method to general readers are said to be racking up good sales across Japan because they have tapped the latent demand of conducting fans. Among the most popular of such books is the Japanese translation of The Armchair Conductor: How to Lead a Symphony Orchestra in the Privacy of Your Own Home, by Dan Carlinsky and Ed Goodgold (contributor). Aside from providing such basic knowledge as how to move the baton in double, triple, and quadruple time, the book also comes with a baton, so that readers can become "armchair conductors" the very day that they buy the book. One Tokyo bookstore sells five to six copies a day--impressive for a newly published book in the music genre--mainly to middle-aged businessmen.

Computer software that lets people conduct on-screen is also in high demand. In June 1997 the computer maker PFU Ltd. put out Magicbaton, a program that allows users to control the tempo, dynamics, and accents of programmed compositions by rhythmically moving the mouse back and forth like a baton. In the field of multimedia software, where annual sales of 3,000 copies are said to mark a success, Magicbaton has sold more than 5,000 copies.

Capitalizing on this conducting boom, the New Japan Philharmonic added an amateur conductors' hour to its 1999 New Year concert, held on January 3. Rights to step up on the podium were sold by auction; the winners were allowed to choose from 15 pieces that included Beethoven's Third Symphony, Eroica, and conduct the orchestra for five minutes. Many self-styled maestros leapt at the chance, saying they would pay any price to taste the real thing.

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Trends in JapanEdited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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