Buffalo Grove High School student makes conducting debut
Buffalo Grove High School senior Tom Kirsh made his conducting debut Feb. 5 with the school's orchestra. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
CONDUCTING 60 PIECES
Three easy steps
The baton: Kirsh holds it in his right hand and moves it up and down to keep time like a silent, visual metronome.
The glance: Kirsh said making eye contact with members of a section that has gone off a little may be all it takes.
The gesture: With his left hand, Kirsh may send a visible signal, mostly the familiar “up” or “more” motions
Updated: March 15, 2013 6:03AM
BUFFALO GROVE — “He’s used to being different than everyone else — in a good way.”
In her five years of teaching music at Buffalo Grove High School, Elizabeth Bennett says she’s never found a student in her orchestra program who exhibited all the traits of a potential conductor.
At previous schools, a handful of young musicians had stood out and earned the chance, but Bennett said she’s been waiting for a Bison to show that kind of skill.
Bennett reported last week that she found him: senior Tom Kirsh.
Kirsh has been studying orchestra with Bennett in an independent learning program. On Feb. 5, he made his conducting debut during the high school’s Winter Orchestra Concert.
“It went well,” Kirsh said of the performance. “They were all together, they had good tone, they followed me very well. They were confident.”
“That’s mostly because you showed it, too,” Bennett told him. “You displayed it very well. The confidence from the ensemble has to come from the conductor.”
Kirsh conducted the 60-piece, mostly freshman concert orchestra through the third movement of Bela Bartok’s “Music for Children.” As the conductor, Kirsh stepped to the podium with the entire piece’s score. His task was to hear the woodwinds, percussion, brass and strings separately, and provide direction to any students who strayed from his interpretation of Bartok’s work.
Bennett said that orchestras typically require a talented musician and listener at the fore, keeping everyone together. Each player has a separate sheet of music meant to flow in time with everyone else’s, but even the best performers can get a little lost — and lead nearby performers astray.
The conductor, Bennett said, listen for irregularities and, through an array of glances, baton motions and hand gestures, corrects them, all while listening to incoming notes.
“When you have a group, you’d better have someone out there leading it,” Bennett said.
While the position of “conductor” exists mainly in orchestra music, Bennett maintained that the conductor’s role is essential in every kind of music performed by groups. In jazz, rock ‘n roll and other modern genres, Bennett explained, the conductor is seen in the frontman.
As he prepared to walk to the podium for his first conducting experience, Kirsh said he felt calm and prepared.
“In rehearsals, I was nervous, because that was my first time being there,” he said.
Bennett said she expected Kirsh to feel at home at the fore. Since his first BGHS music class, she had seen him taking steps forward.
“He’s shown, for the past three years, dedication to the program,” she said. “I knew he could handle it.
“He has garnered respect from all the students,” she continued. “They look at him as a peer, but they know that when he’s up there, he knows what he’s doing.”