Jan Stulen has written a book titled The Tao of Conducting. It is in Dutch, but let us hope that an English translation is forthcoming soon.
In the meantime, I would like to give an impression of what this noteworthy volume (De Tao van het dirigeren), which appeared in the fall of 2012, has to offer. This is, as its subtitle tells us, ‘a different look at (musical) leadership’, and that is precisely what makes it a stand-out in a sea of conducting manuals, workbooks, and analyses. The author has some 50 years of practical experience in every imaginable genre to inform his opinions about his profession. For more than 25 years he has also been involved in the education of aspiring conductors, which has afforded him the opportunity to formulate his findings so that they might aid others. Rather than discuss technique and propose exercises, Jan Stulen engages his reading public with the supposition that they can find that type of instruction elsewhere; he dives into the heart of the matter: what is conducting? What is its true purpose? What might be the most effective method of communicating with the musicians who are producing the sounds, what are some of the pitfalls encountered by conductors, and how might they best be avoided or overcome?
Ten golden rules of conducting
‘I conduct, therefore I am’, as Jan Stulen names one of his chapters, is a refreshing example of the spiritual grace, combined with a healthy, self-assured modesty, that typifies the tone throughout. There is a wealth of practical tips, wrapped in philosophical references to the Tao. ‘This book offers a “right way” but does not assume that this is the only way to reach the desired goal’, the author tells us in his introduction. Indeed, one of the concepts returned to regularly here is the individuality of each of the musicians hoping to unite in the expression of the composers’ intentions. Not only those interested in conducting, but anyone who loves and cares about music — as a performer or listener — should find inspiring insights here.