When I was learning how to conduct my first baton felt perfect for me because I had no idea what a baton should feel like. It was light in my hand, creating a smooth curve between my thumb and forefinger. It was an innocent, youthful connection, evoking feelings that anything is possible and that making music is as simple as loving it. The baton was made of wood and had a vivid handle, hand painted in subtle shades of green, azure, and brownish orange. My colleagues and friends didn’t care for it because the smooth handle had a peculiar divot in it: a place where my middle finger could nestle up to the baton’s running fibers, drawing me closer. I never admitted this to my colleagues and friends but I loved this divot because it made the baton feel more like a timpani mallet, a far more familiar strip of mahogany in my hands at the time. The baton was youthful, naive, and because of these two descriptors it was also honest.
My second baton had a large, bulbous handle, and came to such a fine tip you would have thought it was a sharpened weapon. It was longer than my first baton and made of graphite instead of wood. On turning quick corners it buckled, shooting miniature vibrations beneath my fingernails. It was extremely heavy, making subtle moments awkward and burdensome. The baton was proud, assuming things about the musicians before it and taking more time to dance than to listen. It held a peculiar curse: when it intertwined with your finger tips you felt powerful but insecure all at once. It was a cloak that covered blemishes, a lightning rod in the hand of a meek man, a staff for a king unsure how to rule.
My third baton was given to me by an old conductor heading towards retirement, a shaman full of stories and wisdom. The baton felt perpetually dusty and worn, like his fingerprints had been permanently bestowed upon the egg-shaped handle. Finite chips and wounds ran down its sides, scars from thousands of measures, millions of notes. The baton had heard hours of beautiful music, but only knew how to convey its tale to the old man. It sat in my hand lifeless, a transplanted limb that was beautiful, but containing a different blood type. Its stories meant little to me because I knew I needed to learn these stories for myself, sometimes the hard way. It’s days of making music were done, which is quite alright, because the best listening occurs when we are motionless.
I want to listen with the innocence of the audience before me, the whimsical spark that tells us to believe in the impossible. I want to make music with the playful exuberance of a student, and with the familiarity that I have been here before but only momentarily. The most beautiful music is honest music, dripping with the tears of memories, the blood of sacrifice, and waters of redemption.
I’ve switched back to my first baton.