A day in the life: of Saskatoon conductor/pedagogue Wayne Toews

July 23, 2019

A Day in the Life Wayne Toews July 20, 2019

The 2019 SOA International Saito conducting workshop began today. We welcomed fourteen conductors to this our 14th annual week-long event. Among the participants are composers, university professors, professional artists and teachers who direct bands, choirs and orchestras. Several have doctorates. The outstanding instructional team includes George Charpentier, Dr. Brian Kilian and fabulous pianists Michelle Aalders and Deborah Buck. It is important to have pianists who will respond to the conducting rather than just play the music. These pianists are among the very best.
I strive to provide an affordable world-class event that is filled with opportunities to conduct. The Saskatchewan Orchestral Association has sponsored this workshop since 2006.

8:00 a.m.

I have often felt as if I were solving a 10,000 piece puzzle. There are many details that need attention. The equipment needs are extensive: chairs, music stands, mirrors, fans, signs, flip-boards, three video cameras, three tripods, labeled SDHC cards in cases, SDHC card adapters, video projector, amplifier and speaker, extension cords, wireless microphones, cables, adapters, extra batteries, four 200-page books of custom scores, 4X6 cards, manuscript, markers, extra music in a case, 15 cushions, a podium and grand pianos. I recognize how fortunate I was to have access to so much of that equipment when I was teaching in a school. It has been a substantial investment to acquire all of those things myself.
It’s a challenge to foresee all that is necessary. Among the interrupters to my planning included the intersection at the church being closed to replace the water lines. That was certainly unforeseen. I might have guessed that the piano mover would have his truck break down again. I didn’t anticipate that I would be asked to deliver a wheelchair to a friend between picking up people from the airport and bus station. Both the airplane and bus were late! I value the organizational and administrative skills that I have developed over the years. Being organized is a survival skill for most musicians.

Thank goodness that we have the co-operation of this church because it is not easy to find adequate and affordable facilities.

9:00 a.m.

I asked everyone to introduce themselves as if they were meeting an ensemble for the first time. We know that a first impression is important. We will deal with that along with communication skills in one of the evening sessions.

I shared the set of stretching exercises developed by Dr. Alice Brandfonbrener, with whom I studied in Chicago in the early 1990s. We want to prevent injuries. Although technique in the Saito method focuses on relaxation of the arm muscles it is important to warm-up properly. This is important preparation for the arm drop exercises that I will introduce tomorrow.

9:30 a.m.

I introduced my Conducting Exercises 1 and 2 that consist of nine beats in a repeated pattern. I wrote music to fit the pattern so that conductors will have to think of the musical sound rather than just do physical exercises. I learned that from my teacher, Prof. Morihiro Okabe, who came to Canada from Japan on four occasions at my invitation to teach the Saito Method. His knowledge, presentation skills and sense of humour transcended any language difficulties.
The first exercise combines Into-point and From-point gestures. It has been an effective and efficient way to develop the techniques. It is amazing to discover how many masterworks use similar rhythmic passages.
I demonstrate the first exercise on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzMskCsiYL8

The second is an exercise for dynamics. It helps to show the importance of the Secondary point. Most conductors have difficulty controlling the size of the after-point motion. They also want to change direction too soon. When we study videos of conductors in an evening session on Tuesday the workshop participants will become aware of that significant problem with most conductors.

The conductors who have participated in previous workshops have a new set of excises in a different repeatable pattern. It has been an interesting challenge to create short meaningful exercises. I have appreciated the contributions of Laura Hawley and David Dykstra who added new exercises to the set that I use.


After the 15 minute break we began to study Carl Maria von Weber’s theme Vien quà, Dorina bella. This piece is rich with conducting challenges. There are many different ways to address those challenges and different techniques that can be applied. The basic technique and pattern in 3 beats is strange to many because the first beat moves inward. That allows the expressive quality of beat two to be shown. For beginners, the required gestures in Saito’s method are explicitly stated but it isn’t long before the conductors are invited to incorporate alternatives or to devise their own ways to conduct the studies.
Those who have participated in a previous workshop conducted the Intermezzo by Mascagni. That piece extends the skills learned in the von Weber, especially being able to conduct very slow works at very soft dynamics. A few had to be reminded what the term “Sentito” means. There is always more to learn.
I wrote an arrangement in nine separate parts. I created piano and string orchestra parts for most of the 33 pieces included in the repertoire. It was a great way to learn the music in detail.

We resumed after the 1.5 hour noon break that was scheduled so that there is time for the conductors to relax their arms and to spend some time together over lunch. A few arrived early for the afternoon session and began to practice. The mirrors that I brought were very helpful.

1:30 p.m.

We’re moving quickly on this first day. I introduced Schubert’s Impromptu, the Saito method’s second study and the gesture called Sen-Nyu. This gesture resembles a cellist’s martelé stroke. (Saito was a cellist.) It is unique to the Saito method and very useful in many circumstances. Saito selected his studies from the Sonatina Album for Piano, Koehler edition, so that the fine pianists at Toho Gakuen could serve as an “orchestra” while giving the pianists experience as accompanists.
The more advanced conductors are working on Bernstein’s Make Our Garden Grow. There are lots of character changes in this piece.

2:30 p.m.

Everyone needs time to practice with the pianists. We split into two groups so that all can be video-recorded and have some video to study for tomorrow. At the Toho Gakuen School of Music, Tokyo, where I studied in 1983 it took the students many months to be able to conduct this first study. We are doing our best to help the participants learn it in two days. With sufficient repetitions all should be ready to conduct these pieces with the string orchestra in a few days.

3:30 p.m.

Study 3, Haydn’s Andante Grazioso, offers more opportunity to use Sen-Nyu but in a different way. Here we must place the stopping motion on the last quarter of the beat rather than on the second half of the beat as was done in Study 2.

The advanced conductors are working on Wolf-Ferrari’s Intermezzo. That is an even more challenging use of Sen-Nyu because it has to be applied in compound duple time. My arrangement of this work is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Dominic Gregorio who participated in the 2013 workshop and passed away last winter. He was a bright light in the choral community. He is remembered for his intelligence, musicianship and especially his broad smile. He radiated a sense of joy and love.

5:00 p.m.

The instructional day is finished. I’m sure the participants are exhausted. I hope that they are also excited about what they have learned. We introduced a lot of music this first day but there is little time to prepare for conducting the string orchestra in just three days.

6:15 p.m.

The participants and local musicians gathered for a Welcome supper. (Note: consult the participants to be sure that there are appropriate dishes for vegetarians and those with other dietary needs.) Everyone seemed to enjoy the food and fellowship.

It has proven to be very important to build the community of conductors and also of the local musicians. The Welcome supper is one way to do that. Not only have performance opportunities resulted from these gatherings but also the conductors have begun to feel supported in their new learning. Also, the “old-timers” created a welcoming atmosphere and eliminated any feeling that the newcomers will be the brunt of ridicule. I have been told that at other workshops that is part of the instruction. One participant even provided a video of his being mocked during a workshop elsewhere. That behavior has no place in any pedagogy!

8:30 p.m.

It’s now time to write this, to respond to E-mail messages, to support a friend who is grieving and to make copies of my new piece, a study at a very fast tempo in 4/4. The first copy of the new piece had a few errors in articulation. There can never be enough time spent on proofreading. It’s easy to understand why more than 200 errors have been discovered in the score of Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite. I also needed to confirm that all is in place for watching the videos of Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Hideo Saito and others tomorrow morning. Fingers are crossed for our AV equipment to work well.

9:33 p.m.

It’s time to send this to Laura. She is one of the very few who knows and can incorporate Saito’s teachings into her conducting and teaching.

Time to rest. We expect that it may rain tomorrow and I will need to leave early to provide transportation for the conductors from the residence.

Anyone who wants information about the Saito Conducting Method is invited to visit – Conductorschool.com or to contact me using admin@conductorschool.com