Why do they use the word “maestro?”

I think it’s the only musical term they know, so they use it as often as possible to give the impression they know something about music.

Hola a todos. I’m referring to the classical music armchair critics. As I’ve written many times, they engage in conductor-worshipping. Even orchestral mis-management often engage in conductor-worshipping. If only they would “worship” their own musicians, rather than too often treating them in a shoddy and disrespectful manner.

On classical music videos, the classical music armchair critics use and overuse the word maestro. The word maestro has many meanings, one being conductor. I don’t use the word maestro. I always use the word conductor which is printed on the programme. The programme doesn’t use the word maestro. It either reads “Conductor” or “Principal Conductor” or “Chief Conductor.”

So why do the classical music armchair critics insist on using the word “maestro.” Well, I think it’s the only musical term they know to tell you the truth so they trot it out as often as possible to give the impression that they know something about music. It’s also a way of conductor-worshipping and to the classical music armchair critics a performance is often all about one person for whom they praise and gush: the conductor. Even though the conductor didn’t play a note the entire performance. The orchestral musicians and or the Symphony Chorus are often ignored by the classical music armchair critics. The classical music armchair critics are often quite a musically-ignorant bunch and will slip up and let their musical ignorance seep out. For example, some of them think that the orchestral conductor prepares the Chorus. WRONG. That’s the job of the Chorus Director. Usually, the orchestral conductor has no contact with the Chorus until the dress rehearsal on stage where he may make slight changes to the way the Chorus Director prepared the Chorus or make no changes at all. It depends. I can think of only two occasions where the orchestral conductor came to hear us before the dress rehearsal. Conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos came to hear the Choral Arts Society of Washington at our rehearsal site in Upper NW in the District. I believe that was for our performances of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Then conductor John Nelson came to hear the University of Maryland Chorus out at the College Park campus. He was especially nice. At the end of the rehearsal he said, “I have to say, this is the best prepared Chorus I’ve ever worked with.” I’m sure that pleased Dr Traver. That was for our performance of the Berlioz Grande Messe des morts out at Wolf Trap with the NSO. Other than that, the Chorus did not see the orchestral conductor until we were on stage.

Violinist Nigel Kennedy says conductors are over-rated. I agree with him. I’ve never worshipped conductors and I performed under some internationally-renowned celebrity conductors when I was in Orchestra Choruses. I wasn’t aware that any of us choristers were in awe of the conductor. We were there for the music, not the conductor.

The word maestro is used as a term of respect and I’m aware of that, but to me it’s pretentious when it’s used for conductor-worshipping. I’ve had people refer to me as maestro on occasion which made me feel a bit uncomfortable, but I didn’t correct the person because I knew they were trying to be respectful to me.

In talking about this topic with mi amigo/my friend, he said: “All of you at your level of expertise and training — being Conservatory graduates — are maestros. You are all maestro or maestras.” Well yes, that’s true. It’s just that some of us are fine not being called that. We don’t need that. Upon reflection, it’s similar in a way to the musicians who have a DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) but don’t refer to themselves as “Dr _____” even though they are Dr so and so. In other words, they don’t use their Doctorate in that way. One of my piano professors was like that. When she called me on the phone a few times, she said, “Hi this is ________ and gave me her first and last name.” She didn’t say, “Hi, this is Dr _______.” It’s a more informal approach. I’ve also had a few medical doctors take the same approach over the years.

When I trained, I don’t remember hearing the term used. The Conservatory’s Symphony Orchestra conductor was never referred to as “maestro.” He was referred to as Dr. ____. No, I can’t remember ever hearing the term used. We didn’t refer to Norman Scribner (Choral Arts Society of Washington) as maestro. We called him Norman. We called Dr Traver (University of Maryland Chorus) Dr Traver. Margaret Hillis and Vance George (San Francisco Symphony Chorus) were Ms Hillis and Vance. And I only really see maestro used in U-toob comments where people — who don’t know much or anything about music — try to pretend they do by dragging out the word maestro. Yes, that ought to do it in one’s endeavor to “Keep Up Appearances.” Everyone will think you have a DMA if you use the word maestro. Yes, that’s all it takes. (roll eyes, ugh).

I do remember that Dr Paul Traver (Founder and Director of the renowned University of Maryland Chorus) would say on occasion: “There’s only one maestro.” I think he said it sort of tongue-in-cheek. We knew he was referring to conductor Antal Doráti because Doráti’s favourite Chorus was The Maryland Chorus and Doráti always chose them whenever possible for symphonic choral performances that he conducted. Chau.—el barrio rosa