2013 Honorable Mention

By Thaddeus Konwiak

A few years after the death of my husband, Tadeusz, I found a few weathered sheets of yellow legal paper hidden between two albums from his collection of more than 400 classical records. The pages contained a rough draft of an essay scribbled with corrections.  There was no title, no date, and no signature. It wasn’t addressed to anyone. The essay is written in perfect English, although we spoke Polish at home. It is full of subtle humor, although Tadeusz was typically a serious man. Even more remarkable, I never knew my husband had an inclination – much less a knack – for writing, although it does explain our granddaughter’s similar talent (she earned her master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University). Surprises aside, I thought his work – an intimate snapshot of a man and his passion – was worthy of being brought out of his “Music Room.”

And so, I share it with you.


Last summer at the Meadow Brook Music Festival in Michigan, I had a chance to talk, before the concert, to a visiting European guest conductor who was about to direct the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Our chat turned to music (what else?) and the maestro seemed somewhat impressed by my good knowledge of symphonic works. “I see you are a musician,” said he. “What instrument do you play?” I stated that, like he, am a conductor.

“Oh, where do you conduct?” The moment of truth had arrived. I had to explain the difference between his and my conducting. While he was leading real symphony orchestras, I was limiting my engagements to appearances in front of a stereo set, waving my arms. The maestro fortunately had a good sense of humor and we both laughed about it.

I am sure that those who have a claim to sanity would think that any grown man standing before a phonograph shaking his arms energetically to Beethoven’s Choral Symphony is a nut. I strongly disagree. As a matter of fact, I emphatically state that anyone who fancies himself a music lover and collector of classical records cannot be taken seriously unless he had been moved by the music so deeply that it was necessary for him to stand up in front of his audio equipment and make like Bernstein.  Of course, there are people who even in public will start humming and conducting clumsily upon hearing some familiar Sousa march, but those are pathetic amateurs. I refer here to the genuine music lovers who approach this type of conducting with a serious mind, although, like me, they cannot read one note of music.

The practice may be quite widespread, even if done without witnesses, as some years ago Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops made a recording, which, in addition to some light classics, came with a real baton. “Music for Frustrated Conductors” it was called, or something of this sort. I regret that I didn’t buy the record, thus missing a chance to acquire a baton. For all the enthusiasm I have for conducting, I have never gathered enough courage to walk into a music store and ask nonchalantly, “Do you carry batons?” Where does one buy a baton anyhow? It must be a slow moving item, so maybe music stores do not have them in stock. I know that Toscanini was getting his in large quantities because, according to reliable sources, he was easily given to breaking batons on the heads of musicians who got out of line (musically speaking) during rehearsals.

So I resigned myself to a #2 lead pencil, which is far from satisfactory, but serves the purpose!