Category: Blog

I’m On A CD now!

Hey Mom! I’m on a CD!   I first met Lydia Van Dreel going into my third year of a ridiculously long Master’s program at the University of Oregon. I was deeply depressed about my situation with composing; I had accepted a shitty offer from the school, because all the other schools I’d applied to had turned me down. I was… Read more →

You guys, it’s time to save classical music…again!

With my Facebook News Feed exploding with updates and opinions about the Atlanta Symphony lockout (link to the musicians’ webpage, not the douchey talking points of the ASO!), and various articles about classical music’s struggle to fit into modern consumer culture making the rounds (even if they’re almost four years old!), I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the Wagnerian-length… Read more →

More Advice to Young Composers: Time Management

A while ago, I wrote a Letter To A Younger Version of Myself, addressing some of the concerns that I felt never really get touched upon in most studies of composition. It was supposed to be more of a touchy-freely how-to, with a little bit of practical advice thrown in. What I want to discuss today is something far more… Read more →

Dear Hartford Wagner Festival, I Don’t Want Canned Orchestras To Play My Music. XOXO, Jason

Dear Hartford Wagner Festival, I was hanging out on the corner of Facebook and Twitter, like I do, when I saw an interesting article by way of Jessica Rudman.  Apparently, you have decided that you’re going to produce The Ring Cycle over the next four years, which is really great news! But you’ve also decided that hiring real, live musicians is kind… Read more →

Composer As Online Dater

There are shitty parts of every awesome job. Brilliant engineers have to sit in hours of bureaucratic meetings. Ice cream truck drivers have to deal with screaming children. Fire fighters…well, that one’s kind of obvious. For composers, there are only two jobs that I can see as “bad.” One is making parts. It’s gotten easier over time, but it’s never… Read more →


When I was eighteen, I went on one of those all night graduation cruises that schools host to make sure you and your friends aren’t out drinking. The cruise had a psychic on board, reading tarot. I got in line, and waited for a half hour, and sat down. The psychic asked me what I wanted to know. I had… Read more →

Conducting Technique vs. Lightsaber Technique

I once sat in on conducting classes with Robert Ponto and David Vickerman (two conductors whom I respect greatly!), and sitting around one day, I made the comparison between lightsaber combat techniques and conducting style.  They kinda looked at me sideways, and continued onto something not quite as bat shit crazy.

But I stand by what I said.  I think that, for those of us nerdy enough to know that 1) there are different kinds of lightsaber dueling practices, and 2) there are conductors who are representative of these styles in their conducting, the comparison between the two bears fruit (granted, it’s probably more Froot Loops than actual fruit, but hey…)



For the purposes of this exercise, we’re not going to talk about score prep, or rehearsal technique, or 99% of the things that matter the most in conducting, and I’m going to make like most orchestras’ marketing collateral and juuuust focus on how a conductor moves on the podium.  This is going to be a ridiculously reductive view of both Star Wars and conducting, and I’m not sorry, because this is supposed to be fun!  I’m going to enlist the help of Wookieepedia, which combines my fondness for Star Wars with my fondness for pedantic categorizing of facts.  If you like Star Wars, but don’t think you know much about how, say, Darth Maul’s character plays out over the entire course of the Clone Wars, you’ll like Wookieepedia, too!

Anyway, let’s get to the festivities!

Form 1: Shii-Cho

Wookieepedia has this to say about Shii-Cho:

As the most simplistic form, Shii-Cho was the first form taught to initiates within the Jedi Order. Form I training provided the basic knowledge of the sword-fighting principles and blast-deflection skill that was required for practice of all the other forms.

Basically, Shii-Cho is the conducting equivalent of Conducting 101.  We all learn the traditional baton grip, the basic patterns, and how to stand in that awkwardly too-good posture.  What I’ve always found was weird about basic conducting technique is how, while you’re using it, you end up looking exactly like a novice conductor, which doesn’t really do the job at all; ask any ensemble that has a first-year conductor doing first-year conducting in front of it!

This video shows perfect “Shii-Cho” conducting technique.  To wit, here’s some dude’s conception of what Shii-Cho “looks like”:

Now, let’s all take a moment and let our heads explode over the fact that there are people on the Internet who have tried to piece together what actual lightsaber combat could look like…


Form 2: Makashi

Okay, here’s where the blog post gets a little formulaic.  Wookieepedia on Form 2:

Makashi was described as elegant and focused, and was based on balance and footwork to outmaneuver opponents. Fluidity and economy of motion were relied on, rather than strength, with Form II bladework heavily utilizing jabs and light cuts rather than hack and slash movements.

What comes to mind when I think about conductors who employ economy of means, no better example comes to mind than Mravinsky:

Here’s a guy who doesn’t waste motion.  You can tell that this guy, above all else, is in control.  His Star Wars equivalent is Count Dooku.


Yeah, I had to reach into the cartoons to find a good example of Dooku dueling in a proper Makashi style.  The movies don’t do a really good job of articulating the finer points of the style.


Form 3: Soresu

Courtesy of Wookieepedia:

The Soresu form was devised to counter the wide-spread emergence of blasters, a weapon that the previous Makashi form wasn’t equipped to combat. The pragmatic Form III became the most defensive of the seven forms, and utilized tight moves, consisting of subtle dodges and efficient parries, intended to provide maximum defensive coverage, and minimize exposure to ranged fire. Over time, Form III came to transcend this basic and pragmatic origin, and became an expression of non-aggressive Jedi philosophy.

Let’s be honest: This one is a bit of a tough fit for conducting, mostly because conductors don’t have to dodge blasters.  Still, the bit about the constant generation of momentum brings to mind the movement style of Claudio Abbado.  Notice how his movements are always circular, and he never really stops moving.  Everything is fluid.


As far as lightsabers are concerned, Form III is another “everybody uses it” kind of form.  Here’s a demo of a guy who runs his own lightsaber combat academy.  Let that sink in.


Form 4: Ataru

Wookiee says:

Ataru was an aggressive combat form relying on a combination of strength, speed, and agility. Due to this, it was also called the Way of theHawk-bat or the Aggression Form. Practitioners of Ataru were always on the offensive, attacking with wide, fast, and powerful swings. Form IV practitioners constantly called upon the Force to aid in their movements and attacks.

There are many, many conductors that could fill this description.  My personal favorite, though, is Simon Rattle:

Granted, you have to wait for the loud bits.  His style is very, um, in your face (well, it’s also in his face).

Rattle’s counterpart? Yoda. ‘Nuff said.


Form 5: Shien/Djem So

This one is a little tough to sum up, because it presupposes knowledge about Form 3.  So, if you haven’t read that article, you may wanna go back (have I mentioned that Star Wars has a huge extended universe?!).


Form V, also known as the Way of the Krayt Dragon, was created by Form III: Soresu masters who desired a more offensive style, since the defensive nature of Form III often led to prolonged combat, which was dangerous for the practitioners. Form V evolved into an accepted style by combining the defensive maneuvers of Form III with the more aggressive philosophy and tactics of Form II: Makashi. Form V required a higher level of physical strength than the other lightsaberforms, due to its focus on complete domination of its practitioners’ opponents. It was considered the most physically demanding of all the forms.

So, who conducts like an aggressive Abbado?  I’m gonna go with…Muti!

And who is the most famous practioner of Form 5? Why, it’s Anakin “I’m So Angry Right Now” Skywalker!


Form 6: Niman


A hybrid fighting style, Niman incorporated elements from the previous forms, mainlyForms I through V, excluding Form II, but balanced out between their various specializations, in keeping with the Jedi quest to achieve harmony and justice without resorting to the rule of power. Form VI covered many of the various moves of lightsaber combat, but due to its emphasis on overall moderation, its focus on bladework was somewhat relaxed. Thusly, the form was easily mastered by those who preferred to devote a high percentage of their time to study and peacekeeping, which made it the preferred form of Jedi Consulars. While the generalization made it ill-suited for lightsaber dueling or fighting on the open battlefield, it was perfectly adequate for facing down criminals and thugs. Due to its “jack-of-all-trades” nature, the success of this form was largely dependent on the practitioner’s intuition, improvisation, and creativity in combat rather than the rote responses derived from other forms.

Okay, so who’s got a best-of-everything technique?  I’m gonna go with Karajan, mostly because his movement style kind of defies categorization, except to say, “That guy moves like Karajan.”


And let’s go back to owns his own lightsaber academy guy for a demonstration of Niman:


Form 7: Juyo/Vaapad


There were two variations of Form VII, Juyo and Vaapad, but both utilized bold, direct movements. According to accounts compiled by the New Jedi Order, use of Form VII was more demanding in terms of energy used due to a broader focus and deeper utilization of emotion. A Form VII practitioner was said to maintain a calm exterior appearance, but they were also stated to experience significant internal pressure, while using the Ferocity Form. In addition, it was described as sometimes paradoxical and unpredictable, as well as filled with concepts that made the form too difficult and unattractive to many students.

You don’t really need to know much except that this is the form created by Samuel L. Jackson!  Well, Mace Windu…but Samuel L. Jackson!  And who gets this form?  Why Carlos Kleiber, of course!

And let’s see a demo of Form VII from that guy with the academy. Seriously, that’s what this guy does. For work.

(This one is made more insane by the fact that these guys are outside with sticks in a park.  I love you, Internet!)


Alright, if you’ve made it to the bottom here, you’re obviously a huge nerd.  Both for Star Wars, and conducting.  Do you disagree with my match ups?  Fair enough.  What have you got?  Leave a comment!