“I realized that my job is to awaken possibility in others.”

Zoom Conducting Masterclasses - White Sheets - Round 2

Benjamin Zander
Discussions — January 1, 2021

Dear Maestro Zander,

I hope this email reaches you and that you are well!

I was very fortunate to listen to your first class on Beethoven, I was immediately brought back to the time I first watched your Ted talk on the transformative power of classical music- believe it or not I used that talk as a text in my final school English exams back in 2015!

I have been studying in Australia but will shortly be relocating to Europe to continue conducting studies…. As soon as the virus allows!

I think your philosophy on sparkling eyes is absolutely crucial and I wish people would take more notice of it. I have been very fortunate to work with a team of fantastic musicians in Sydney to set up our own orchestra, Ensemble Apex which is comprised of some of Australia’s best young classical musicians. We are dedicated to igniting a passion for orchestral repertoire in young people and want to create concert experiences that feel welcoming and bubble with excitement. Like you said, one of the easiest way to determine the success of the concert is by looking at the musicians eyes and I truly truly believe that.

Below are two videos: Haydn- Symphony No. 60 and Shostakovich String Quartet No.8 Arr. String Orchestra and Timpani. (As a chamber musician I would love to know what you think of this recording as I’d often find myself wondering whether I should be approaching this performance as though a symphonic work {because of the larger forces} or as true chamber music…. Bearing in mind a good orchestra is a good chamber ensemble) 

If you have the time I would really value your comments on these videos and I would be interested whether you could see some sparkling eyes? I find it most apparent at the end of the Haydn and the encore but I think they are present most of the way through.


I totally understand if you don’t have the time for this, thank you so much for your class and I hope to one day meet you in the northern hemisphere!

Kindest regards,

Sam Weller

BZ: Sam,  I watched the video (Haydn). You are right, it is a brilliant group of young musicians and you are obviously a gifted and serious musician  The main question, as always in this kind of music, is what are you contributing?

The healthiest thing you could do  (as soon as you get back to rehearsing) is to ask them to play without you.  You will be amazed.  Not only will they play as well, they might play better, because like kids who leave home and go to college, they will be excited to find the new freedom.  They might also get into more trouble, but that’s OK.  That’s why there are so many wonderful groups playing without a conductor these days.  Your concert mistress, (leader) is great, but she is being held in by YOU.  Let her free! So that her eyes shine from the excitement of leading, then encourage the others to lead too, so that you barely need to move, except when something really special is happening, like the diminuendos to near silence and then the sudden explosion of ff.  

Obviously this music would not have been conducted, it would have been led.  THEY DON’T NEED YOU TO CONDUCT. They need you to inspire them.

So, find out what they need by listening to them. Mostly it is in the area of the direction of the music.  I often can’t tell where the music is going. The shape.  Too many bars sound the same.  What are the heavy beats, how many bars in the phrase? You don’t always manage sequences well.

They can’t shape it on their own, because there are too many opinions.  The only way it can become clear is if you make it clear. 

Sometimes you make conductorly gestures –  grand gestures in the general direction of the brass.  Don’t.

Never be grand.  Always be useful.  I think the music would sparkle more it you display more energy.  Your eyes aren’t shining because you are too concerned to be a teacher, rather than a playful companion.

Are you a string player?  I suspect not. So lots of your gestures are not specific to the strings.  

I could imagine working on this in our Zoom class.  We could play the video and then work together in the format of the other day.  It might work.

You obviously are a terrific leader in terms of your entrepreneurship, getting people excited about projects, publicity etc. Amazingly  I can clearly see that in you body language. I am not yet quite enrolled in YOUR excitement about the music.

I’d love to hear you sing it.    

I will get back to you about Shostakovich when I listen to it.

Thank you very much, dear Maestro Zander and also Simon, for making it happen this long time desire of learning from Maestro Zander. Like many people, I learned about Maestro Zander through the TED talk, when I was still living in Spain (before 2013) and I bought the book right away, amazed by that powerful figure and influence radiated from Maestro. We (my wife is also a conductor and she was in the webinar on Friday) wanted to go to the Aruba workshop that Simon organized last year but other commitments made it impossible. We hope we can make it next year if it happens again. I am also waiting for Simon to explain how you two met! it must be an interesting story too.

BZ When this is over, I am sure we will arrange for another proper conducting class somewhere, Aruba, Boston, Spain?

One of my favorite quotes from maestro Zander is the one about the beginning of the Mahler’s first symphony, the seven octaves of the A pitch. I LOVE the idea that the universe is tuning to that note!

BZ   I conduct a whole bar of silence before it begins. It creates a tremendous sense of anticipation and  the silence is quieter than you can believe.  The audience wonders if the music has begun and then “God turns up the volume just a little bit”.

Another thing I am borrowing from maestro is the white sheet exercise with a variation. I conduct a community band and currently, with the lockdown, there are many of my musicians that are quite old and isolated at home. I use google form links as my white sheet so they can send me what they would like to do during this time or if they need something. So far, we have been doing happy hours on the days and times we should be rehearsing and I have been giving talks that they are interested in like programming (how a conductor chooses the repertoire) and a little bit of history of wind bands. It is a great way to keep the community together and check on our oldest members to make sure we all get out of this situation together as a band/family.

BZ This is beautiful! Thank you for looking after them so well.  You could point them in the direction of my interpretation classes on YouTube.  As band players they will certainly respond to the one  with the horn player on Tchaikovsky 5th and the trumpet player, Elmer Churampi, on Mahler 5th  ( nearly 600K people have seen that class! Wow, that must include most of the trumpet players in the world). 


There are a few other classes with band instruments. Then they could spread out from there.  They will enjoy the music and appreciate the transformations.  You might even as them to write something about what opened up for them as they were listening.  It would be another way of bringing the community together.  You are doing God’s work, when you make these efforts to keep them together. to make sure we all get out of this situation together as a band/family.  

Beautiful. Just reading that gives us all shining eyes.

I wish you the very best to you two in these difficult times and I hope again to have the chance to see you soon.

Simon, as you know you are always invited here at our place. We miss our dinners with Spanish food and wine as well as our concerts at home 🙂

Best regards,


Dr. Juan A. Gallastegui


(I called Juan (since I had his number) to ask him if he was comfortable having his number included.  “Absolutely! We need more communication, not less.”


BZ: I look forward to meeting when sanity returns

Dear Maestro Zander,

I’m writing to thank you immensely for the Beethoven masterclass two weeks ago. I just finished watching the recording of the class on Youtube and I was smiling the entire time. You offered so much knowledge, insight, and (perhaps most importantly during this time) optimism and positivity. I appreciated your thoughts, philosophies, and gestures and how they all resonated with one another.

Thank you also for abiding so closely to what’s in the scores, and for finding ways to tailor your instruction to the level of each individual.

I apologize that I was not able to attend your class “in person.” I had originally registered and was really looking forward to it, but I felt I couldn’t give it my full focus and energy in the end. I hope you understand. I work for the University of Rochester and we’ve been receiving emails every two weeks about more furloughs, cuts, etc. None of us even knew if we’d have jobs next year until just this past week. I spent the time coming up with a much needed action plan for our orchestras.

In either event, I very much enjoyed being able to come back to your masterclass now. I hope that you felt the “experiment” was successful (it certainly seemed like it!) and that you will be offering more opportunities in the future.

With best wishes,

Rachel Waddell

BZ So good to meet you!  In our new world, it doesn’t matter if you miss something, because you just join in later!  

I love what you said: I spent the time coming up with a much needed action plan for our orchestras.

I think we are all using all our ingenuity to come up with solutions to new problems.
I look forward to maintaining contact.  Your appreciation is deeply valued.

Cell: (860) 817-9591

Maestro Zander and Simón,

Thank you both so much for the opportunity to participate in this masterclass. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

As a young conductor, I found Maestro Zander’s approach quite refreshing. Although I am only an undergraduate at Ohio University, I have received many conflicting types of pedagogy in terms of conducting. Many of these approaches are centered on either emotion or technique.

With Maestro Zander in this masterclass, you emphasized the importance of both emotion and technique. You stressed that both must be present to be an effective musician and musical leader. This was truly refreshing, and a wonderful thing to hear. I will take this advice to heart as I prepare to audition for graduate schools and embark on a career!

Again, thanks to everyone involved in preparing this and for the opportunity.


Peyson Weekley

BZ:  That is a profound observation. The technique is there to enable your emotions and the structure of the music to be fully and clearly expressed. So perhaps we shouldn’t separate them at all.

The greatest instrumentalists like Casals, Schnabel, Maria Callas, Rostropovich, Cassado didn’t have technique, they had artistry, emotion, passion, insight, intelligence. Of course they had to think about how to make it happen, but their obsession was with their art, not the mechanics.

Dear Maestro Zander,

First of all I want to thank you for your inspiring curiosity – in music and communication. Thank you for experimenting with Zoom and trying to creating a positive and engaging learning situation through this somehow limited technology.

I really liked your approach to the different volunteer conductors. I liked the balance between giving them something as individuals and bringing all the 99+ other conductors attention to general issues.

The insights on Beethoven was very useful – Above all the talk on the grammar of Beethoven was great and I wished we could have continued for more hours (eventhough it was getting late in Denmark!).

Finally I have to tell you that you are a great inspiration to me, my life and my work. I have followed your work online for many years and it is as if I have studied with you for all these years – without meeting you!
We actually almost (!) met each other twice. In november 2019 my friend offered me a ticket to your talk in Copenhagen (Presidents Summit) but I had a concert and rehearsal that day. And in 2016 I was accepted in your class during London Masterclasses. We spoke on the phone and I was really looking forward to go. Unfortunately my son was hospitalized and I had to cancel.

My son is 7 years old and is suffers from multiple disabilities. We have been in and out hospitals ever since he was born. We had our son just after I graduated as a conductor from Royal Academy in Copenhagen. I had upcoming jobs in Europe, US and in Denmark but learning more and more about my son’s difficulties and the effect it had on our family traveling was very hard and almost impossible. I had to rethink my working life as a conductor 100%. Your and Roz’s book and many of your inspiring talks and interviews helped me to find possibility and meaning in a life of full of despair and sorrow. I still have periods where the despair dominates but I am destined to keep going for possibility.

I was happy to attend your masterclass saturday and who knows – maybe we meet LIVE some day!

Take care, stay healthy and thank you again,

Frederik Støvring Olsen

BZ: This is a very moving communication.  I remember you having to withdraw from the London class. What a sad story.  But I feel immense strength coming through your words.  My teacher, Gaspar Cassadó, used to say: “You cannot play great music till your heart has been broken”.  Is it  possible for you to come back to conducting in some form. Gather friends together and conduct a piece you adore, even put on a whole concert.  Your life experience, courage and love will shine through every phrase and the players will be inspired and grateful.  Let me know if I can assist this project in any way.

As I am writing this note, I am listening to a piece written by Charlie Chaplin called Smile (Phillipe Quint is the violinist)


Smiling through tears – something that you know a lot about. You are the richer for it and so are we. Thank you.

Dear Maestro Zander,

Let me get started by thanking you for your time and  for positive enthusiasm you shared yesterday via Zoom session with conductors. I have been following  you and your work for a very long time, watched your TED talks about “one buttock player” and about “shoe sales opportunities” etc. Your enthusiasm and desire to educate new generations are very inspiring, to say the least.

You probably never knew, but a few years ago I sent you a letter -email, I believe, seeking for your advice and guidance.

I was fresh on the market, right after completing my second DMA in Conducting at the University of South Carolina (after my first doctorate in Music Theory from Eastman school of music).  I have never heard back so I assume my letter never got to its destination. BTW: One of my former students from the USC, Johnny Helyar, the violinist, moved to Boston and  became a member of your Youth Orchestra. I have watched him blossom under your tutorage.  I am so proud of this boy and where he is today!

It has been almost 10 years since then. I can share what I have been doing all these years, trying to find my right place under this Sun in our profession, how many disappointments I have had and how many smiles I brought to the people in both, two orchestras have founded and built from nothing, virtually, how I built a followers list for over 500 people in the past 5 years, etc. Only if you are interested in my story that is yet to reach its final goals.

This is a clip of my Palmetto Chamber Orchestra – a community group I have built in Columbia SC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2r-oelRPjk

There are many more clips on my youtube channel and/or my website.

Speaking of the “white sheet” thoughts: I was pleased to hear you talk about phrase structure and “harmonic phrase rhythm” in Beethoven. I have always conceived his phrasing  structure being both, “classical” 4 measure phrrase and its deviations from it by elongating them with fermatas, for example, like in the opening of Symphony #5.  I fear not many conductors were folloing your comments on strong vs. weak beats on the  phrasial level. I might be wrong, though.

Being a former PHD student in Music Theory at Eastman school of Music, I also learned in depth Schenker’s theory of Tonality.  This knowledge helped me to conceive  a piece on the grand scheme, phrase structure, counterpuntal longer lines working well with overall phrasing, etc.

This is a clip of me conducting Beethoven’s “Promethious” Overture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WL7xc8RSRTY

I still would love to pick your brains with some questions I still have, although I have gained, I think, some answers probably the hard way searching for my place and possible opportunities to contribute to our lives, trying not to lose myself in this competative World where not everyone who is talented and knowlegible will still be granted oppotunties.  Communicating with people like you gives me hope that this World is still full of great people, the old school.  Just let me know if we could continue our “conversation” via emails or other technically available communication tools like Zoom, Skype, Messenger, etc.

Sending you lots of positive thoughts to stay safe and healthy during such unstable times. We are entering a new stage of possibly “new normal” …

Sincerely and gratefully yours,


Dr. Suzanna Pavlovsky

Founder and Artistic Director of Ensemble Eclectica

Founder and Music Director of Palmetto Chamber Orchestra


BZ: Suzanna, thank you.  This is a very personal communication and possibly you would assume that I would keep it private.  But I find your thoughts  compelling and touching

and your life story so interesting that I don’t want to keep it to myself.  I hope that is alright.  I confess I am not a great believer in privacy, especially amongst conductors!  There’s too much isolation in the world.  Moreover anybody who has had a part in bringing Johnny Helyar

along his path deserves our gratitude.  He is one of the most effective, energizing, and passionate people I know.

I watched the Prometheus Overture and found it quite wonderful.  You have some difficulty with the ensemble, but I don’t think it is a result of a lack of technique, rather one of will.

If you DESIRE those chords at the beginning to be together, you will come up with gestures that compel the musicians to play together.  Try it out with three friends  (that’s all you need) without instruments.

Have an idea of power and Promethean energy and then give a big up beat that represents that. Your up beat is the same as an intake of breath.

In the Allegro share your excitement and energy. The piece “plays itself” once it is set in motion. Now shape it.   Too many of your gestures are “conducting” instead of communication.  It must bristle with Beethovian fire (Prometheus stole fire from Zeus!).

The players bring their capacity to play, your job is to fill them with fire!

Incidentally, the discovery of Schenker’s work was one one the seminal moments of my life at the age of 28!.  It opened a whole new way of experiencing music. But that is the subject of another conversation.

Now add to your intellectual understanding the fire of passion and energy in your physical gestures.

Dear Benjamin Zander,

I’m most happy I got to meet you the other day, and am especially delighted we could share a moment around the Marcia Funebre.
It filled me with hope and joy.
Last summer my teacher and friend Antony Hermus introduced me to your Art of Possibility and it had a huge positive impact on the way I approach musical and personal relationships.
However, I still often doubt about my ability to inspire an orchestra and to get to an ideal result with the time and economical pressure of today’s musical world.
I am aware it could be only ideas, ideas I use as excuses to not fully pursue my conducting endeavors.
What do you think?

BZ I am so happy that you have found the Art of Possibility.

It is understandable that you sometimes are feeling doubtful, but I suggest you put away the doubts for now, as long as the coronavirus is around. You can’t assess the situation as long as you cannot function with an orchestra.
That way you can focus your attention on your work, absorbing music and developing your human and musical skills, as well as having fun.  Then when it is over, you can wake up one day and say “OK! Now I am ready!”
You can save yourself a lot of worry and you will have had a very productive period of your life.  Also you won’t have lost anything by not worrying!
We can keep the conversation going amongst our zoom group in the meantime.

On a more musical note:
I am intrigued by your idea that “the bar functions like a beat”,
That we should adapt our phrasing according to the light and heavy bars.
Although I reckon it works well with fast tempi pieces such as the Violin Concerto and the first mov. of the 5th,
I don’t know how we could apply it to slow tempi pieces, for instance to our Marcia Funebre, where we both phrased towards the second and fourth bar
(especially the latter, where the dissonances are)
Would you have any more thought or literature to share on this subject?
I would be extremely grateful!!

BZ: I want to explore your question about phrasing in slow movements in the next class, (especially about the 2nd mvt of Eroica).  I do think it applies there too.

Meanwhile can you listen to this class on Brahms?:  


I think it might shed some light on feeling the bar as one beat in a slow movement

Again, many thanks for your impactful masterclass and
Many, many thanks in advance,
Aristide Moari

Aristide replied to my suggestion:

Dear Benjamin Zander,

Zillions thanks for your answer!

Re: Postponing the worry.

It’s already been a day. For sure I can procrastinate doubting a little longer… Let’s see how far this experiment goes.
Amazing news, that you decided to go on with the masterclasses!

Count me in.

In the meantime, I’ll definitely watch your lecture.

I played this sonata quite a few times (with clarinet, viola and… saxophone players)


Warm regards,


This one brought up another interesting idea.  

Dear Mr. Zander,

First of all I’d like to thank you for your masterclass! It was so inspiring, and it really gave me a sparkle, which is very valuable in these times! I am sorry that I mail so late but there was so much to think about, and to reflect on.
I am a student of Antony Hermus who was kind enough to share your mail address with me.

Conductors do often say that ‘conducting is more than just beating time’, but teachers still often focus on the technique.
I was amazed by how you so quickly saw through people, and addressed the feedback in a very kind and growth focused way!
When you put it like this, the conducting became personal – the individual became submerged in the music, and as a result it was also ‘about life’, focused on the person’s capacity for imagination and creativity, and the strength that can come out of it. This made me feel very inspired and hopeful!

I feel that, in my learning process, I am very much focused on my technique right now, but I would love to hear more of your take on the rather psychological and musical side of it.
Because of this, I was wondering, if you find some spare time and energy, if it would be possible to maybe have a lesson, or if you can comment on one of my video recordings – a first rehearsal with the student orchestra of the conservatory of Amsterdam on the Berlioz Symphony Fantastique, 5th movement.

I hope you don’t mind that I approach you so boldly, but as I said, I was very inspired by your lecture, and I thought: I can always try.

Thank you very much in advance for your time reading this!

Kindest regards,

Bas van Yperen

(Here is the link to the Berlioz)

BZ Bas, this is a beautiful white sheet!  There was no deadline, so it isn’t at all late.

I will watch your video later, but mainly I want to just say Good morning and tell you that I so much appreciate your observations about the class.

  (Hey, BPYO’ers how about watching this video and asking yourself what YOU would say to this gifted young conductor.

You might even want to jot some thoughts down on a white sheet from the perspective of your deep knowledge and recent experience of playing the Symphonie Fantastique?)

My Idea:   Most conductors have videos of themselves conducting orchestras.

I could sit at home commenting on them until we get back to full activity.

Bas responded to my suggestion:

(Dear Mr. Zander,

Thank you for your kind email and good morning to you as well!

I realised that I sent you a quite chaotic and long video. The reason was that it is my latest. So hereby I sent a more short and compact one of the exposition of the first movement of the Eroica!

Thanks for your time and I wish you a good day!


P.s. the Tulips look beautiful!


BZ I am taking the liberty to enclose this beautiful private letter to me from Bas’s teacher, Anthony Hermus, because it shows how a great teacher thinks.  Anthony, who was in my London class many years ago, embodies all the characteristics, musical and human, necessary to make a big life as a conductor, which is exactly what he is having.

Thank you, Anthony for the great contribution you are making.  You are the future and it looks really good.

Dear Ben,

So great to speak to you yesterday!!! Your energy sounded as glorious as ever, as it was also on this wonderful ZOOM-conducting-class. You inspired so many people with these sessions, and I definitely am convinced that it’s a fantastic idea to continue this special journey!!!

At the end of last season I gave all my students a copy of the Art of Possibility, and I recommended them all strongly to watch your ZOOM-conducting class last week – which they did! Ben Weishaupt you already know (from your class last year in Aruba) and Christiaan, Bas and Aristide were just flabbergasted and sooo enthusiastic seeing you after they read the book that they bombed me with WhatsApp-messages ;-))).

You ask me about Bas… Great that he sent you his Fantastique 5th Movement!. Well, Bas is one of my brightest and most motivated students. A very open, sensitive, very passionate and extremely curious musician, who always is searching and looking for inner meaning and deeper understanding. In my opinion he is a huge talent, very clever, and although he is now only in his second year of conducting, he made tremendous progress. He studied composition before, and therefore he has a very good eye and ear for everything that happens in a score. We have many conversations, not only about music, but also about art, life and how to make the eyes shine.

I send you much positive energy and love from Amsterdam, connected with a very big hug!!!

Keep in touch!!!

Ps I listened to your Petrushka-explanation, it’s so sweet and good!!!

“Some people see the things as they are – and they only want to know why these things are like they are. Well, I dream from things which were never there, and want to know why not!” (Robert Kennedy)


Dear Maestro

I’m usually pretty quick about these things, but since I am lucky enough to continue staying busy and doing some work during this strange time, I wished to find another good time to sit and write my reply to you after our online seminar on Beethoven just over a week ago. I was very grateful to Simón, a friend and colleague, and you for the time and offering that you’ve both put into this event. It was certainly enlightening and inspiring. Please allow me to elaborate just a bit.

Many years ago, probably at least a decade or so, I was somewhere in my college career, researching basically how to be better and how to find people who may have been interested in similar things with reaching and teaching the public as well as the musicians; and at some point had discovered yourself and your web page (the older version). I was intrigued and dug further and found all these resources from you as a conductor and teacher, and what you’ve given out in education and speaking to the public. Of course when I was young, I had heard of Leonard Bernstein because my mother’s generation grew up with that and she shared this with me, but I was elated to find another person in such a leadership role in front of orchestras, and still in my generation, working, conducting, teaching, sharing! This was something I wanted to do. I personally find myself feeling like I’m in the middle of a Venn Diagram with lots of circles, being pulled between all of these facets of what it takes to be a musical leader.

I have a series of quotes on my web page that have been there for years. I chose quotes that were inspirational to me and help describe and focus my work. This is the one I pulled from you at the time:

It’s one of the characteristics of a leader that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming…A conductor depends for his power on his ability to make other people powerful…My job is to awaken possibility in other people.” – Benjamin Zander  

I felt it fitting for what I want(ed) to do when I started to put together my own mission, and I continue to try to encourage musicians and students to keep growing. I read your book a few years ago, and was in the middle of reading it again as we had the chance to get online with that webinar! I never thought my little dream to meet you would come true, or at least, not just yet. I know it’s not the same as being in person, but it’s as close as we can get right now! It would still be a bigger dream (or is it rather, a possibility?) to actually meet you and see your work first-hand. Some leaders are just fountains of knowledge, and one doesn’t even need to go to a rehearsal or concert to see that. I feel that this session was an example of one culminating experience of something that had begun many years ago.

Thank you very much for the opportunity, again, and fulfilling this part of an experience for me to come at least a little full circle on this one. I sure hope there will be more like it; there’s so much to learn.

Most sincerely, and best wishes for staying well,

JoAnna Cochenet

BZ Thank you, JoAnna, for expressing so clearly what the path is that I am inviting you all to join me on and then to take over. I feel deeply grateful and privileged.

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