Leo Najar Speaks To Rotarians About Orchestra Conductor's Job
June 1, 2010
By: Stephen Kent
Leo Najar - Bijou Orchestra
"I spent all morning trying to think of something that would be interesting to you if my back was not turned." began Leo Najar, Artistic Director of Bay Musical Arts, Inc. and Conductor of Bay City's well known Bijou Orchestra. "My best work is done when I can't see you. That's true at home preparing, or in concerts, or when I turn around, look into the bright lights, and see nothing."
Najar began life as a young violinist with aspirations to become a great adult violinist with a job in New York. He was also an organist at the largest Catholic Church in Grand Rapids. In high school he made money playing funerals ($10) and weddings ($25).
At that time Najar was also assistant concert master in the youth symphony (because he didn't practice as much as the concert master), and was asked to conduct, which he did for the rest of the season. At the end of the year he was presented the Phillip Anderson Award, which was sponsored by the Noon Rotary Club of Grand Rapids.
Today Najar is the conductor of orchestras, choirs (First Presbyterian), and most recently of bands, having taken the job of director of the Bay Concert Band.
To illustrate the job of a conductor, especially of an orchestra like the Bijou, Najar described how a concert is developed. It always begins with his idea. From there it's filtered by all the stake holders: the musicians, the board, the audience, the critics, the sponsors, and the volunteer group. It can't just be about the conductor.
The first task is the calendar. Find four dates where you can get an audience. Dates that don't conflict holidays, school events, football games, other groups, performers and sponsors and the theater.
Dates must also accommodate performers. "With thirteen members, if I don't have a quorum I don't have an orchestra" said Najar. Members of the Bijou are professional musicians but they're from all over the state and guests may come from anywhere.
With dates locked down the budget must be worked out. Funding is always tight. Sponsorships, grants, ticket sales are all important. The Najar and the board figure out what they can afford and build the program on that.
Next comes the fun part, selecting the music and doing the "creative thing". This has to be done in the context of the orchestra's repertory, size and what the audience will accept and enjoy. The Bijou has the luxury of selecting from a wide range of music and styles "because the Bijou doesn't worry about authenticity. Everything we do is authentic in so far as these arrangements all were played by somebody back at the turn of the century when having a big orchestra was not the point. It was just having a tune people recognized".
An important part of planning the Bijou season is to try to develop programs that will travel. Can the show be taken to Traverse City, Frankenmuth, Grand Rapids. The more versatile the show, the more opportunities will be found for performances.
Throughout his talk, Najar was interrupted by (staged) cell phone calls that illustrated the nature of the job: Sponsors backing out, soloists backing out, audience members saying the Latin concert was too loud, schedule changes of every type. Just another day in the life of the conductor of the Bijou Orchestra.
For more information see thebijou.org/
CLUB NEWS and ANNOUNCEMENTS
President Anne's clean water challenge
to raise $1,000 had collected $633 in the large fish bowl by the end of the meeting. The bowl will be back next Tuesday, June 8. At the end of the meeting Treasurer Doug will write a check to Pure Water for the World for the amount raised. The funds will be earmarked for Haiti.
Chuck Cusick was presented with a Paul Harris Pin with two Rubies signifying his attaining PH Plus Seven. Thanks Chuck!
Leo invited all members, family, friends, kids and pets to join the Rotary Chorus for the July Fourth Fireworks
. We will again sing on stage to accompany the Bijou Orchestra and the fireworks on Saturday July 3rd. There will be a couple of rehearsals, but the music is very familiar and easy. After rehearsal on Saturday everyone will go the Chadwick's house for a picnic than back to the Riverfront where you'll enjoy the BEST SEAT in the house for.
Keep in mind the Rotary Golf Outing
is scheduled for June 28.
Even if you don't play you can participate in the Helicopter Golf Ball Drop. Thanks to sponsors Covenant, Bay Regional, Wildfire Credit Union and Bay Special Care Hospital.
Full information is available on the club web site at
The satellite INTERNET system that the club helped sponsor in Guatemala has been installed. Everyone in that community is excited and thankful. A picture of the rig was passed around.
Make-up On-Line at
DATES TO REMEMBER
The next new member orientation
will be held May 26.
2010 Golf Scramble
Monday, June 28 at the Bay City Country Club. Save the date.
Learn more at
(See the official schedule at
June 1: Vocational Talks
Two of our Fellow Rotarians will share information about their chosen vocation.
Find out how social networking sites
can be used for social engineering. Learn how to protect your company from the potential threat of Facebook.
June 22: Tall Ship Celebration 2010 update
June 29: CPS-3 Study
a grassroots effort where local communities from across the country can support cancer research not just through fundraising efforts like Relay For Life, but also by participating actively in this historic research study.
July 6: Passing the Gavel. The new Rotary year begins as Eric Jyhla takes office as 2010-2011 President.