He did a great demo with us: he asked us all to clap right with the ictus of his downbeat. The baton went up, fell, and we all clapped together. Here's the catch: NO ICTUS! He just let the baton fall.
We all clapped together because the drop of the stick was so easy to predict...like watching a ping pong ball bouncing.
Over the years, I've worked with many conductors. This post is not meant to be directed towards any current or recent conductors but rather to the sum total of conductors I've worked with over the years.
It isn't the downbeat....it's the prep.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen conductors react to ensemble 'time' issues by snapping the downbeat.
The problem? Simple: bad preps.
At least for brass players, that natural fall of the stick is so vital. So often, the prep isn't in time and, right away, we're all scrambling to once again bail out another conductor.
Maybe this is less crucial in an ensemble that plays together all the time and can internally sense where the beat will be. Well, I'm not in one of those ensembles.
Want us to sound good? Let that stick fall naturally so we can set up properly.
Want us to sound bad? Make us guess.