CONDUCTING is the art of directing a musical performance, such as an orchestral or choral concert . The primary duties of the CONDUCTOR are to interpret the score created by a composer in a manner which is reflective of those specific indications within that score, set the tempo , ensure correct entries by various members of the ensemble, and to "shape" the phrasing where appropriate. To convey their ideas and interpretation, a conductor communicates with their musicians primarily through hand gestures, typically though not invariably with the aid of a baton , and may use other gestures or signals, such as eye contact with relevant performers. A conductor's directions will almost invariably be supplemented or reinforced by verbal instructions or suggestions to their musicians in rehearsal prior to a performance.
The conductor typically stands on a raised podium with a large music
stand for the full score , which contains the musical notation for all
the instruments or voices. Since the mid-19th century, most conductors
have not played an instrument when conducting, although in earlier
periods of classical music history, leading an ensemble while playing
an instrument was common. In
Baroque music from the 1600s to the
1750s, the group would typically be led by the harpsichordist or first
violinist (see concertmaster ), an approach that in modern times has
been revived by several music directors for music from this period.
Conductors act as guides to the orchestras or choirs they conduct. They choose the works to be performed and study their scores , to which they may make certain adjustments (e.g., regarding tempo, articulation, phrasing, repetitions of sections, and so on), work out their interpretation, and relay their vision to the performers. They may also attend to organizational matters, such as scheduling rehearsals, planning a concert season, hearing auditions and selecting members, and promoting their ensemble in the media. Orchestras , choirs , concert bands and other sizable musical ensembles such as big bands are usually led by conductors.
* 1 Nomenclature
* 2 History
* 3 Technique
* 3.1 Beat and tempo * 3.2 Dynamics * 3.3 Cueing * 3.4 Other musical elements
* 4 Roles * 5 Training and education * 6 See also * 7 References * 8 Further reading * 9 External links
The principal conductor of an orchestra or opera company is sometimes referred to as a _music director _ or _chief conductor_, or by the German words _ Kapellmeister _ or _Dirigent_. Conductors of choirs or choruses are sometimes referred to as _choral director,_ _chorus master,_ or _choirmaster,_ particularly for choirs associated with an orchestra. Conductors of concert bands , military bands , marching bands and other bands may hold the title of _band director_, _bandmaster_, or _drum major_. Respected senior conductors are sometimes referred to by the Italian word, _maestro _ ("master" as in "one who has mastered the art").
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MIDDLE AGES TO 18TH CENTURY
An early form of conducting is cheironomy , the use of hand gestures
to indicate melodic shape. This has been practiced at least as far
back as the
In the 17th century, other devices to indicate the passing of time came into use. Rolled up sheets of paper, smaller sticks and unadorned hands are all shown in pictures from this period. The large staff was responsible for the death of Jean-Baptiste Lully , who injured his foot with one while conducting a Te Deum for the King 's recovery from illness. The wound became gangrenous and Lully refused amputation, whereupon the gangrene spread to his leg and he died two months later.
In instrumental music throughout the 18th century, a member of the ensemble usually acted as the conductor. This was sometimes the concertmaster , who could use his bow as a baton, or a lutenist who would move the neck of his instrument in time with the beat. It was common to conduct from the harpsichord in pieces that had a basso continuo part. In opera performances, there were sometimes two conductors – the keyboard player was in charge of the singers, and the principal violinist or LEADER was in charge of the orchestra.
By the early 19th century, it became the norm to have a dedicated
conductor, who did not also play an instrument during the performance.
The size of the usual orchestra expanded during this period, and the
use of a baton became more common, as it was easier to see than bare
hands or rolled-up paper. Among the earliest notable conductors were
Hector Berlioz and
Richard Wagner attained greatness as
conductors, and they wrote two of the earliest essays dedicated to the
subject. Berlioz is considered the first virtuoso conductor. Wagner
was largely responsible for shaping the conductor's role as one who
imposes his own view of a piece onto the performance rather than one
who is just responsible for ensuring entries are made at the right
time and that there is a unified beat. Predecessors who focused on
François Habeneck , who founded the Orchestre de
la Société des concerts du Conservatoire in 1828, though Berlioz was
later to be alarmed at Habeneck's loose standards of rehearsal.
Pianist and composer
Wagner's one-time champion
Hans von Bülow (1830–1894) was
particularly celebrated as a conductor, although he also maintained
his initial career as a pianist, an instrument on which he was
regarded as among the greatest performers (he was a prized piano
Bülow raised the technical standards of conducting to an
unprecedented level through such innovations as separate, detailed
rehearsals of different sections of the orchestra ("sectional
rehearsal"). In his posts as head of (sequentially) the Bavarian State
The next generation of conductors brought technical standards to new
levels; perhaps most notable was the Hungarian-born Arthur Nikisch
(1855–1922), who succeeded Bülow as music director of the Berlin
Philharmonic in 1895. He had previously served as head of the Leipzig
Nikisch took the London Symphony
Conductors of the generations after Nikisch often left extensive
recorded evidence of their arts. Two particularly influential and
widely recorded figures are often treated, somewhat inaccurately, as
interpretive antipodes. They were the Italian conductor Arturo
Toscanini (1867–1957) and the German conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler
(1886–1954). Toscanini played in orchestras under
Giuseppe Verdi and
made his debut conducting _
Furtwängler, whom many regard as the greatest interpreter of Wagner (although Toscanini was also admired in this composer) and Bruckner, conducted Beethoven and Brahms with a good deal of inflection of tempo – but generally in a manner that revealed the structure and direction of the music particularly clearly. He was an accomplished composer as well as performer, and a disciple of the theorist Heinrich Schenker , who emphasized concern for underlying long-range harmonic tensions and resolutions in a piece, a strength of Furtwängler's conducting. Along with his interest in the large-scale, Furtwängler also shaped the details of the piece in a particularly compelling and expressive manner. Herbert von Karajan conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in 1941
The two men had very different techniques: Toscanini's was Italianate, with a long, large baton and clear beats (often not using his left hand); Furtwängler beat time with less apparent precision, because he wanted a more rounded sound (although it is a myth that his technique was vague; many musicians have attested that he was easy to follow in his own way). In any event, their examples illustrate a larger point about conducting technique in the first half of the 20th century: it was not standardized. Great and influential conductors of the middle 20th century like Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977), Otto Klemperer (1885–1973), Herbert von Karajan (1908–1989) and Leonard Bernstein (1918–1990) – incidentally, the first American conductor to attain greatness and international fame – had widely varied techniques.
Karajan and Bernstein formed another apparent antipode in the 1960s–80s, Karajan as music director of the Berlin Philharmonic (1955–89) and Bernstein as, for part of that period, music director of the New York Philharmonic (1957–69), and later frequent guest conductor in Europe. Karajan's technique was highly controlled, and eventually he conducted with his eyes often closed; Bernstein's technique was demonstrative, with highly expressive facial gestures and hand and body movements. Karajan could conduct for hours without moving his feet, while Bernstein was known at times to leap into the air at a great climax. As the music director of the Berlin Philharmonic, Karajan cultivated warm, blended beauty of tone, which has sometimes been criticized as too uniformly applied; by contrast, in Bernstein's only appearance with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1979 – performing Mahler's Symphony No. 9 – he tried to get the orchestra to produce an "ugly" tone in a certain passage in which he believed it suited the expressive meaning of the music (the first horn player refused, and finally agreed to let an understudy play instead of himself).
Both Karajan and Bernstein made extensive use of advances in media to convey their art, but in tellingly different ways. Bernstein hosted major prime-time national television series to educate and reach out to children and the public at large about classical music; Karajan made a series of films late in his life, but in them, he did not talk. Both made numerous recordings, but their attitudes toward recording differed: Karajan frequently made new studio recordings to take advantage of advances in recording technique, which fascinated him – he played a role in setting the specifications of the compact disc – but Bernstein, in his post-New York days, came to insist on (for the most part) live concert recordings, believing that music-making did not come to life in a studio without an audience.
In the last third of the 20th century, conducting technique – particularly with the right hand and the baton – became increasingly standardized. Conductors like Willem Mengelberg in Amsterdam until the end of World War II had had extensive rehearsal time to mold orchestras very precisely, and thus could have idiosyncratic techniques; modern conductors, who spend less time with any given orchestra, must get results with much less rehearsal time. A more standardized technique allows communication to be much more rapid. Nonetheless, conductors' techniques still show a great deal of variety, particularly with the use of the left hand, facial and eye expression, and body language.
Conductor's score and batons on a lit, extra-large conductor's music stand
Women conductors were almost unheard of in the ranks of leading
orchestral conductors through most of the 19th and 20th centuries, but
today, artists like
Marin Alsop and
Simone Young have broken the
gender barrier. Alsop was appointed music director of the Baltimore
While Mexico has produced several major international conductors,
Alondra de la Parra has become the first Mexican-born woman to attain
distinction in the profession. Similarly, Asian origin has become
unremarkable, because of the international successes of conductors
from the Far East such as
Seiji Ozawa , who was the Boston Symphony
2 4, 2 2, or fast 6 8 time 3 4 or 3 8 time 4 4 time slow 6 8 time in the German style
A distinction is sometimes made between orchestral conducting and choral conducting. Typically, orchestral conductors use a baton more often than choral conductors. The grip of the baton varies from conductor to conductor.
BEAT AND TEMPO
At the beginning of a piece of music, the conductor raises his or her hands (or hand if he or she only uses a single hand) to indicate that the piece is about to begin. This is a signal for the orchestra members to ready their instruments to be played or for the choristers to be ready and watching. The conductor then looks at the different sections of the orchestra (winds, strings, etc.) or choir to ensure that all the orchestra members are ready to play and choir members are ready. In some choral works, the conductor may signal to a pianist or organist to play a note or chord so that the choir members can determine their starting notes. Then the conductor gives one or more preparatory beats to commence the music. The preparatory beat before the orchestra or choir begins is the upbeat . The beat of the music is typically indicated with the conductor's right hand, with or without a baton. The hand traces a shape in the air in every bar (measure) depending on the time signature , indicating each beat with a change from downward to upward motion. The images show the most common beat patterns, as seen from the conductor's point of view.
The downbeat indicates the first beat of the bar, and the upbeat indicates the beat before the first note of the piece and the last beat of the bar. The instant at which the beat occurs is called the _ictus_ (plural: _ictūs_ or _ictuses_), and is usually indicated by a sudden (though not necessarily large) click of the wrist or change in baton direction. In some instances, "ictus" is also used to refer to a horizontal plane in which all the ictuses are physically located, such as the top of a music stand where a baton is tapped at each ictus. The gesture leading up to the ictus is called the "preparation", and the continuous flow of steady beats is called the "takt" (the German word for bar, measure and beat).
If the tempo is slow or slowing, or if the time signature is compound , a conductor will sometimes indicate "subdivisions" of the beats. The conductor can do this by adding a smaller movement in the same direction as the movement for the beat that it belongs to.
Changes to the tempo are indicated by changing the speed of the beat. To carry out and to control a rallentando (slowing down the pace of the music), a conductor may introduce beat subdivisions.
While some conductors use both hands to indicate the beat, with the left hand mirroring the right, formal education discourages such an approach. The second hand can be used for cueing the entrances of individual players or sections, and to aid indications of dynamics, phrasing, expression, and other elements.
During an instrumental solo section (or, in an opera orchestra during a vocalist's unaccompanied solo), some conductors stop counting out all the subdivisions and simply tap the baton down once per bar, to aid performers who are counting bars of rests.
There is a difference between the "textbook" definition of where the ictus of a downbeat occurs and the actual performance practice in professional orchestras. With an abrupt, loud sforzando chord, a professional orchestra will often play slightly _after_ the striking of the ictus point of the baton stroke.
Dynamics are indicated in various ways. The dynamic may be communicated by the size of the conducting movements, larger shapes representing louder sounds. Changes in dynamic may be signalled with the hand that is not being used to indicate the beat: an upward motion (usually palm-up) indicates a crescendo ; a downward motion (usually palm-down) indicates a diminuendo . Changing the size of conducting movements frequently results in changes in the character of the music depending upon the circumstances.
Dynamics can be fine-tuned using various gestures: showing one's palm to the performers or leaning away from them may demonstrate a decrease in volume. To adjust the overall balance of the various instruments or voices, these signals can be combined or directed toward a particular section or performer.
The indication of entries, when a performer or section should begin playing (perhaps after a long period of rests), is called "cueing". A cue must forecast with certainty the exact moment of the coming ictus, so that all the players or singers affected by the cue can begin playing simultaneously. Cueing is most important for cases where a performer or section has not been playing for a lengthy time. Cueing is also helpful in the case of a pedal point with string players, when a section has been playing the pedal point for a lengthy period; a cue is important to indicate when they should change to a new note. Cueing is achieved by "engaging" the players before their entry (by looking at them) and executing a clear preparation gesture, often directed toward the specific players. An inhalation, which may or may not be a semi-audible "sniff" from the conductor, is a common element in the cueing technique of some conductors. Mere eye contact or a look in the general direction of the players may be sufficient in many instances, as when more than one section of the ensemble enters at the same time. Larger musical events may warrant the use of a larger or more emphatic cue designed to encourage emotion and energy.
OTHER MUSICAL ELEMENTS
A conductor, Gerald Wilson , leads a jazz big band
Articulation may be indicated by the character of the ictus, ranging from short and sharp for staccato , to long and fluid for legato . Many conductors change the tension of the hands: strained muscles and rigid movements may correspond to marcato, while relaxed hands and soft movements may correspond to legato or espressivo. Phrasing may be indicated by wide overhead arcs or by a smooth hand motion either forwards or side-to-side. A held note is often indicated by a hand held flat with palm up. The end of a note, called a "cutoff" or "release", may be indicated by a circular motion, the closing of the palm, or the pinching of finger and thumb. A release is usually preceded by a preparation and concluded with a complete stillness.
Conductors aim to maintain eye contact with the ensemble as much as possible, encouraging eye contact in return and increasing the dialogue between players/singers and conductor. Facial expressions may also be important to demonstrate the character of the music or to encourage the players.
In some cases, such as where there has been little rehearsal time to prepare a piece, a conductor may discreetly indicate how the bars of music will be beat immediately before the start of the movement by holding up their fingers in front of their chest (so only the performers can see). For example, in a 4 4 piece that the conductor will beat "in two" (two ictus points or beats per bar, as if it were 2 2), the conductor would hold up two fingers in front of his or her chest.
In most cases, there is a short pause between movements of a symphony, concerto or dance suite. This brief pause gives orchestra or choir members time to turn the pages of their part and ready themselves for the start of the next movement. String players may apply rosin or wipe sweat off their hands with a handkerchief. Reed players may take this time to change to a new reed. In some cases, woodwind or brass players will use the pause to switch to a different instrument (e.g., from trumpet to cornet or from clarinet to E♭ clarinet). If the conductor wishes to immediately begin one movement after another for musical reasons, this is called attacca . The conductor will instruct the orchestra members and choristers to write the term in their parts, so that they will be ready to go immediately to the next movement.
A military conductor leads the U.S. Navy band during Memorial Day ceremonies held at Arlington National Cemetery.
The roles of a conductor vary a great deal between different conducting positions and different ensembles. In some cases, a conductor will also be the musical director of the symphony, choosing the program for the entire season, including concerts by guest conductors, concerto soloists, pop concerts, and so on. A senior conductor may attend some or all of the auditions for new members of the orchestra, to ensure that the candidates have the playing style and tone that the conductor prefers and that candidates meet the highest performance standards. Some choral conductors are hired to prepare a choir for several weeks which will subsequently be directed by another conductor. The choral conductor is usually acknowledged for their preparatory work in the concert program.
Some conductors may have a significant public relations role, giving interviews to the local news channel and appearing on television talk shows to promote the upcoming season or particular concerts. On the other hand, a conductor hired to guest conduct a single concert may only have the responsibility of rehearsing the orchestra for several pieces and conducting one or two concerts. While a handful of conductors have become well-known celebrities , such as Leonard Bernstein , most are only known within the Classical music scene.
TRAINING AND EDUCATION
David Baker , a music educator, composer and conductor, (far
left) leads the Smithsonian
Classical choral and instrumental conducting have established
comprehensive systems of instruction and training. Aspiring conductors
can study at colleges, conservatories, and universities.
Conservatories , which are the standard musical training system in
France and in Quebec (Canada) provide lessons and amateur conducting
experience. Universities offer a range of conducting programs,
including courses in conducting as part of bachelor's degrees, a small
number of Master of
As well, there are a variety of other training programs such as classical summer camps and training festivals, which give students the opportunity to conduct a wide range of music. Aspiring conductors need to obtain a broad education about the history of music, including the major periods of classical music and regarding music theory . Many conductors learn to play a keyboard instrument such as the piano or the pipe organ , a skill that helps them to be able to analyze symphonies and try out their interpretations before they have access to an orchestra to conduct. Many conductors get experience playing in an orchestra or singing in a choir, an experience which gives them good insights into how orchestras and choirs are conducted and rehearsed.
In 2014, orchestra conductors typically hold a master's degree in music and choir conductors in the US typically hold a bachelor's degree in music. Bachelor's degrees (referred to as B.Mus. or B.M) are four-year programs that include conducting lessons, amateur orchestra experience, and a sequence of courses in music history, music theory, and liberal arts courses (e.g., English literature), which give the student a more well-rounded education. Students do not usually specialize in conducting at the B.Mus. stage; instead, they usually develop general music skills such as singing, playing an orchestral instrument, performing in a choir, playing in orchestra, and playing a keyboard instrument such as the piano or the organ.
Another topic that conducting students study is the languages used in Classical music opera. Orchestral conductors are expected to be able to rehearse and lead choirs in works for orchestra and choir. As such, orchestral conductors need to know the major languages used in choral writing (including French, Italian and Latin, among others) and they must understand the correct diction of these languages in a choral singing context. The opposite is also true: a choral conductor will be expected to rehearse and lead a string orchestra or full orchestra when performing works for choir and orchestra. As such, a choral conductor needs to know how to rehearse and lead instrument sections.
Master of music degrees ( M.mus. ) in conducting consist of private conducting lessons, ensemble experience, coaching, and graduate courses in music history and music theory, along with one or two conducted concerts. A Master's degree in music (referred to as an M.Mus. or M.M.) is often the required minimum credential for people who wish to become a professor of conducting.
Doctor of Musical Arts (referred to as D.M.A., DMA, D.Mus.A. or A.Mus.D) degrees in conducting provide an opportunity for advanced study at the highest artistic and pedagogical level, requiring usually an additional 54+ credit hours beyond a master's degree (which is about 30+ credits beyond a bachelor's degree). For this reason, admission is highly selective. Examinations in music history, music theory, ear training/dictation, and an entrance examination and conducting audition are required. Students perform a number of conducted concerts, including a combination lecture-conducted concert with an accompanying doctoral dissertation, advanced coursework. Students must typically maintain a minimum B average. A DMA in conducting is a terminal degree , and as such, it qualifies the holder to teach in colleges, universities and conservatories. In addition to academic study, another part of the training pathway for many conductors is conducting amateur orchestras, such as youth orchestras , school orchestras and community orchestras.
A small number of conductors become professionals without formal training in conducting. These individuals often have achieved renown as an instrumental or vocal performer, and they have often undertaken a great deal of training in their area of expertise (instrumental performance or singing). Another way that a small number of conductors become professionals without formal training in conducting is by learning on the job by conducting amateur orchestras, school orchestras, and community orchestras (or the equivalent choral ensembles).
The average salary of conductors in the US in 2014 was $48,180. A 3% growth rate is forecast for conducting jobs from 2014 to 2024, a slower than average growth rate.
* ^ Kennedy, Michael ; Bourne Kennedy, Joyce (2007). "Conducting".
_Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music_ (Fifth ed.). Oxford University
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* ^ About.com: The Conductor at the
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