Exploring Music's Complexities

Do Orchestras Need Conductors?

Are Conductors a Necessary Evil?

conductor

If the conductor disappeared from Center Stage would the musicians be able to manage on their own? Does he (or she) contribute something extra to a performance or just act as a combination of timekeeper and showman?

There is general agreement that the conductor’s job is to provide the most compelling way to perform a piece of music (1). He (she) is responsible for ensuring the composer’s intentions are carried out and that all the musicians are playing the right notes at the right beat and tempo. What are his (her) other responsibilities?

According to Curtis and Kuehn ,“ Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures (2)”.   The most fundamental responsibility is to ensure all members of the orchestra are playing the correct notes and following the same rhythmic beat. This is done through the use of a set of arm and hand movements. The conductor typically sets the beat of the music with the right hand. He (she) may either use or not use a baton. Downbeats are used to indicate the first beat of the bar and upbeats indicate the last beat of the bar. In addition, the physical gestures provide a texture to the music.

BeatPatternUpBeat

These beat patterns are the most common when conducting the three-beat pattern and the six-beat pattern. The small numbered circles show where the beats occur in the pattern.

The League of American Orchestras outlines the traits and skills of a Music Director (4).   They identified three roles a music director must fill: Principal Conductor needs to be a performing musician; be the artistic head of the institution; and “sell the orchestra” to the community. He (she) must possess passion, intellect, musical talent, and charisma.

Given that love of music is a very personal thing, it makes it difficult to measure the quality of a given conductor’s performance.   What we do know is there is something unique in the personalities of great conductors. There must be some sort of drive that makes an individual want to turn the confusion and noise produced by 70 odd people into something emotionally satisfying. While it is obvious that a conductor needs to be confident in his (her) interpretive skills and instincts, the conductor and the musicians need to display respect for each other.

Conducting dates back to the Middle Ages when it consisted of hand gestures to keep all performers following the same metrical rhythm. Later small sticks were used. For instrumental music played in the 17th Century, the conductor might be the concertmaster or another member of the ensemble. As time went on, a dedicated conductor became common. As the size of the orchestras grew it became more common for the conductor to use a baton. This was the case until Wagner and Maler conducted their orchestras in a grand manner, suggesting that their performance was inspired and it was their responsibility to transmit the music’s message to the audience. Others have suggested that the best music has a personality and requires an experienced conductor to bring it out (5).   This trait is especially important when dealing with youth orchestras.  Below is a photo of Dr. Daniel Kobalka with Leonard Bernstein when Dr. Kobialka served as Concert Master for Bernstein’s Mass at the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Leonard

Among the great conductors in the past 50 years are Leonard Bernstein, Seiji Ozawa, Michael Tilson Thomas, Leopold Stokowski, Eugene Ormandy, Sir Georg Solti, Erich Leinsdorf, each gifted musicians and leaders. Sarah Caldwell is also notable.

In an attempt to scientifically determine whether an orchestra really needs a conductor, Yiannis Aloimonos, installed a small infrared light to the tip of the conductor’s and the violinists’ batons. Cameras captured the light movements and were analyzed using Clive Grangers mathematical techniques. He found that conductors were leading the violinists – “the movement of the conductors predicted the movement, not the other way around.” The study also found that a performance led by a veteran conductor was more aesthetic (6). As put by Ivan Hewett, great conducting “is a gift: you’ve either got it or you haven’t. (1).”

 References

  1. Hewett, Ivan. What do Conductors Do?   The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/classicalmusic/10782663/What-do-conductors-do.html.
  1. Watkin, Daniel J. (6 April 2012) “The Maestro’s Mojo – Breaking Conductors’ down by gesture and body Part” http://www.nytimes .com/20/2012/04/08.
  1. Hoffman, Miles. The NPR Classical Music Companion: An Essential Guide for Enlightened Listening. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  1. http://www.americanorchestras.org/conducting-artistic-programs/conducting/traits-and-skills-of-a-music-director.html
  1. Dorsey, Scott. CJ Rreplay: The Conductor’s Personality Type, ChoralNet. http://www.choralnet.org/314219.
  1. Vedantam, Shankar. Do Orchestras Really Need Conductors? Issues and Ideas, NPR, November 27, 2012.

Tagged as: , ,

Categorised in: Issues, Performers

»

36 Responses

  1. I am regular reader, how are you everybody? This
    paragraph posted at this website is genuinely fastidious.

    Like

  2. I am extremely impressed along with your writing abilities
    and also with the structure to your weblog. Is this a paid topic or did you customize it your self?
    Anyway stay up the nice quality writing, it’s uncommon to
    peer a great blog like this one these days..

    Like

  3. Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which
    blog platform are you using for this website?
    I’m getting fed up of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at options for another platform.

    I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

    Like

  4. Excellent post, I’m planning to spend much more time
    researching this subject matter.

    Like

  5. Many individuals will be benefiting from your writing since
    they are excellent. Many thanks!

    Like

  6. Ridiculous story there. What occurred after? Good luck!

    Like

  7. I saw your post a while back and saved it to my computer.
    Only lately have I got a opportunity to check it and I must tell you good work.very excellent post, i without a doubt enjoy
    this site, continue the good work.

    Like

  8. Several very nice stuff on this website, I like it.

    Like

  9. I do accept as true with all the concepts you have introduced for your post.
    They are very convincing and can certainly work.
    Still, the posts are very brief for beginners.
    Could you please lengthen them a bit from subsequent time?
    Thanks for the post.

    Like

  10. Right here is the right blog for everyone who wants to understand this topic.
    You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that
    I really will need to…HaHa). You definitely put a new spin on a topic that’s been written about for ages.
    Wonderful stuff, just great!

    Like

  11. Hello, all is going perfectly here and ofcourse every one
    is sharing facts, that’s truly fine, keep up writing.

    Like

  12. Greetings! I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and finally got the courage to go ahead
    and give you a shout out from New Caney Tx! Just wanted to
    say keep up the good work!

    Like

  13. I was suggested this blog by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post
    is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my
    problem. You are wonderful! Thanks!

    Like

  14. I got this web site from my friend who informed me about this web site
    and now this time I am visiting this web site and
    reading very informative posts at this time.

    Like

  15. This article comprises excellent original thinking. The informational content here proves that
    things aren’t so black and white. I feel more intelligent from just reading this.
    Keep posting.

    Like

  16. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my
    own blog and was curious what all is needed
    to get setup? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny?
    I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% sure. Any suggestions or advice would
    be greatly appreciated. Appreciate it

    Like

  17. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about literals.
    Regards

    Like

  18. This is an excellent blog, thanks for sharing.

    Like

  19. You’ve made different nice points here.

    I see something actually special in this site. Thanks for posting.

    Like

  20. Hi, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog in Opera, it looks
    fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping.
    I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, very good blog!

    Like

  21. I have been browsing on-line more than three hours
    these days, but I by no means discovered any fascinating article like yours.
    It is lovely worth enough for me. Personally, if all web owners and bloggers made excellent content as you
    did, the web shall be a lot more useful than ever before.

    Like

  22. We are a group of volunteers and opening a new scheme in our community.
    Your web site provided us with valuable information to work on. You have done an impressive job and our whole
    community will be thankful to you.

    Like

  23. May I just say what a comfort to uncover somebody that actually understands what they’re discussing online.
    You actually know how to bring a problem to light and make it
    important. A lot more people should read this and understand
    this side of the story. I was surprised you’re not more popular since you definitely
    possess the gift.

    Like

  24. This design is steller! You most certainly know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Wonderful job.
    I really enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

    Like

  25. This is a superb articles! I am swept away by your presentation as well as unique views.
    I agree with so much. I’ll return for more very good articles.

    Like

  26. Very good posts from you, man. I’ve understand your point
    and you’re simply extremely great. I enjoy what you have here, actually like what you’re stating as well as the way by
    which you say it. You make it enjoyable.
    I cant wait to read much more from you. This is genuinely a
    wonderful website.

    Like

  27. Outstanding post however , I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic?

    I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further.

    Thanks!

    Like

  28. Nice to be visiting your blog once more. Great this post.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Like

  29. Awesome website you have here but I was wondering
    if you knew of any community forums that cover the same topics talked about here?
    I’d really love to be a part of community where I can get suggestions from other
    knowledgeable individuals that share the same interest.
    If you have any recommendations, please let me
    know. Thank you!

    Like

  30. You must indulge in a contest for one of the finest blogs
    online. I’ll recommend this site!

    Like

  31. What a data of un-ambiguity and preserveness of precious
    familiarity about unpredicted emotions.

    Like

  32. I couldn’t resist commenting. Well written!

    Like

  33. This text is invaluable. How can I find out more?

    Like

  34. This design is wicked! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job.
    I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.

    Too cool!

    Like

  35. Great day! This post could not be written much better!
    Looking over this post reminds me of my previous room
    mate! He always kept chatting regarding this. I will forward this write-up
    to him. Surely he will have an excellent read. Many thanks
    for sharing!

    Like

  36. Love this site! Look forward to reading more about music and the creators.

    Like

%d bloggers like this: