Conductor

 12 July 2012

Conductors work with choirs, orchestras and other musical ensembles.

You will need to communicate effectively with each and every member of the orchestra or choir, as well as a wide range of other people. (Ima
You will need to communicate effectively with each and every member of the orchestra or choir, as well as a wide range of other people. (Ima

What is the job like?

Conductors direct the tempo (speed), rhythm, dynamics (loud or soft) and articulation (smooth or detached) of the music and keeping everyone together as the music progresses.

Everyone looks to the conductor, and depends on them for a high standard of performance.

The work involves:

  • Using a baton in one hand to beat the rhythm and their other hand to direct the mood and texture of the music
  • Controlling the sound from each musician
  • Using baton techniques, interpretative gestures, and verbal communication to lead rehearsals and performances
  • Interpreting the music and developing ideas towards a completed performance
  • Choosing repertoire and planning musical programmes and concert schedules
  • The detailed study and preparation of scores and other materials prior to rehearsals.

How do I become a conductor?

Conductors need a very special blend of skills and abilities. An extremely high level of musical accomplishment, knowledge of music and talent are essential. Advanced keyboard skills and score reading is an absolute necessity.

Everyone looks to the conductor, and depends on them for a high standard of performance.

You will need to communicate effectively with each and every member of the orchestra or choir, as well as a wide range of other people. An understanding of people and psychology therefore becomes essential.

Competition for conducting jobs is fierce, and it is important to gain as much experience as possible, which will usually be volunteer to start with.

Community, school and youth orchestras and choirs offer great opportunities for you to develop skills and confidence. Why not offer to conduct a school ensemble or orchestra for a rehearsal? When you have more experience you could organise and conduct a concert for charity.

What training and qualifications do I need?

Learning to conduct is a very complex process, and one that takes many years, if not a lifetime to perfect.

Most conductors have a degree in music, followed by postgraduate qualifications in conducting. You normally need two-three A levels (or equivalent) including music for a music degree, plus a high standard on two instruments, such as grade 8 on your first instrument and grade 6 on your second. Check with individual music colleges (conservatoires) and universities as entrance requirements can vary. Entry is via audition.

As well as postgraduate courses, there are many summer schools, seminars and short courses available which offer training for conductors. The British Music Yearbook lists relevant courses.

If you are interested in becoming a conductor then it is essential that you learn how different instruments work, for example bowing techniques for stringed instruments.

Playing an instrument in an orchestra/ ensemble or singing in a choir also helps you learn how to relate to the other musicians. Go to as many concerts as you can, as you will not only learn about music, but will see experienced conductors in action.

You can also watch great conductors in action on television or YouTube to see how they work. Look out for their body language.

What can I earn?

Conducting is usually a freelance career and the fee is totally dependent on the reputation and experience of the conductor.

The world’s most experienced conductors might earn between £10,000 and £15,000 a concert. Less experienced conductors might earn a few hundred pounds per concert, or quite possibly considerably less, particularly when starting out. Some conductors supplement their income with other work, including composing or teaching.

The Incorporated Society of Musicians has performed a survey of members’ earnings. The average fee for conductors per concert ranges from £175 to £950, with the highest fee at £2900.

Fees vary according to the type of orchestra (e.g. amateur or professional) and the venue, which could be anything from a community hall to an international concert venue.


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