A conductor is a vital part of any ensemble performing music, acting as the director to keep the performers unified and on cue. A profession which dates far back into the Middle Ages, conducting has taken many forms and followed many traditions through the centuries, only taking on its most modern incarnation in the early 19th century as a dedicated, non-instrumented position. The classic image of a leader standing in front of an ensemble of musical artists using a thin wooden baton to direct the performance harkens back to the time of Felix Mendelssohn, who was the first to be credited with the modern baton's use.
A musical director can be necessary to a variety of performing groups, from choirs, marching bands, orchestras, and other instrumented groups. The exact title of the position can vary depending on seniority or the specific type of group being directed, including "musical director" in an orchestral setting, "choral director" or "choirmaster" when directing a choir, "bandmaster" when the ensemble is primarily brass and percussion instruments. A musical director who has excelled in the field and achieved a certain level of seniority may gain the title of "maestro", a coveted honour and tradition.