A conductor is a vital part of a music ensemble, 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 conductor can be necessary to a variety of performing groups, from choirs, marching bands, orchestras and other instrumental groups. The exact title of the position can vary depending on seniority or the specific type of group being directed; '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 conductor who has excelled in the field and achieved a certain level of seniority may gain the title of 'maestro', a coveted honour and tradition.
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A conductor directs and shapes a musical performance by an ensemble, from its infancy in rehearsal to the eventual exhibition in front of an audience. He or she communicates beat, tempo, and at times, the emotion to be conveyed while playing a musical piece to unify the performing group.
A conductor is often paired with a particular performing group throughout many performances, guiding the artists through rehearsals and giving vocal feedback to shape the outcome of the musical piece. The exact nature of a conductor's duties can vary from one venue to another, and are also determined by the skill-level of the particular ensemble being directed, which can range from professional to amateur. While some conductors are expected to follow formal rules that dictate gestures, duties, and non-vocal nuances, others are allowed considerable freedom with their means of communicating artistic direction.
The workplace of a conductor can vary greatly, from a school classroom to a world-renowned music hall. In the instances of amateur performances, the performance venue may take place in the same environment as rehearsals, such as a church or a recreational centre. As a conductor of a military band, the workplace may centre around a specific military base and requires him or her to be an enlisted member.
As the conductor of a professional orchestra or choir, the workplace can be a particular concert hall that acts as the ensemble's base, or can be a world-wide venue that requires frequent travel between performances and constantly changing bases.
A conductor of an orchestra has the primary responsibility of preparing the musical ensemble for public presentations.
Conductors are leaders of orchestras, choruses, opera and ballet companies, as well as other musical groups. They work with instrumentalists and singers to make sure that pieces of music are interpreted and performed correctly.
Although the portrait an orchestra conductor is of the wild-haired man with the frantic arm movements, the most essential part of the conductor's job is the one you will never seen unless you are either in the orchestra or in one of those really badly placed but exceptionally expensive box seats.
Julian Wachner, the music and arts director at Trinity Church, is a conductor at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Juilliard Opera Theater.
I can't describe how cool it is to make a movement with my arm to speak to the musicians and hear back the sound I wanted...
Esa-Pekka Salonen is the principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. His career took off when he stood in at the last minute for a sick conductor when he was just 25. Almost 25 years later, he was recently named conductor of the year.