The next time you hear a familiar theme that beckons you to tap your toes,
hum along or even move your body with the rhythm, thank the conductor who
brought it all together for you.
A symphony orchestra conductor (known as a maestro if they are a man and
a maestra if they are a woman) must possess many skills, the most important
being the ability to communicate. The conductor must communicate not only
with the orchestra and audience, but also with the community.
Conductors build their orchestras by auditioning and selecting their musicians
and programming suitable music scores for their orchestra's audiences. They
choose the music to accommodate the talents and abilities of their musicians.
They also direct rehearsals and performances and apply conducting techniques
to get desired musical effects.
They give clear musical messages to an orchestra through conducting techniques
and communicative body language. They also have the ability to give polished
and entertaining talks about music to the public, and are often hired on the
basis of being the best talker as well as being the best conductor.
Most conductors begin their careers as musicians, often mastering various
instruments such as the piano, violin, flute, oboe or clarinet.
Conductors often work at night or on weekends, and spend lots time in practice
and rehearsals. They require physical stamina, since they frequently travel
as guest conductors and are subject to high levels of sound vibration.
They must have extensive training to get the necessary skill, knowledge
and ability to interpret music. They gain this training through private study
with accomplished musicians and conductors, college or university programs,
and music conservatories. Many take instrumental and voice instruction to
further their understanding.
Young people who are considering a career in music must have musical talent,
versatility, creative ability, poise and stage presence to face large audiences.
Most importantly, they require the self-discipline to study and practice constantly.
Nan Washburn, a symphony orchestra conductor in California, advises that
conducting is quite physical. The more coordination and grace one has, the
better. "James DePreist...is physically challenged and conducts while seated
-- but you hardly notice. Once he starts making music, he's fabulous," she
Washburn says she alternates days for administrative work, correspondence
and research with days she sets aside for score study. Her typical month includes
a couple of concerts, with anywhere between two and seven rehearsals for each,
depending on the orchestra.