Music Director  What They Do

Just the Facts

Music Directors Career Video

Insider Info

dotThe 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.

dotA 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.

dotConductors 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.

dotMost conductors begin their careers as musicians, often mastering various instruments such as the piano, violin, flute, oboe or clarinet.

dotConductors 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.

dotYoung 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 physically challenged and conducts while seated -- but you hardly notice. Once he starts making music, he's fabulous," she says.

dotWashburn 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.

Just the Facts

Want a quick overview of what this career is about?Check out Just the Facts for simple lists of characteristics.

At a Glance

Direct musicians to get the sound you want

  • Most conductors begin their careers as musicians
  • Communication skills are crucial
  • A university degree in music is recommended