Chapter headings

  1. Background studies
  2. Conducting the music
  3. When to sub-divide
  4. Dangerous corners
  5. How good is a good ear?
  6. How long is a crotchet?
  7. Is a baton really necessary?
  8. Observing the MM.
  9. Conducting from memory.
  10. Rewriting the Masters.
  11. Recordings?
  12. Scores and how to treat them.
  13. The importance of singing.
  14. Rehearsing.
  15. The Music Director.
  16. Concerto & Theatre work
  17. Starting out.

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

Conducting is a post-graduate activity. Indeed, it is difficult to see how a performance art that directs tempi, dynamics and phrasing without making a sound could be anything else. For one person to tell a hundred trained musicians how to play a Brahms symphony they’ve already performed a hundred times before would seem an act of bravado bordering on folly.

It is for this reason that the conductor should be as well-educated a musician as the rest of the orchestra, gifted with considerable powers of leadership and proficient in at least one instrument.

Which one?

As the ambition to conduct usually comes towards the end of student life when a musician is already committed to his or her main instrument, forecasting which one might further that ambition is like prescribing for an illness that hasn’t yet happened. In the past, conductors have been mainly pianists or organists and there is little doubt that the ability to sight-read full scores at the instrument and to be an accomplished accompanist should put one on a fast-track to becoming an opera conductor. On the other hand, a string player would grow up understanding the subtleties of the largest group of players in the orchestra and would learn the repertoire through actually playing it. So would a wind player, of course, and they might find they have time to practise seriously a second instrument. The piano, perhaps?

In a game of pros and cons, however, let us not lose sight of the most important aadvantage of all – to be a natural, born musician.

What other abilities should a conductor acquire?

  • The ability to transpose from Bb, A, F,D and Eb, and read the four ‘C’ clefs.
  • To learn the characteristics of all the orchestral instruments – compass, strong & weak registers and the technical problems specific to each.
  • To become familiar with a large section of the symphonic repertoire – perhaps several hundred works – an exercise that never stops!
  • To learn how to rehearse convincingly and to develop a good ear for pitch and intonation, timbre and balance.
  • Finally, to have talent!