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Noted: What Does a Conductor Do?

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One of the greatest Looney Tunes shorts of all time features Bugs Bunny as an orchestra conductor, seeking revenge on an unsuspecting opera singer. Clad in a tuxedo and white powdered wig, Bugs wields the baton like a weapon, leading the singer through an outlandish aria that ends in total destruction of the theater. Created in 1949, the cartoon is actually a satirical send up of Leopold Stowkowski, the conductor who famously established the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. As a kid, Bugs provided my only insight into the job of an orchestra conductor. While the profession does not actually involve falling anvils and ridiculous sight gags, writer Justin Davis undertook the job for a few weeks, revealing its overlooked challenges.

With outlandish gestures and a baton that swats at the air, I’ve always thought the conductor was just a formality, placed at the head of an orchestra as a sort of musical mascot. As it turns out, all that fancy hand jive is essential in communicating the vast knowledge locked inside the conductor’s brain. “There are a few miles of roadway that I have driven often enough to navigate them faultlessly in my mind,” writes Davidson. “I know every pothole, every deer crossing. A conductor needs similarly detailed recall of an enormous musical terrain.” Like a story with 100 characters, a classical composition is extraordinarily multi-faceted, requiring a leader who knows every detail, right down to how and when the cymbals should be struck. We don’t always have the opportunity to attempt a new profession for a day, but Davidson’s experience demystifies and enlightens while revealing the overlooked responsibilities of the conductor. Davidson adds, “If the entire symphonic tradition were incinerated, a team of conductors could write it all out again.”

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Chappell Ellison is a designer, writer and design writer. She currently lives in Brooklyn, New York where she serves as a contributor for The Etsy Blog and design columnist for GOOD.

3 Featured Comments

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  • IvyVining

    IvyVining says: Featured

    I was just talking about this with a friend recently who asked the same question. As a classical oboist for most of my life, I've had the opportunity to work with a vast array of amazing conductors, and waving the baton is almost the least of their responsibilites. A conductor conveys the emotion of every note with their eyes and body. They literally breathe when the orchestra breathes, turning the whole group into one single living organism. Working with or even just watching a great conductor is an experience in itself. Great noted feature.

    3 years ago

  • HellYeahISew

    HellYeahISew says: Featured

    As a long-time cellist, this article almost hurts me. It's never occurred to me that anyone would think the conductor is a formality. Without one, we'd never be able to play as an esemble -- speeding up and slowing down together. When to start again after a long rest. The enthusiasm in the orchestra perfectly mirrors that in the conductor.

    3 years ago

  • serenebean

    serenebean says: Featured

    As a conductor, I have to know every single note that every single player in my ensemble sees on their page. I also have to have a strong opinion about every part of the music and decide how I will convey what I want to hear to the players -- no talking allowed! Even in a rehearsal, my hands and facial expressions speak MUCH louder and more clearly than anything I might say; why waste time talking when we can be playing? I have to practice my craft, just as a player does...in front of the mirror, in the shower...I time each breath, each pause, each tempo change. I use equal parts logic and artistry. Without me, my ensemble would be without a leader (or equally problematic, with too many leaders!). Oh, and by the way, because I teach band (as the great majority of conductors do), I also teach your kids how to hold and play their instruments, read and understand a new language, work cooperatively, and appreciate art and history. Formality? If you say so... ;) I hope the blog post inspires some people to take a trip to their local orchestra or community band. :)

    3 years ago

  • TheBloomingThread

    TheBloomingThread says:

    i love that last line! { i must admit though, ive been guilty of wondering the same thing at some point }

    3 years ago

  • nomadcraftsetc

    nomadcraftsetc says:

    Conductors really have a plateful! I can't imagine how their minds work!

    3 years ago

  • FranceGallery

    FranceGallery says:

    Interesting insight!

    3 years ago

  • LavenderField

    LavenderField says:

    Conducting an orchestra is an ART!

    3 years ago

  • MegansMenagerie
  • tina0157h7

    tina0157h7 says:

    Like many of the most elegant performances, the masters make a difficult thing look so easy! Tina Chao

    3 years ago

  • volkerwandering

    volkerwandering says:

    Thought provoking...facial expressions and movement, it's almost like dancing!

    3 years ago

  • finegreeneyes

    finegreeneyes says:

    Fascinating! LOVE the comparison between conducting a song and driving a familiar road.

    3 years ago

  • Walkingquail

    Walkingquail says:

    I have observed my brother-in-law, the conductor, studying before a performance so I now have an idea about how all encapsulating their work is. Such an interesting artform to think about.

    3 years ago

  • feyzayazar

    feyzayazar says:

    Just this past week I was thinking to myself 'What does a conductor do?'!!!! Thanks for demystifying this beautiful art!

    3 years ago

  • sizzlestrapz

    sizzlestrapz says:

    wow! fascinating

    3 years ago

  • PrincesaAnastasia

    PrincesaAnastasia says:

    lovely story, but his name was Stokowski, you just put w before k. By the way it is different meaning of conductor in Spanish. When you ask Spaniar - What does a conductor do? He will answer you - he is driving car.

    3 years ago

  • adessojewelry

    adessojewelry says:

    Hey, is that Arthur Fiedler in the photo? He was a well-known, and quite outstanding conductor of the Boston Pops orchestra many years ago (too bad I'm old enough to know that!). Nevertheless, this is a great post. Thanks for the info, and a good laugh....remembering Bugs Bunny's "Leopold" gig!

    3 years ago

  • AlisaDesign

    AlisaDesign says:

    Interesting!!!

    3 years ago

  • KimberlyEstrada

    KimberlyEstrada says:

    I've been fortunate enough to stand in front of a couple of amazing conductors in my high school years. We would've been lost without one! Choirs/singers have it good as they can give a 100% focus to the conductor. Instrumentalist on the other hand have to divide their attention to the sheet music and conductor, but if you've memorized the notes, then it's smooth sailing. As an audience, I also love watching them, each has their own style, some more lively than others :)

    3 years ago

  • LeesBeesNJ

    LeesBeesNJ says:

    A long (looooonnnnggg) time ago, I played in my HS band - we were pretty good. But you would know, just KNOW when you were playing excellently because our band teacher - our conductor - would close his eyes and practically levitate off the platform. I was never able to hear the music like that. He was lucky! Wow. I need to go watch "Mr. Holland's Opus" now.

    3 years ago

  • IvyVining

    IvyVining says: Featured

    I was just talking about this with a friend recently who asked the same question. As a classical oboist for most of my life, I've had the opportunity to work with a vast array of amazing conductors, and waving the baton is almost the least of their responsibilites. A conductor conveys the emotion of every note with their eyes and body. They literally breathe when the orchestra breathes, turning the whole group into one single living organism. Working with or even just watching a great conductor is an experience in itself. Great noted feature.

    3 years ago

  • peaseblossomstudio

    peaseblossomstudio says:

    Fun article! I learned how to conduct in music theory in high school.

    3 years ago

  • ThomasHaskettArtist

    ThomasHaskettArtist says:

    Great insight, thank you for sharing it :)

    3 years ago

  • VintageChinchilla

    VintageChinchilla says:

    “There are a few miles of roadway that I have driven often enough to navigate them faultlessly in my mind,” writes Davidson. “I know every pothole, every deer crossing. A conductor needs similarly detailed recall of an enormous musical terrain.” Love that line :)

    3 years ago

  • cinthyacr

    cinthyacr says:

    I guess it makes sense if you think about it this way.. give the same project, instructions and same materials to 10 different artist.. none of the pieces that they make will be the same.. every piece will have the artists' flavor, taste and personality... Or at least that's how I see it.. so marvelous!

    3 years ago

  • ydscollectibles

    ydscollectibles says:

    Very informative article. Thank you for this!

    3 years ago

  • thenakedbird

    thenakedbird says:

    i was in an all girls show choir my sophomore year of high school and we'd sing 4 part harmonies. I was a little too focused on drama classes and play rehearsals and definitely didn't give choir the attention I should have which is why that was the first and last year I did it but I will say, that as frantic and silly as conductors look sometimes, this poor, always-lost girl, would constantly look to her "maestro" for direction. (I'm the girl if that wasn't clear...) There's something about the way that he communicates to each section that you know it's for you and he prepares you for what's coming next and instills the passion or subtlety that should fill the next note. It's really quite incredible.

    3 years ago

  • flourishingagain

    flourishingagain says:

    I know that the skill and talent of my music conductors in high school, I had 3, band, choir, and orchestra, have given me a life long love of music. Even if all I'm doing is singing to the radio, there is some kind of special magic that those 3 started and I have never given up.

    3 years ago

  • auntjanecan

    auntjanecan says:

    Yay!!! This is a wonderful article. I have played under many amazing conductors in symphonies.

    3 years ago

  • edguardodeevinchsski

    edguardodeevinchsski says:

    I never really thought about how hard it must be. I can hardly memorize all the lyrics to a song, let alone all the parts and notes!

    3 years ago

  • hmmills

    hmmills says:

    Wonderful

    3 years ago

  • TheVelvetBranch

    TheVelvetBranch says:

    A fascinating article and a wonderful perspective to consider. Thank you ofr presenting it.

    3 years ago

  • HellYeahISew

    HellYeahISew says: Featured

    As a long-time cellist, this article almost hurts me. It's never occurred to me that anyone would think the conductor is a formality. Without one, we'd never be able to play as an esemble -- speeding up and slowing down together. When to start again after a long rest. The enthusiasm in the orchestra perfectly mirrors that in the conductor.

    3 years ago

  • KKSimpleRegalJewelry

    KKSimpleRegalJewelry says:

    Yep... they have a hard job, or so it seems to us... but I am sure they do enjoy it! ~KK~

    3 years ago

  • thedancingoboe

    thedancingoboe says:

    ... this is the most disappointing article I've ever read on Etsy. Aside from the brazen admittance of cultural ignorance, it also harkens the question of basic cognition. The comments also bring me physical pain. Where I can understand that the average person may not understand a score precisely, I would hope that people would realize that the conductor's movements coincide with a reaction from the ensemble, and therefore at least understand that the conductor is a type of leader I can't believe people actually think that a conductor just goes up there to wave his/her arms around. Excuse me while I cry in a corner.

    3 years ago

  • isewcute

    isewcute says:

    A conductor must go through some pretty rigorous training to be able to do what they do. Very impressive!

    3 years ago

  • sermengtk

    sermengtk says:

    A great reminder for "what shall I do more of in 2012" -- Go out and support your local symphony or chamber orchestras! Even if you just go once a year for Christmas or summer concerts. The key is to go.

    3 years ago

  • sandboxcastle

    sandboxcastle says:

    I have to admit...not ever having been part of an Orchestra...I've always wondered what the conductors waves actually mean XD

    3 years ago

  • serenebean

    serenebean says: Featured

    As a conductor, I have to know every single note that every single player in my ensemble sees on their page. I also have to have a strong opinion about every part of the music and decide how I will convey what I want to hear to the players -- no talking allowed! Even in a rehearsal, my hands and facial expressions speak MUCH louder and more clearly than anything I might say; why waste time talking when we can be playing? I have to practice my craft, just as a player does...in front of the mirror, in the shower...I time each breath, each pause, each tempo change. I use equal parts logic and artistry. Without me, my ensemble would be without a leader (or equally problematic, with too many leaders!). Oh, and by the way, because I teach band (as the great majority of conductors do), I also teach your kids how to hold and play their instruments, read and understand a new language, work cooperatively, and appreciate art and history. Formality? If you say so... ;) I hope the blog post inspires some people to take a trip to their local orchestra or community band. :)

    3 years ago

  • EverythingElena

    EverythingElena says:

    Interesting blog on another important branch of art - Music. May I humbly add? While the composer designs the DNA, the conductor is the brain and the musicians are the body organs of that elaborate organism we call music. While a really talented, academically trained composer is able to design the kind of music that pleases people for a civilization-long time, a really talented conductor can interpret music in a way that pleases people for the same length of time. And as most brains get to be more experienced and wise with age, so do most conductors. It is sad to see a young, unseasoned conductor like Gustavo Dudamel lead a strong orchestra like LA Phil. But it is a great joy to listen to the Columbia Symphony Orchestra lead by Bruno Walter, who put his ego aside and didn't dare to conduct Mozart's 40th until he was over forty years old. What honor, what consideration, what an artist!

    3 years ago

  • jmayoriginals

    jmayoriginals says:

    thedancingoboe said it best with this: "... this is the most disappointing article I've ever read on Etsy. Aside from the brazen admittance of cultural ignorance, it also harkens the question of basic cognition." i concur.

    3 years ago

  • DuettaDesigns

    DuettaDesigns says:

    As a professional singer who has sung under the batton of many great maestros, I find the blog to be shallow read, but the comments very inspiring to me. It is always very interesting to see the different styles of these leaders - including Gustavo Dudamel. (One of the most interesting was Bramwell Tovey on the Hollywood Bowl stage - he is a real character.) Sad to say there are many people who have never been to see a classical performance with a conductor. I am soooooo happy that there are fellow Etsy-ans who have enough passion for the arts to write about thier experience with orchestral and choral music. Here's to all of you who have had their curiosity peaked by this blog enough to go out and attend a live orchestral or choral performance.

    3 years ago

  • CopperheadCreations

    CopperheadCreations says:

    Totally! I've played music all my life, and for most of that time I was part of an ensemble. Not only are conductors a pivotal part of the way the music is being played; their energy transfers to all of the musicians, big time. I was lucky - I had great ones, who were extremely expressive and energetic, and took their work very seriously. We didn't get away with anything, even as high school students! I can't imagine not having them there.

    3 years ago

  • TheEnchantedBride

    TheEnchantedBride says:

    It is so true... A conductors energy does transfer to the musicians... In a way they are "Musical Mascots"... and as a musician you feed off of the energy and passion they convey to interpret the music as a whole orchestra. As a Highschool student, my particular band was among the best and as we were judged at competitions, so was our conductor... He would always be judged the highest scores. It brought so much pride to all of us in the band... knowing those judges saw what we saw... Passion, professionalism, and a true love for the art of music. I suppose you could only know the true importance of a conductor if you had the opportunity to be a member of an orchestra or band.

    3 years ago

  • TheEnchantedBride

    TheEnchantedBride says:

    BTW Thank you for posting a link to the old cartoon!! I LOVE IT!

    3 years ago

  • Elaine0421

    Elaine0421 says:

    I have been a classical violinist for almost 50 years. A conductor could be considered the equivalent of a coach for a sports team...what would a team be like without a coach?? I doubt most people would consider a coach a "formality" but the heart and soul of a team...that just goes to show how little society knows about and understands classical music....but perhaps putting it in sports terms would help the layman to understand...it's kind of sad we have to go that far.... :(

    3 years ago

  • OfAnEra

    OfAnEra says:

    Do people really think conductors are superficial? Wow. I'm a little sad now.

    3 years ago

  • pasin

    pasin says:

    lovely story

    3 years ago

  • bedouin

    bedouin says:

    I remember learning what a conductor was in kindergarten. Bring music back to all of the public schools !!!

    3 years ago

  • auntmarthasattic

    auntmarthasattic says:

    Each Conductors interpretation of a musical score is as individual as the conductor themselves. It is facinating to hear different orchestral arrangments and how they very... that is due to the conductor! As a Cellist and Music Educator who had to spend the better part of a year learning to conduct the college ensemble in the Music Ed class... I appreciate the words of many other musicians here. Simply there waving their arms about... may be what most see on the surface... but I can assure you, there is much more to the art than that.

    3 years ago

  • expressyourself

    expressyourself says:

    Great store!

    3 years ago

  • Bmbyx

    Bmbyx says:

    Ah, Conductors. No orchestra can ever survive without them, just like no sport’s team can ever survive without a coach....musicians are heavily relying on their Conductors. I take my hat off to all Conductors and pay much respect for their talent and hard work. Try to read 22 different pages of the book at once, that’s what Conductors have to do. Read 20+ lines of sheet music, listen to 20+ musicians, and keep it all together all at once... Much respect, always :o)

    3 years ago

  • Bmbyx

    Bmbyx says:

    Ah, Conductors. No orchestra can ever survive without them, just like no sport’s team can ever survive without a coach...musicians are heavily relying on their Conductors. I take my hat off to all Conductors and pay much respect for their talent and hard work. Try to read 22 different pages of the book at once, that’s what Conductors have to do. Read 20+ lines of sheet music, listen to 20+ musicians, and keep it all together all at once... Much respect, always :o)

    3 years ago

  • adrianaallenllc

    adrianaallenllc says:

    The blog is as interesting as some of the comments after that. It was great to read how many conductors and musicians were intrigued by it and have contributed great insights. Thank you, all.

    3 years ago

  • Iammie

    Iammie says:

    Interesting!

    3 years ago

  • destroymodernart

    destroymodernart says:

    yesterday i read a youtube comment that said 'are conductors just telling the orchestra what notes to play and shouldn't they know that already?'... I guess those of us that got to play in an orchestra are lucky to know that apparent secret... altho i was horrified by that level ignorance. But then again when i tell people i studied fine art they seem to think that means miniature paintings with a tiny brush...

    3 years ago

  • fetishforethics

    fetishforethics says:

    Uffda. Although I appreciate the fact that this article might inspire people to look more deeply into the creation of music, I still find it pretty heartbreaking. The most creative, intelligent, and open people in the world are on etsy! If etsy-ers think that conductors are frivolous, I don't have much hope for what the general public believes. I can't even imagine their opinion on the third chair hornist! :)

    3 years ago

  • NicoAndMooMoo

    NicoAndMooMoo says:

    my grandfather passed on to me the passion for classical music his favorite conductor, Herbert von Karajan!

    3 years ago

  • Parachute425

    Parachute425 says:

    Enjoying the comments as much as the article. Agree - conducting is an art.

    3 years ago

  • atouchofpaisley

    atouchofpaisley says:

    Wonderful article! I am a harpist in a local community orchestra . . . and knew nothing about conducting when I first came in. But I can now say, the conductor holds a very important part in our symphony and I do not know what we would do without him. He holds us together, and helps each of us out during those pesky solo parts! It is an art. For those who have not been in one of the musicians seats on stage, there's even more conducting then you can see from the audience. . . many, many facial expressions! :-D Thanks for writing this nice article, -Toni Chanelle a Touch of Paisley Photography

    3 years ago

  • NutfieldWeaver

    NutfieldWeaver says:

    The "outlandish gestures" are entirely necessary. As a cellist in the New Hampshire Philharmonic, it is my responsibility to pay attention to and to interpret those "outlandish gestures." The conductor aligns our individual interpretations of each part of the score (which may or may not be accurate) into one so that a piece is delivered with authenticity, musicality, and beauty. The conductor has the additional task of remaining true to a composer's intention, often requiring him/her to research the story behind each piece (i.e. historical context, biography, etc...). The number of years of serious, difficult study that is required to land an orchestra conducting position is positively mindblowing and demands our respect. You cannot expect to "take on this job" for a few weeks, as this makes it seem that conducting is nothing beyond puppetry, requiring a baton and the ability to count to four (or maybe 6). I've heard it said that there is no cultural imperative for continuing a classical music tradition in this country, which is incredibly sad. I hope that as a society we can eventually get past the Bugs Bunny references; if not, we will have missed out on something special.

    3 years ago

  • MaJentaDesigns

    MaJentaDesigns says:

    interesting article, I used to play in orchestras in hs, and at first thought a conductor's job was so simple with just keeping the beat...but eventually realized just how complicated it was to keep track of all the different parts, and what to emphasize and bring out, etc.

    3 years ago

  • cottonbirddesigns

    cottonbirddesigns says:

    Interesting article!

    3 years ago

  • FastSlowFast

    FastSlowFast says:

    Thank you for reminding the etsy world of the existence of orchestral music! However... I'm a professional clarinetist, and I'm sorry, but I'm going to agree that this is a very short, shallow article. I'm flummoxed! It seems like it's written from the perspective of children. There is a lifetime of work that goes into every single position in the orchestra. The whole orchestra is the brains of the orchestra. Please make yourselves aware of these very obvious things by experiencing them first-hand! Go see your local orchestra immediately!

    3 years ago

  • drumchick99

    drumchick99 says:

    Just goes to show the state of music education in the public school system, wow! How do you think the orchestra stays together during tempo changes? I have a masters degree in music and had many friends who were conducting majors. Each conductor is different and can conduct a piece differently than the next. With their own style and personality, they are able to pull a unique version of any piece depending on different subtleties. I had to take conducting in college, and you'd be surprised at how difficult it is even for musicians who have played for many years to keep steady tempo and not let the ensemble lead you, but to lead it. It would be nice to have a little more about the depth of education and actual examples of what they do in this very short article. Maybe they should have had someone that's a little bit familiar with music to do the study.

    3 years ago

  • cinthyacr

    cinthyacr says:

    I would give this blog post a break and a chance... For us who have studied music or have been lucky enough to be exposed on a regular basis to the wonderful world of music and music making it's easy to ditch it as a very superfluous piece of writing... However, let's be happy that at least we're talking about it, other people are reading and hopefully old and newcomers will feel instigated to explore it even further... Like many musicians here said it takes a life time to learn and be able to be part of such an elite wonderful group of talented people, so it would take books and books to be able to fully explain the inner working of such world.

    3 years ago

  • dasheesgarden

    dasheesgarden says:

    It was so fun to read an article here about conductors! Thank-you for addressing the subject. I am a violist who has played in orchestras for almost 50 years. My two cents... An orchestral conductor must have a thorough knowledge of the music he conducts, including the message he wants to convey to both the orchestra and the audience. This requires intensive study of the music, decisions about how he wants to interpret it, and practice. Lots of work! Conductors have years of musical training, but they also need good people skills to lead musicians (not always an easy task!).

    3 years ago

  • CaptainNoid

    CaptainNoid says:

    I am in a Concert Band and for the longest time I thought that the conductor was more a mascot too! After a while though I realized that he wasn't swatting away flies, but instead, actually telling us to go faster. Who knew?!

    3 years ago

  • larimeloom

    larimeloom says:

    the orchestra is to the conductor what the instrument is to the musician... an orchestra cannot function without a conductor, just as an instrument cannot function without someone to play it!

    3 years ago

  • PattiTrostle

    PattiTrostle says:

    I was in the orchestra in school. We would have fell apart without the conductor!

    3 years ago

  • littlebrightstudio

    littlebrightstudio says:

    Like a film, every director has a distinct style, and will apply it to every script or classic piece of literature. I didn't witness a live orchestra until I was, perhaps, 25, and my school had no music program whatsoever. It was a very emotional moment witnessing how all the players formed one entity: music. Educate those who may have not been fortunate to learn of these arts at a young age. Don't be disgusted at someone's lack of knowledge. Thank you for this little article (and yes, that Bugs short is my favorite!)

    3 years ago

  • lovelygifts

    lovelygifts says:

    Great food for thought. Most people don't know how much is really involved in being a conductor.

    3 years ago

  • ItalianViolinist

    ItalianViolinist says:

    I'm so happy to see this blog post and discussion! As a professional classical violinist, I sometimes wonder if classical music and its surrounding discussions are ever on peoples' minds. I wonder this because classical music seems to be a dying art, so coming across this blog really made my day and gave me hope. Thank you!!!

    3 years ago

  • goddessofthecosmos

    goddessofthecosmos says:

    haha! That's actually my day job. Never thought the general populace would be mystified by what a conductor does. I'll tell you what though, most people don;t know that it is a work out up there! Physically and mentally. You have to be on the ball at all times, a step ahead of the whole group you are conducting, multitasking while listening to everything at once.

    3 years ago

  • ferrijoe

    ferrijoe says:

    Your very thought provoking comment: "I’ve always thought the conductor was just a formality, placed at the head of an orchestra as a sort of musical mascot." gave me insight that the orchestra plays the music but it is the conductor who lives the music, and if it wasn't for the conductor, who in the audience would be capable of performing such a wonderful musical repertoire in their own mind. Thank you!

    3 years ago

  • GracefullyGirly

    GracefullyGirly says:

    I love watching the conductor work about as much as listening to the music created from the orchestra led by them. It's such an intricate interplay between musicians and conductor and not something everyone gets to see or understand so I am glad it's been brought up and explained in these basic terms. There is such a huge world that is not experienced by the majority of people. I used to teach in a a lower socioeconomic school and was often amazed by the lack of knowledge and experience of students and parents alike. I loved sharing everything I could about the arts and music in addition to the basics. Thanks goodness many people, including me, were exposed to beautiful music by Looney Tunes or high school or arts programs. Sometimes we forget that the arts are no longer well funded in schools. Perhaps it should be.

    3 years ago

  • secretidentitystudio

    secretidentitystudio says:

    In other news: Pilots: not just sitting in the front of the plane! Electricians: not just arranging wires into pretty designs! Etsy bloggers: actually just a dozen monkeys in front of keyboard.

    3 years ago

  • MyGrandpasPen

    MyGrandpasPen says:

    Actually that Bugs Bunny cartoon is one of my favorite of all time - and yes, I was a musician as well - I loved how Bugs as the conductor pulled and pushed the music into basically a weapon. The conductor is much more than a coach - they are an integral part of the music, without them the orchestra or band is little more than a collection of musicians who are trying to stay on the same page.

    3 years ago

  • seule771

    seule771 says:

    What does a conductor do? Outlandish gestures with a baton that swats at the air! Anything that he deems pleasing, since truly we know not or care to know.

    3 years ago

  • LittleWrenPottery

    LittleWrenPottery says:

    Having once been part of the school orchestra a conductors job is a really important one, he or she manages to tie together what could potentially be lots of disparate people and instruments into one sound.

    3 years ago

  • RJGOriginals

    RJGOriginals says:

    Is this the post where we pretend that we don't know that a conductor's job is to conduct the music ensemble? Even the opening example shows that Chappell knew exactly what a conductor's job was. And half of the post is lifted without direct attribution to the New York Times article. A link saying another writer looked into it is not the same as actually crediting that writer for essentially doing Chappell's job for her.

    3 years ago

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop says:

    When I was in junior high, many, many years ago, I was in the choir. We had a few really wonderful teachers. Mr. Soo Hoo, a great teacher with a demeanor so strict that the class was always surprised by his frequent smiles. Not only did we learn to sing solfegio but he taught us all some of the basics of conducting. And every so often,my right hand indulges itself in a little air-conducting. Way better than air guitar.

    3 years ago

  • TheMillineryShop

    TheMillineryShop says:

    Oh yeah, if you have kids, check out this little book called "The Philharmonic Gets Dressed". It is a riot for all ages.

    3 years ago

  • OnlyOriginalsByAJ

    OnlyOriginalsByAJ says:

    To be honest, I've never really thought too much about a conductor's job! Thanks for sharing! I feel enlightened :)

    3 years ago

  • BanglewoodSupplies

    BanglewoodSupplies says:

    The conductor is like the band major. They make the performance.

    3 years ago

  • NDMStudios

    NDMStudios says:

    Great article. Thank you for the insight.

    3 years ago

  • CrystallineDreams

    CrystallineDreams says:

    Even if you don't know exactly what a conductor does, you at least have to know that he/she is more than just a mascot who stands there flailing arms around. Seriously. Not impressed.

    3 years ago

  • AriaCouture

    AriaCouture says:

    "I’ve always thought the conductor was just a formality, placed at the head of an orchestra as a sort of musical mascot." I'm embarrassed for you. Just because YOU don't personally understand what a conductor does doesn't make the conductor a musical mascot any more than not understanding what a brain surgeon is doing means that the surgeon is some sort of medical mascot. It's really sad, and a tad conceited, that you think that your not understanding something means an occupation is pointless and just exists to be cute.

    3 years ago

  • heathergillispie

    heathergillispie says:

    Geez. All of the musicians commenting on this blog post make me want to avoid classical music more than I already do. Like most of the populace, I don't care about orchestral music. It's dying. Maybe the reason that many people seem so deeply offended by the fact that this blog poster was a little unclear on a conductor's role is that they recognize that most of the world at large is completely indifferent to something that they consider of great importance. I respect musicians and conductors, but this ridiculous attitude of cultural superiority over the "general public" is unwarranted. There's no reason to attack the blogger, who is talking to this "great unwashed public" about something many people might indeed consider mystifying.

    3 years ago

  • CrystallineDreams

    CrystallineDreams says:

    I am not a musician. Nor is it wrong to not know exactly what a conductor does. What is insulting is that people actually think the conductor doesn't actually do anything but stand there and look pretty.

    3 years ago

  • theblondemoose

    theblondemoose says:

    I'm pretty sure anyone who has ever taken a basic choir class (almost everyone who went to public elementary school) knows what a conductor does.

    3 years ago

  • RJGOriginals

    RJGOriginals says:

    heathergillespie, with all due respect, my self esteem in regards to working as a professional musical director has nothing to do with commenting on this post. I found Chappell's approach disingenuous. She clearly knows what a conductor does through her example. If you choose not to listen to classical music because a poor writer who basically stole an article for her job feigned ignorance, then that's your loss.

    3 years ago

  • BDHs

    BDHs says:

    Heather The rest of the world isn't disinterested in classical music. That may be happening just in your world.

    3 years ago

  • rushgirl2112

    rushgirl2112 says:

    I expect bloggers to actually know something about their chosen subject matter. And no one who has ever been in a band or orchestra (even in grade school) or who has any interest in classical music whatsoever, could possibly be unclear about the primary role of a conductor. If this wasn't actually written out of genuine ignorance, then it reads in a condescending manner, as if this should actually be news to us. By the way, is it Justin Davis or Davidson?

    3 years ago

  • tableclothpad

    tableclothpad says:

    Nice story.

    3 years ago

  • BBAmazeballs

    BBAmazeballs says:

    Orchestral music is everywhere, in movies, television shows, ringtones, video game scores.....anywhere there is music, chances are, it is orchestral and it is being conducted. Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it is dying...that means you are oblivious. Much like our blogger.

    3 years ago

  • DelilahsAttic

    DelilahsAttic says:

    wow, that's very interesting. My thoughts on conductors were always similar to yours, like they were just there for show, so it's cool to find out that they're not!

    3 years ago

  • SheEarth

    SheEarth says:

    As a Violinist in a past life I have a great Love of Conductors, and it is nice to see their work given the spotlight as they are all too often under appreciated.

    3 years ago

  • thevicagirl

    thevicagirl says:

    Ah, it reminds me of all my favorite conductors I have had. A lot of times I find myself watching the conductor during a performance instead of those performing. Not so much that they are more fun to watch, but that by watching them I can feel and understand the music more powerfully.

    3 years ago

  • lindzmasterson

    lindzmasterson says:

    I, too, have been in several orchestras in the past and know the importance of a knowledgeable and good conductor. I've had multiple debates about what exactly a conductor does and their importance.... Many believe that conductors are just for show, or as you said, a "mascot". This simply is not true! I love your blog! Thank you for opening people's eyes to the world of conducting!

    3 years ago

  • AnnetteEv0nne

    AnnetteEv0nne says:

    This is a great article--I especially enjoyed the inclusion of BuggsB., when he played conductor. Interestingly, today I read an article about the Syrius, and I as I read Ivy's article, I related to the leaders of the dog sled, and their utmost important role of keeping all dogs on the team, motivated, and in control of their own role...However, being a conductor of an orchestra, is a highly visible "art/sport," quite revealing to the observant audience, just how important a position this is!

    3 years ago