“”Conductors are born, not made.” So said Stokowski. What’s your take on this?”
That was the question posed to me by Maestro Gianmaria Griglio on his Facebook page. Not a very encouraging sentiment if you are not the most talented music conductor to start, is it? Take faith, I have some encouraging news: that statement is far from accurate (in my humble opinion).
What is the essence of a music conductor?
What is essential to be a music conductor? My first thought would be: a conductors baton! But no, plenty of conductors use their hands, or perhaps like Andre Reiu, they play along with the orchestra and engage the audience with their charisma. So a conductors baton is not essential to being a music conductor.
Maybe an electric personality is key.
Being charismatic is certainly a major perk to being a great music conductor, but I’m sure we have all played under conductors who had about as much electricity as a dead battery. They have amazing ensembles that play very well despite the fact that they have the personality of a dried up fish. So, we need to keep looking.
Hands seem essential for directing, but I would have to disagree with that as well. With so much emotion being portrayed through breathing and facial expressions, you can actually start and communicate most ensembles without ever using your hands. I know that I cue with my eyes and eyebrows a lot!
So, we know what is not essential to being a music conductor, so what then?
Solid technique and hard work are a great start to becoming a great music conductor. If you know what you are trying to portray, you will find that communicating that idea will get easier and your clarity will improve. That’s the tea. To be a good, solid music conductor, you just need to work on having a solid technique and work hard to improve your communication and clarity.
But what is essential to be a great conductor?
Passion, hard work, a love for improving yourself and those around you, and a desire to foster “musical moments” for everyone in attendance makes a GREAT conductor.
Everything we listed before this paragraph will certainly play a key role in becoming a better music conductor, and will make your job of leading easier. These are also some of the things that your conducting class probably taught you. But I believe that without a passion for music and the work ethic to constantly hone your craft, you will struggle to be much more than a decent music conductor. A deep, burning desire to create musical moments is what I believe to be the secret sauce of prolific conductors.
Why does passion for music matter most?
Passion is your driving force, your spark. Imagine a sports car sitting in the driveway, just waiting to take off blazing down the road. Passion is the gas. Even if you have all the other requirements to be great, without gas, without passion, you are not going to get where you want to go. If cars can idle, and so can a music director. Movement without zeal is not fulfilling, and you will end up burnt out. You must have a dedication to creating great music, because that deep desire is going to fuel you to work harder to improve as a conductor, a leader, and a music teacher. It will be the motivating force you need to focus on improving every other technical aspect of your directing. Once there, you are set to start creating musical moments for you, your players, and your audience.
How do you make a “musical moment?”
A musical moment doesn’t happen without a lot of hard work, and even then, it still may not happen. You will likely have a very nice concert, but no one is going to feel movement of the soul. That has been the case in 99% of the concerts I have ever been a part of. They were nice, everyone in the audience enjoyed them, but they were not life altering, magical experiences.
However, the other 1% has stuck with me my entire life. Musical moments are the result of your passion, combined with the devotion of your performers, coalescing together for a singular, life altering point in time. It takes a music conductor who is willing to put in a lot of preparation and hard work to have a chance for a musical moment. They must first know what they want, and then be able to communicate effectively with the performers. Then, everything must come together at the concert. It’s a rare occasion, but when it happens- it’s magic.
What are your thoughts? Does technique alone transform a person into a prolific director, or is there another aspect to music directing? Let me know below, or feel free to find me on Facebook and yell at me (nicely) there!
I'll also add that if you are looking for a small boost in confidence, a unique conductors baton could be the ticket! I make a wealth of different sizes, shapes, and colors of conducting batons to bring joy to music directors in all settings. Music directors who have tried our creations have loved having a unique conductors baton to call their own. Check out what they have to say!