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What does a conductor actually do? (2014) (bbc.com)
19 points by drnewman 71 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 5 comments

I've played under a few batons, in orchestras, theater pits, and so forth. Here are a couple more uses of a conductor. First, the conductor directs the rehearsals. This is a vital role, and it only makes sense to perform under the same conditions.

Second, the orchestra is not necessarily the idyll of unity that it appears to be. It's impossible to herd 100 cats together for every performance, and the typical contract allows players to take nights off. They have to hire subs, and for some performances, throw an entire orchestra together for an occasion. Depending on the level of the orchestra, there may be one or two players who are quite proficient, but not quite up to speed on the repertoire. Those folks may need the conductor to get them through tricky portions of the pieces, or to address issues of interpretation on the spot. I've had my arse saved by a perceptive conductor on more than one occasion.

Note: this is about music conductors, not electrical conductors, train conductors or thermal conductors.

I guess I could have clarified that ambiguity in the title :-).

Conductors enforce how the music is interpreted and played . In some songs like a march you want everyone to keep time but you may emphasize certain notes such as the liberty bell march (Monty pythons flying circus theme song). Other pieces such as the 1812 overture would emphasize the gradual build up or ending. But both of these songs have to be interpreted in how they are performed. For example in Vivaldiā€™s summer in four season can be interpreted it ways that sound faster or slower .

Being at the front and facing the orchestra, a conductor can also balance the volume of the various sections. An orchestra is usually large enough that when you are sitting in one bit you cannot judge your volume relative to others.

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