How To Become A Conductor
Career Video: Conductor
Do you have a passion for music, especially larger orchestral and choral performances? Does your musical talent include an in-depth knowledge of music theory, tone, pitch, and interpretation? Does your understanding of music and instrumental/vocal collaboration help you to identify nuance, making adjustments to alter musical scores and their interpretations? Moreover, do you love to promote the musical arts, performing for audiences, and raising funds for various musical events? If you can see yourself leading an orchestra in every aspect of performance, then you may have what it takes to be a conductor.
Why Become A Conductor
A conductor, or musical director, leads an orchestra, choir, or musical ensemble through a performance, from beginning to end. They are responsible for a variety of aspects of a performance, including selecting music, altering the manner in which the music is played, interviewing musicians and singers, running rehearsals, promoting events, fundraising, and leading the musical performers in that concert.
To be a conductor, an individual must have a profound knowledge of music theory, interpretation, and the physical methods of leading many instruments and performers to create a masterpiece. Orchestras are made up of many instruments, each playing different parts and making different contributions to the piece. In the same way, choirs are comprised of singers with many different pitches, singing many different parts. They must have a diverse knowledge of these instruments and vocal pitches, and how subtle changes to a musical score can alter the interpretation. Ultimately, they must lead an entire orchestra or choir to convey mood and their intended interpretation to an audience. This type of performance can take months to prepare.
Most conductors start out as musicians, and their profound skills and passion for music typically lead them toward choosing a career in conducting. Leading an orchestra or choir through the various stages of a performance takes many unique skills:
- Physical rhythm and coordination
- Command of body language and gestures
- Musical interpretation
- Attention to detail
- Musical aptitude
- Time management and scheduling
- Communication skills
- Knowledge of various aspects of fine arts
- Leadership skills
Conductor Work Environment
Conductors direct musicians and singers wherever they perform, be it a stage, the theater, an orchestra pit, a church, a school, or behind the scenes for a television show or movie.
Their job is eclectic in that they perform a myriad of tasks, and each day’s tasks are different from one another. They typically work in an office to study a musical piece, conduct interviews, create schedules, and plan events. Rehearsals can take place anywhere that is conducive to musical performances, including the venue itself.
Conductors often travel, as they work to promote and raise funds for their events. They are considered the representative for the musical ensemble, and they may have to attend many events.
A performance may take months to rehearse, which usually occur during the day. Performances take place typically on the weekends and in the evenings, and can last for several days in a row. Holidays may be a busy time for conductors as well.
Salaries for conductors vary widely, as experience and reputation play major factors in income. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a conductor is $48,000, annually. However, some more prestigious positions lead the way to exceedingly higher salaries—between $100,000 and $2 million, annually. These conductors typically work for reputable ensembles, such as the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, and other popular symphonies, orchestras, and choirs in major cities.
Some conductors may choose to freelance their work, especially in the beginning and end of their careers. While the pay is lower for freelance conductors (except for more popular retired conductors), the freedom is a desirable aspect.
Conductor Career Outlook
The career outlook for a musical conductor is about 5 percent growth from 2012 to 2022. This increase is slower than the average occupation and is probably due to the recent economic downturn. As households see more income increases, they will be able to attend more events. Additionally, musical ensembles, such as orchestras, opera companies, and choirs, may have a difficult time finding the amount of funds required to put on such performances. Most notably, musical directors at public schools may find it increasingly harder to find positions due to local, state, and federal budget cuts.
Although this occupation is not growing fast, it is still growing, and choirs, orchestras, and other musical ensembles will always need a conductor to lead their performances.
While conductors of church choirs may not need a degree, school musical directors must have at least a bachelor’s degree to work, and most conductor positions require at least a master’s degree.
Step 1: Become proficient at playing an instrument. Regardless of educational background and natural talent, most conductors start off as musicians. These musicians must be highly adept at playing their instruments, and understand how others play a role in the entire production. Those looking to conduct may want to learn to play many instruments of varying pitch and classification.
Step 2: Obtain an undergraduate degree. The most common undergraduate degree for a conductor is in music composition or music theory. These programs will hone students’ natural talents and will typically introduce students to compositions, arrangements, and analysis and interpretation.
Step 3: Obtain a graduate degree. Most conducting positions require at least a graduate degree in conducting, such as a Master of Music in Orchestral Conducting. In such a program, students will learn how to score music, how to run rehearsals, and more about musical interpretation and literature. Graduate programs in this field are highly competitive and require exceptional skills, portfolio examples, and assistant work.
It will most likely take years of freelance work and employment with small groups to build a reputation as a conductor.