Why Conductors?

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“What is the purpose of a conductor?” This is a question I have heard from many non-musicians, including my dad. To many, all a conductor seems to be doing is waving his or her arms around while the people with instruments make the music. It’s true that the conductor doesn’t actually produce sound that contributes to the performance. However, as Leonard Slatkin said in an article of the Los Angeles Times, “most of what a conductor does is not done in front of the general public.” Being a musician myself, I completely agree with this statement. Before I began playing an instrument in my school band, I honestly could not say what a conductor actually did, and I’m sure there are many people in the boat as I was in.

Something I love to participate in is honor band. Honor bands are typically hosted by colleges, and are a conglomeration of top musicians from a variety of different schools. They last usually about a day or two. These past two weekends, I have attended both the Iowa State (ISU) and Northern Iowa (UNI) honor bands which inspired my thoughts on conductors and their importance. Something that I particularly enjoy about honor bands is that I gain exposure to a variety of different conductors. Not that I don’t love my school conductor (he actually is my favorite), but it’s a great learning experience to be introduced to other conducting styles.

At an honor band, the purpose of a conductor becomes evident. Imagine throwing together large group of kids who have never played together before to perform several challenging pieces after two days or less of rehearsal without a leader. At ISU, I was lucky enough to have Ray Cramer as my conductor. He was an adorable, sweet old man, but he was also an amazing conductor. We played several challenging pieces that went through several different tempo and time signature changes and with the limited rehearsal time, a conductor was absolutely necessary. The thing about Mr. Cramer is that he always insisted upon making eye contact with him as much as possible. This weekend at UNI however, our conductor was Daniel Bukvich and he always said “don’t watch me!” This was obviously the complete opposite of what Mr. Cramer had asked of us. Both had their reasoning behind their method of conducting, and I found both to be equally valuable. However, I was generally more accustomed to Mr. Cramer’s style. With Mr. Bukvich, rehearsals were fast paced and he rarely stood in front of the band as most conductors do. Instead, he wandered throughout the band. Although I was skeptical at first of his methods, I grew to understand him more and I began to enjoy his rehearsal technique.

A conductor is like a snow flake. Not a single conductor is exactly like another in the way he or she conducts music or holds rehearsals. Without them, music would completely fall apart and rehearsal wouldn’t happen. While you can’t have music without musicians playing their instruments, conductors are another essential part of making music.

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