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Hey all--

I'm 18 and in college, probably majoring in music. I know I don't want to be a violinist (not enough inherent skill or desire to compete) but when I think about conducting, my heart flips. I'm afraid to commit to a music major because I'm at a liberal arts school where the music dept. is just sort of average, and the classes they offer are few and not very exciting. But oh, i would love to conduct. Are any of you conductors? How did you get into it? How did you know you were interested in conducting? Where did you go for your undergraduate degree?

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When I was at Yale many, many years ago, I roomed with a conducting major who has since become a successful orchestral and operatic conductor. Although Yale has a highly regarded music school, my roomate was not a music major.

Judging from his experience, here are some things that may be important to your success:

1. Look for as many and as varied opportunities to conduct as you possibly can. YSO already had another student conductor who had a lock on that gig, so my roomie did things like: (a) conduct at at the student chapel (:) enlist student musicians in chamber groups and put on a program © enlist student players and singers and do a medley of a musical (he did Mahagony by Weill). You might also look for community groups in your college town for choirs, community orchesstras, community theatres, etc. Some organizations may use a rehearsal conductor even if the primary conductor slot is filled. In short, be your own producer, promoter and entreprenneur. There will likely be very few ready-made opportunities for you to conduct.

2. Try to find a coach with a reputation for teaching conducting and take some classes with him/her. Your college may not offer a broad choice here; you may need to spend some extra time and $$ to get private lessons elsewhere.

3. Look for summer programs providing conducting opportunities. My roomie became a youth conductor at Tanglewood.

The trek for my roommate required much more than his musical talent (which he also had in abundance, although not as an instrumentalist). It took a lot of organizational initiative and energy. In his case it paid off.

Good luck.


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I'm not a conducting major, but I went to a school that taught music as a liberal art, and since then I have taken some conducting classes. So I thought maybe I can add a little bit.

Since you're 18, I'm guessing that you've just started college. Conductors need a much broader view of the musical compositions to be performed than orchestral players do. A solid background in music theory and history is a must. (Well, orchestral players should have that too, but it's even more essential for conductors.) Some experience with playing the piano and with composition (which requires knowledge of orchestration, etc.) would be a plus, too-- it helps to understand how music is put together. Listen to a lot of recordings and study a lot of scores, and when you go to symphony concerts, if you can get seats on stage, do it and observe the conductor closely.

Your school may be able to give you a decent background in theory, history, and piano, and you may be able to apply for advanced studies in conducting later on. Be aware of the "culture" of your music department. For example, the school I go to mostly trains people for music education, so the conducting classes there are very much focused on how to conduct middle school and high school ensembles (We did work on conducting professional-level orchestral repertoire, but there was little score study required). If someone wanted to go into conducting professional ensembles, classes like this probably wouldn't be ideal. Find out exactly what the course of study would be at your own music department, and look up the course of study for a conducting major at a major conservatory. What are the requirements for admission to a really great conducting program? Knowing these things will help you to structure your education now. If you're ready, you might consider transferring to a school with a better conducting program.

That being said, conducting is not like playing the violin in one regard-- that is, with the violin, if you don't start early, then you are much less likely to succeed professionally. In contrast, a lot of people start conducting at a later age (oftentimes after having had a full career as an instrumentalist) and are very successful.

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Just a reality check from a view of a professional orchestra player.

What exactly makes you want to pick up conducting? Conductors are one of the most musically demanding and responsible profession in the music performance field (that is, if you want to be a GOOD conductor. There are plenty of "non-conductors" and "semi-conductors" who claim to be conductors). In order to become a good, respected conductor, one has to have fine communication skills with musicians, strong musical concept, understanding of various musical styles, clear baton technique, ability to read complicated scores, good rehearsal technique, and above all, hyper-sensitive ears! If any of them are lacking, it can be a conductor from hell for the poor musicians.

One of the best training for conductors is to conduct operas. By doing so, one will develop flexibility, keen ears for ensemble and ability to rescue any potential disasters. Many of the old European conductors conducted operas and operettas in their early days. So, if you ever have a chance, I would highly recommend conducting operas.

Good luck,


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I called my conducting teacher and asked his opinion. His advice is to major in orchestral studies or, if you are not independantly wealthy and actually need to eat, music education is a good alternative. Then, get a master's in conducting. Of course, he didn't do it this way. He got a law degree, then got into conducting with the orchestra he was playing with.

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I don't know much about musical professional culture of how easy is it to be a conductor. Judging from the names, I know it is not easy to get such a position. It is hard than to become the president of an American unversity or college. Like many professional titles, a college student cannot get all the qualifications necessary for them by taking courses. Am I right about that? /yuen/

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It is not your getting the conducting training a problem.

It is the position (call conductor) that carries a good salary a problem.

The demand is not there. (my guess from knowing the number of orchestra vs the number of colleges or universities in my city) /yuen/

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