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The Role of the Conductor


While early conductors such as those in the 1700’s mainly only kept time for their ensembles, conductors of classical music today have a much larger role in the music-making.  Throughout history, the job


of the conductor has evolved from marking the beat to shaping the entire interpretation of a work for the ensemble.  The conductor serves as a leader for the musicians in various ways, including guiding the tone, coordination, and accuracy of execution.


In earlier times before the Romantic Period, the conductor was mainly responsible for maintaining an even tempo.  The conductor was usually an instrumentalist in the ensemble, very often the composer him or herself.  For example, the composers who wrote for the churches often served not only as music writers, but also as “chapel masters,” orchestral organizers, and conductors.  Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and other great composers would often lead performances of their works from the keyboard.


Over time, the structure of music continued to change and become more complex, incorporating rhythmic changes, irregularities, and other types of expression.  At the same time, the demand for music continued to grow and reach ever wider audiences, so that people began to expect more accurate and precise performances.  As a result, the conductor began to play a larger role in terms of interpreting the score and “coaching” the ensemble in performance.  The conductor would indicate entrances and cutoffs, guide musicians who could not fully hear what musicians on the other side of the orchestra were doing, provide a single reference point for the rhythm, set the color and tone through different movements, and keep control of the music throughout changes in tempo.


In general, the role of the conductor has come to be the overall leader of the ensemble, responsible for everything from the musicianship of the performers to attracting audiences to sometimes serving as the public “face” of the group.









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