Shortage of conductors?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by timbloke, Apr 3, 2007.

  1. timbloke

    timbloke Member

    Don't know what people's thoughts are, but this might make an interesting discussion.

    Reading on another thread that YBS concert are now looking for a new MD I started thinking about the number of bands of about the same standard and in the same area (1st Section Yorkshire) who are now looking for a new man (or woman) in the middle. I make it at least 5 depending on how high/low up the sections you go and how far away from yorkshire you go - in other words, how many bands are likely to be competing for the same conductors.

    Having played at Stannington for a while and seen how hard it can be to find the right man, and knowing that there are few existing conductors around, I wondered what people think the effects of an apparent shortage of conductors will be? Is there actually a shortage for that level? Why is it the case? Is this the case elsewhere? And what is the solution?

    Thoughts please.....
  2. a very flat b

    a very flat b Member

    Don't forget that Yorkshire is a very competitive area, especially the 1st section, there is so much to gain from success, and of course a lot to loose!
    The pressure on MD's / conductors is enormous and when the band see's failure in the area's the conductor sometimes has to fall on his / her sword.
    In the advert you mention he word 'dissapointment' appears, so like others is the vacancy caused by the bands own expectations not being met?
  3. David Mann

    David Mann Member

    I don't think there is an actual shortage, certainly not round here. If you advertise you can get several applicants with top section playing experience, conducting experience, army bandmaster certificates, music degrees etc. But I don't know what some bands expect from a conductor. Given that contesting is at best subjective and at worst a lottery, why do so many bands fire the conductor after a "disappointing" result?
  4. Bass Trumpet

    Bass Trumpet Active Member

    Probably because it's such a thankless task. Some people are born to lead, others find themselves standing there because nobody else will do it. Either way, you have to be prepared for constant back-stabbing and criticism. If I am involved in a brass band as a hobby, I'll do as little as possible and look forward to a pint afterwards. I've conducted a 4th section band and a Championship section band. The latter occasionally ask me to come in and dep, but I haven't the balls to tell them that I would rather catch the ebola virus.
  5. FlugelD

    FlugelD Member

    Twenty-odd years ago, in a Scottish 3rd section band, we were looking for a conductor. Several applicants auditioned. They fell into 2 basic classes: good enough (excellent, even...), but far too pricey; or unimpressive, to the point of useless (and OK, maybe we should have given an 'up-and-comer' a chance, but at the time it wasn't an option - there wasn't time - and no 'up-and-comers' anyway).

    Luckily, another local band found a MD who was capable of fulfilling the pre-arranged obligations for both bands (many of them joint engagements).

    Anyway, back on track: what do the band expect? at what cost? What does the conductor expect? at what reward (or maybe cost....)? Are mutual expectations close even before an audition? Let's face it, any band can sign a top conductor, if they've got the pennies (and the conductor is willing to chance their reputation, or is big enough not to care). And any half-decent conductor should be able to blag their way into a position if a band is desperate enough, and they are, too...

    So, shortage? Don't think so. Imbalance (right man [sorry, person] for right job)? Probably.
  6. Mark Bousie

    Mark Bousie Member

    Perhaps its down to a lack of training. I graduated from the RNCM 8 years ago and I don't think things have changed too much since then - we (all undergraduate students) got basic conducting sessions (literally on where to put the beats), but that was it. Those who did have a real interest in conducting could find other sessions to attend, but these were mainly for the 1st study orchestral conductors. Don't know what its like at the other conservatoires/universities, but would hazard a guess that its pretty similar.

    Im my opinion, and from my limited experience, conducting is not easy (despite what some may say/think). Like anything there are people who are naturals, but then surely for the other mere mortals there needs to be better training. As has been mentioned, it is far more than putting the beats down and needs just as much practice as an instrument. Most brass band conductors are ex (or current) players who've got a bit of 'stick-itch' (!) or been persuaded to take it up. As has been said, good players don't necessarily make good conductors (although it can help). However if there was more training available then maybe there would be more well equipped conductors around.

    We live in a far more critical world where conductors are swapped almost as often as football managers (and look at the amount of pressure and abuse they are subjected too!). Players expect a lot of their conductors and when they don't deliver the grass is greener mentality frequently sets in. However we must accept that the vast majority of conductors are working to the best of their (perhaps limited) ability and there are only a handful of top notch conductors working in the brass band field. There is a big gap between these top conductors and many others plying the trade, but thats not a criticism of them-they are doing their best in often tricky situations. When conductors are faced with such criticism, quick fix mentalities and empty chairs is it surprising that there is a shortage of conductors?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 4, 2007
  7. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    Spot on Mark.
  8. Mark Bousie

    Mark Bousie Member

    Thanks John.

    Sorry, one of my sentences doesn't make sense - should say 'However we must accept that the vast majority of conductors are working to the best of their (perhaps limited) ability and there are only a handful of top notch conductors working in the brass band field'.
  9. Jan H

    Jan H Moderator Staff Member

    I've edited the sentence for you, Mark.
  10. ISBBBb2

    ISBBBb2 Member

    Why cant the brass band studies course be reformed? Surely there are enough people who can make this happen?
  11. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    Both bands and players are to blame here.

    Where as there isn't a great deal of training available, when it is, how many conductors take it up? I often wonder how many do not think they can be taught anything, are simply not bothered about wanting to develop or do not like to be 'under the microscope' of a tutor? Do some conductors spend time practising their very best David Kingesque moves in the mirror as opposed to their ability to direct and train the group they are responsible for?

    Also bands have a responsibility to not be dissmissive of young or seemingly less experienced conductors who apply for roles too. Do they always look at the bigger picture or do they rely on the 'how many contests have you won?' question to appoint?

    What do we think?
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  12. tubaloopy

    tubaloopy Member

    To be fair Salford University offer a much more specific course for students wishing to train as a brass band conductor. Basic in year 1 through to elective conducting in year 3 which involves conducting Adelphi brass in a number of concerts and rehearsals. Graduates that I can think of off the top of my head include Glyn Williams, Carl Whiteoak, Gavin Saynor, David Evans, Mark Peacock, Steve Bastable, Simon Stonehouse, Nick Sheppard, Gary Cutt and not forgetting Dave King himself!!!
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  13. Mark Bousie

    Mark Bousie Member

    Yep, fair point about Salford, there is some excellent work going on there. Its a shame that this seems to be a bit of a one off. Also, to be fair, there are a number of excellent young conductors around (such as the ones you mentioned) and there are some really good ones working with lower sections (who probably don't get the praise they deserve). I think the training aspect is worth looking at though.
  14. tubaloopy

    tubaloopy Member

    Although I agree that training could "tune" conductors abilities I am of the belief that you either have "it" or you dont.
    All of the people mentioned above were ALWAYS going to be conductors.

    Please dont ask me what "it" is though!!
  15. JR

    JR Member

    I think this is a very perceptive analysis Mark
    It is about training but also about watching, listening and asking questions.
    When I first decided I wanted to be a conductor about 25years ago I attended every seminar/workshop going, sat in many rehearsals with top stick men in the middle (e.g. Ray Farr, Mike Antrobus, Jim Scott) listened and watched every band in the area, open and nationals, and entered the "Young Conductor of the Year" - whatever happened to that?.

    John Roberts
  16. Mount Media

    Mount Media New Member

    One thing i've always struggled with is, unless it is your job, taking on a "brass band" conductors course is maybe a quite expensive means of improving the scene. I think its a great idea - but i've always struggled with the concept of paying the amounts of money i've seen for these courses - it is a hobby for me. Unless you are very good it would take a long time for you to make your money back.

    I conduct the odd time in a Salvation Army youth band and nobody sat down and showed me how to do it. I just had to learn quickly from watching other people and stand in front of the mirror so as not to make a fool of myself.

    Adam Moore
  17. Mark Bousie

    Mark Bousie Member

    I know what you're saying about having 'it' (natural flair for conducting)and not having 'it', but surely someone who's got 'it' can get even better through study, tuition and experience (and this doesn't have to be on a course as, as has quite rightly been said ,we don't all have the money or time to do this) and maybe even someone who's not got 'it' could work really hard to get themself up to a level that would be adequate for a certain level of banding. As we know, in life there are people who are naturally good at things and those who work damn hard to be good at things. When you put those two things together you've got the very best.
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2007
  18. johnflugel

    johnflugel Active Member

    I recently paid £200 for 4 full day sessions (10am till 8pm) on Ray Farr's conducting course. If you went for instrumental lessons with an established tutor, you would be looking in the region of perhaps £25 per hour perhaps (am I right?).

    I know it seems alot of money to outlay at once, but in context of what you gain from the experience, it's not alot in reality.

    For me, I do not see it has a means of one day recouping the £200 through the knowledge I have gained from it, it's about bettering myself and bringing out what potential and qualities that may be as yet undiscovered.
  19. Hornic

    Hornic Member

    As the person who placed the advert which has lead to this thread, can i clarify that the band (YBS Concert) has not fired off the conductor. We were very happy with our conductor and would love to him to have a permanent position - unfortunately he has moved to Dublin.

  20. samandy

    samandy Member


    I began conducting some 10 years ago with a group of beginners. As they improved so did I, until one day we had a full band and I found myself preparing for concerts and contests. I am self taught, however, I have been fortunate in being able to receive advice from several well respected conductors throughout the movement. I consider myself to still be learning my trade, and every new piece presents new challenges. At my level I consider communication to be one of the most important parts of my role as a conductor so that I can coach / instruct and direct my young players to produce what I believe from my own experience to be a good performance. If my team know what I want them to do we are moving in the right direction.

    My technique is self taught and copied from those I admire and find inspiring. I prepare my scores as I would my own parts and sometimes rehearse in front of the mirror. I consider what will be clear to my players and not what looks right.

    My advice to anyone would be start at the bottom and learn your trade!

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