What makes a Conductor/MD good or become good?

Discussion in 'The Rehearsal Room' started by 2nd tenor, Jul 8, 2014.

  1. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I have visited rehearsals run by maybe a dozen different conductors – learnt a lot that way - and been in several different bands over the years. Unsurprisingly I have found that the actions of the Conductor are crucial to how things go for the band; some bands are happy, some are empty and some achieve promotion if that’s their aim.

    A few Conductors seem to rant and rave a bit, maybe it sometimes produces results but I’m not happy to play for them and will move elsewhere. At the other end of the spectrum I find a clear beat, a word of explanation, gradual education, realism, inspiration, coaxing and leadership. For that type of Conductor I will always give my best efforts and support then whenever I can.

    So what does the forum think makes a Conductor good and what path(s) do they follow to become one? Why do you like particular Conductors and also what are the basics any Conductor must get right?
  2. B.Portas

    B.Portas Member

    In my relatively short brass band career, I think a conductor's ability is largely based on how adaptable he can be, to get the very best out of his band. An MD who has different strategies to deal with different sections (even individual people) is a great one - but ambition and patience also help. Good people skills are needed, and earning the bands respect, not with who they played for/won the Nationals with, but with how they make you feel, is important - even getting irate sometimes can make the players strive to improve themselves, as long as the players are in the right mind frame and it is followed up with praise for the effort, in future rehearsals.

    The MD at the band I play for, I'm sure he won't mind me saying, can be a bit controversial and runs a tight ship, but has the respect of the band because he is driven and ambitious, with a clear goal - not because he went looking for people to give him respect. Sometimes he'll have a rant, but if he can see an improvement or is enjoying what he hears, he will acknowledge it. Some react well to this (I for one, enjoy his approach - no bullsh*t taken and credit given where due, creating an environment where I feel I can play to my best ability), whereas some are a little reserved, and understandably so sometimes, but you need a thick skin for banding and need to want to do well yourself, and not expect it to be easy, plus he has got results out of the band, winning 2014 1st section areas (North), after being in 3rd section in 2011, and going up to Champ section next January.

    The path(s) a conductor must go down to achieve greatness are a bit lost on me, but experience and ambition are obvious ones.

    There's a newbies opinion - hopefully this will be an interesting insight to what works for each player, and what individuals like in an MD.
  3. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    Best conductor I ever played under was Bramwell Tovey in the NYBBW, and I'd be hard pressed to pinpoint exactly why - yes, he's an outstanding musician and genuinely lovely bloke, but he also has that indefinable magic quality that the very best have, that quality that means that they don't have to rant and rave because players want ​to play for them. Even in the busiest, loudest texture, if you played a wrong note or made a duff entry he'd know, he'd look at you and raise an eyebrow so that you knew he knew and - this is crucial - you felt a little bit gutted that you'd let him down. And you worked like hell to ensure you didn't do it again. Never an angry word said, or needed. Pure class. I don't honestly know how you acquire that, if its even acquirable. The two best orchestral conductors I ever saw working were a bit like this, Mackerras and Vernon Handley. Orchestras just raised their game for them and a performance became more than the sum of its parts. Although Mackerras could be hard work if he didn't get the results he wanted, as a few operatic sopranos can testify...

    In banding, there's still a difference between conductors who are great at training bands and conductors who are great at being "musical directors", the two things being very different skills. Hence presumably why some bands still have the old fashioned distinction between "resident" and "professional" conductors. Those lucky few who can do both are amongst the ones I admire most. The best way to become a really good conductor, for me, is to actively listen to as much as you can (i.e. giving it your full attention and ideally with a score, as opposed to passively listening while reading or something), to play as often as you can in as many different ensembles as you can for as many conductors as you can, and pay attention to what they do, good and bad. My personal opinion is that you can't really teach conducting - you can teach baton technique, and score reading, and all the other technicalities, but you can't teach the motivational stuff or the musicianship. And I'd rather have a great musician with a less-than-perfect technique than someone who has all the moves but no musicianship.

    I don't think it's OK to drive your players by ranting and raving. I know that's the old school way, and there are some around who still do it (and have some success, to be fair) but that approach would drive me from a band pretty quickly and I think it's had its day.
  4. Kiz7

    Kiz7 Member

    I think the qualities required in a conductor can depend on the level that the band operates at. There are very many well regarded top level conductors who cannot achieve results with lower section band and vice versa. In my experience the most successful (and I don't necessarily mean in terms of contest results as that's just one aspect of banding, I mean running a happy band) conductors are also extremely good "man-managers"
  5. trumpetmike

    trumpetmike Well-Known Member

    All the moves and the Mollard batons (all in Mollard case, of course).
    Completely agree with you - wish it was possible to teach the other stuff.
    Was working with a student who wanted to learn about conducting and got quizzed about what style of technique I used (they listed a few "schools" of conducting) and what length of baton I preferred. I don't have a clue about what school I may come from and I don't use a baton (by choice - I can, I prefer not to do so). I seem to get reasonable results from my ensembles though, so I must be doing something right, lol
  6. PeterBale

    PeterBale Moderator Staff Member

    Please note that personal attacks are not acceptable, and apologies for having to also delete some valid responses to the original post. Please keep any negative comments in general terms, ie manner and actions, rather than posting anything targetted at an easily identifiable individual.
  7. JesTperfect!

    JesTperfect! Member


    It might be worth having a read of this article - http://www.4barsrest.com/articles/2014/1455.asp#.U70ZA7EzP08.

    I was just on the course that Mette was a guest lecturer at and learnt a huge amount from her. Nothing about which is the correct way to wave my arms but everything about how to get people to do what you want them to....and surely as a conductor (on the assumption you want the right sort of thing!) that's exactly what you're aiming for?
  8. Anno Draconis

    Anno Draconis Well-Known Member

    I've got one of those. All fur coat and no knickers, me. :)

    I spend one evening watching the football, and apparently miss a load of excitement on here. Story of my life...
  9. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    One of the earlier responses comes to mind. The ever humble Mr October expressing an opinion. I must check out the Flowers thread as by similar logic some of his responses there might have been removed too, it must be difficult for the moderators' at times. RO does add something to the forum but and IMHO, at times, he's a bit near the edge.

    Thanks to all on the responses so far :clap:. It seems that knowing every member of your band and then having the people skills to drive them collectively forward is a key requirement. As a visitor to any band one of the things that really helps me is a clear beat and a baton action that pretty much tells you whether it's the first beat of the bar or second ... and so on.
  10. Bayerd

    Bayerd Active Member

    I missed it too, however I wouldn't mind guessing at who the attacks were aimed at...
  11. Euphonium Lite

    Euphonium Lite Active Member

    Can I come and play in your band :D
  12. DS2014

    DS2014 Active Member

    Such an interesting thread; thanks 2ndTenor

    I have played under relatively few conductors due to longevity in the same band (both theirs and mine). The person under whom I played for the longest period was very passionate and rather traditional, and did like to tell-off the band on occasion. His style of rehearsal was also to run through a new piece once, and then to quickly get down to the nitty gritty, meaning that the rehearsals were very fragmented, and which left whole sections of the band frequently sitting out for a lot of the rehearsal.These two traits (telling-off the band, and breaking up the rehearsal) became somewhat problematic as times changed and younger members became less tolerant of being told off (they probably get enough of that at school and at home). On saying all that, this conductor was really successful and drove us on to a heck of a lot of cups...but times have undoubtedly changed and I don't think young bands can live with such intensity anymore.

    Our band was also lucky to receive funding on occasion to put on masterclasses with a variety of excellent conductors (Frank Renton and Jim Shepherd stick in my mind for their ability to come way way down to our level without seeming patronizing, driving us to achieve more, and not letting-on that conducting the likes of us must have been a huge culture-shock for them). Whilst I know that someone parachuting in can seem exciting and new and shiny, I have to give a huge shout out for Ewan Easton (Tuba at the Hallé and RNCM). He is a phenomenon of energy and passion. Our younger members simply adored him for his positivity, and our adult members were completely revitalized by his drive... though I am not sure that our rickety old bandroom floor could sustain much more of a 6'3'' guy bounding about on it!!! :biggrin:

    Qualities of a good conductor then, in my opinion, are:
    1) energy and drive
    2) positivity with just a dash of criticism, rather than the other way around
    3) making sure that the band never feels that their musical limitations are a colossal drag for you
  13. yoooff

    yoooff Member

    Conducor requirements

    For me it's relatively simple;

    Communication skills, musical knowledge and player management skills. One othese missing and you're going to struggle.

    Communications skills required to portray your musical vision and enable the players to fully understand what you want.
    Musical Knowledge to ensure that the music is understood and presented in a coherent manner.
    Player management skills to ensure that those who understand your musical vision are sufficiently motivated to achieve your aims for the Band.

  14. bassmittens

    bassmittens Member

    Have to agree here. Ewan came and took the band I conduct for a rehearsal leading up to last years 2013. I felt completely inadequate in comparison to him, but was extremely grateful to him taking the rehearsal as I learned a lot just watching and listening to him taking my band (dealing with the players and challenges I face weekly).

    Not only that, he is a lovely guy - top bloke, really knows his stuff.........but then he is a tuba player, so shouldn't be a surprise :)
  15. simonium

    simonium Member

    But one of my bugbears is how appalling many conductor's expression is, particularly when conducting. I have had the good fortune to be conducted by some very fine sticksmen and some truly awful ones. All fine musicians but I would rather have a very clear indication than a passionate but spasmodic twitch impersonating conducting.

    It seems to me that again the only way people can be ratified as being any good in the band world is to be "coached" either as players at the absurd degree level, or as conductors at no doubt costly and PR-friendly schools or masterclasses. How on earth did people manage before higher education courses taught people "properly"? Or is it merely another side-effect of our obsession with competition? And yes, there is a degree of flippancy in my questions but I ask them honestly.
  16. 2nd tenor

    2nd tenor Well-Known Member

    I'm pleased you like the thread, thanks :). The thread's given me, and some others too I hope, some insights.

    Your old conductor used two pet hates of mine, though I'm sure his structure worked well for him. As a player I like new pieces to be run through once to start but I'm also aware that should you or another player not quite keep up then they and the rest of the band (by loss of that part) are disadvantaged. My preference is to run through but stop a few times, at natural break points, to let the stragglers jump back on board. Again, sectional playing (never to an individual, please) is good but in small doses as the rest of the band have come to play and also want to get on and practice their part with the whole band. Well that's a (not very able) players view, hope it's OK with the experts.
  17. nethers

    nethers Active Member

    I thought about this but found it hard to find consistent qualities in the successful conductors I have worked with. A few examples of the best from my own experience (and sticking with the positives!):

    Mike Fowles - outstanding band trainer, unnatural ability to get players excited about and involved in a performance
    Howard Taylor - builds a great team ethos and excellent rehearsal/personnel management (along with plenty of musical ability obviously)
    Nigel Weeks - musical genius, extremely committed and expressive

    These guys all have a few qualities I consider to be not quite so good as some others may have of course, I think the key thing is that in some capacity they each do have the x-factor.

    It's easy to turn up twice a week when you are seeing something extraordinary!
  18. halsasaurus

    halsasaurus Member

    I have had the privilege of playing in a Band with Dave King in the Middle. It was at the start of his Career as an MD but you knew that you were in the presence of someone very very special

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