Do Not Follow Conductors

Is the conductor a shepherd?

When you play in an orchestra, are you thinking that you are a sheep and the conductor is a shepherd? Do you think that conductors are supposed to give you directions and you just have to follow them? Then let's think again. This article is all about how you should not follow conductors so that you can contribute more to the orchestra.

How do you contribute more to the orchestra by not following the conductor? Let's read on!

Conductor, a decision maker

One of the primary jobs as a conductor is to make all kinds of musical decisions. Each member of the orchestra comes to a rehearsal with his/her own musical interpretations. At a rehearsal, we can not let everyone play however they want to; someone must make a decision. As you know, that is what a conductor does. A conductor unifies everyone's musical ideas and shows which musical path they will take as a group.

However, the actual music making, for the most part, happens from each player in the orchestra. No matter how great a conductor is, if the orchestra members are just following the conductor, or in other words, if they do not actively make music, they will not produce a great performance.

You can achieve a decent performance when you follow a conductor but what can we do to make the performance even better?

Actively participate

As an orchestra musician, we should actively participate in the music making instead of just following a conductor. Here are some things we can do to get ourselves more involved in making music in an orchestra.

Don't follow. Go with the conductor.

Have you heard a conductor say "Come with me!" instead of "Follow me!"? This is exactly what we should do. We should go with the conductor. When we are going with the conductor we are not simply relying on him/her to make a decision and pass it onto us. Now we are feeling the music together with the conductor, and we are actively responding to the directions the conductor gives us.

When a conductor says"Come with me!", he/she is inviting us to make music together. When we go with the conductor we are not a follower anymore, but we are a collaborator. When you are collaborating with the conductor we are more spontaneous.

Don't follow, but respond.

This is another way to think about how to actively participate during a performance. When you are following you are not on the level playing field with the conductor. But when you bring yourself to the level playing field with the conductor and actively respond to him/her, you are much more involved in the communications with the conductor. When you respond to the conductor, he/she will feel your response and then give you a response to that. Now you and the conductor are giving responses to each other back and forth. This is more interactive than when you are just following the conductor.

Feel the music with the conductor. Make music with the conductor.

You are more likely to feel what a conductor is feeling when you are spontaneously participating in a performance. How much you commit yourself to the performance determines how much you can share the music with the conductor and your fellow orchestra musicians. So get involved, feel and make music together with everyone else in the orchestra.

Predict what the conductor would do.

We can even predict what the conductor would do when we are proactively making music with him/her. Anticipate what he/she will do next. Predict where he/she is going with the phrase.

No matter how great of a musician you are, you will anticipate wrong here and there, or I should say differently, because you are not the same person as the conductor. So anticipate the conductor's actions and directions during rehearsals, and make necessary adjustments as you go. Then you will know very well what he/she will do at the concert, which will make you feel more confident, and in return, makes the conductor feel more confident as well.

Music making in an orchestra

Orchestra is not a place where a conductor gets to shine and takes all the credits alone. Conductor is the leader and the face of the orchestra, but she/he is not the only person making music in a performance. Good performances come from collaborative efforts from everyone in the orchestra who spontaneously make music. A conductor governs all musicians, but each musician should be actively making music with the conductor. And to make music with the conductor you cannot sit back and wait for her/him to give you directions.

In an orchestra, each player is as important as every other player. Concertmaster may have solos and play higher notes that are difficult to play, but that does not mean Concertmaster is more important than a section 2nd violinist. Everyone is just as important as everyone else in order to make a good performance as a group. And that means everyone should be participating in music making as much as everyone else.