Did You Know? Musical Notes from the Penn State Laureate

Q:What does the conductor of an orchestra do?

A: There he is, waving his arms above an orchestra. Why can’t the instrumentalists play alone? A conductor is the leader and vital force in an orchestral concert. He/she is responsible for choosing the music, studying the music to provide insight and inspiration and then communicating his ideas to the orchestral players to form a convincing interpretation of the music. The conductor is responsible for making sure that all the individual lines work together so that everything fits in the right place, while allowing the musicians to be expressive. As an audience member, you may not be aware of all of the communication going on within a concert. If someone misses an entrance, or a rhythm, it is up to the conductor to get the orchestra back together. The greatest conductors are the ones who are listening to every detail of the music. With 75 musicians playing at once, many with different parts, you can imagine that this is an incredible feat of concentration. The conductor listens, gives cues and acknowledges each solo line. The conductor has to know the music by memory, because there is no time to be consulting the score while he is listening in a concert. Being a conductor is one of the most difficult and challenging roles for a musician.


Please send any other musical questions that you always wanted to know but were too shy to ask to Penn State Laureate Kim Cook at kdc3@psu.edu.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010