The Conductor’s Role in the Orchestra

One of the most recognisable features of an orchestra is the conductor waving his arms around with a stick in one hand. If you’re interested in how a musical ensemble works, it is worth having a basic understanding of the conductor’s role and what they do, as it will make your experience of a classical concert much more enjoyable.

The conductor has traditionally been only male but as society progresses there have been female conductors, too. Quite simply put, the role of a conductor is to lead a musical performance – whether for a full-sized orchestra like a symphony orchestra, the music for a ballet, or leading a choral performance. The principal responsibilities of conductors include laying down the tempo of the piece being performed, ensuring the music is being played correctly in terms of pitch, and aiding members in when to start and stop.

They hold a wooden rod which is termed a conductors ‘baton’ and use eye signals and body language to convey what is required. The movements that you see conductors make have defined meanings and are not randomly executed. There are differences from conductor to conductor and these are understood well by the orchestra performers during rehearsal. A musician himself (or herself), they often stand on a podium to be clearly visible to all the performers, and are positioned so that the general audience can see their movements as well.

While the overwhelming majority of the direction of a conductor is non-verbal there are exceptions to this. During rehearsal there is a lot of verbal communication and feedback from the conductor to the players.

It is important to appreciate the fact that conductors not only choose the works to perform and study the works in-depth, but they also impart a lot of their personality into the piece by making minor adjustments to the composition.