If you know me, or if you’ve read my “about me” on the blog, you’ll know that I am a violinist exploring conducting! Here are a couple of reasons why I’m considering this as my next step:
1. I love orchestra.
It’s honestly that simple when it comes down to it. But, to elaborate, I just have always loved everything about the orchestra, from the at-home excerpt practice that we engage in as section players and principal players to the routine of rehearsals, and of course the performances. I also just really love playing in a section, and the community that is created among the musicians that make up an orchestra, all working together to present a piece of music as something unified and beautiful. I like feeling like I’m part of something greater than myself, and knowing that by learning my part and working with my colleagues and conductor as best as I can, I am contributing something essential to the whole. And so, after 10+ years of playing in orchestras, I’ve discovered that I want to learn how to lead one.
2. I had really great conductor role models
I was a member of the various ensembles of the Elgin Youth Symphony Orchestra from fifth grade through my senior year of high school, and that’s where I first cultivated my love for orchestra. I had the privilege of working with a lot of really great conductors throughout that time, and so I have many role models to look up to. I think one’s orchestral experience is most strongly determined by the conductor (especially if it’s not the best experience) and I know so many people who say they just don’t enjoy orchestra-- I’d be willing to bet that part of that experience was shaped by a conductor who they didn’t feel engaged with or feel motivated by. This is so tragic to me because I think there is so much to love about orchestra (see my first point!) and so I want to be one of those great conductors that earn the respect of the musicians they’re conducting and helps to make their experience a valuable one.
3. I value communication
The role of a conductor is a complicated one, but at its core, it is the role of a communicator. The best way it’s been described to me is by acting as a vessel or a communication channel, and inviting the musicians of the orchestra to join you in bringing what’s on the page to life. Put another way, it’s learning how to best use your body to communicate the sound that is in your head, to other living, breathing human beings who do their best to execute it as such, using their specialized skills. It’s not just leading, because, to me that implies superiority, but it is inviting others to join you in making music. All of that sounds absolutely thrilling to me, and I can’t wait to explore more.
4. I am organized and enjoy score analysis
I’ve started taking conducting lessons this semester and it’s really accelerated my conducting experience– if you’re reading this because you’re thinking about starting conducting, I highly recommend taking lessons if that’s a possibility for you, as well as sitting in on conducting classes and learning as much as you can! Starting conducting can feel really frustrating because it requires us going back to the basics (something we probably haven’t had to do since we started studying our instruments) and so I’ve found that consuming as much material as possible from the get-go is helping me find my footing. That’s also just suited to my learning style, so if that just sounds stressful to you, don’t worry, you’ll figure out what works for you. One of my favorite things I’ve learned in my lessons so far is how to mark up a score. At first I found that I didn’t know how to mark a conductor’s score, as opposed to a violin score. For one, my violin scores are filled with words and scribbles, and that’s just not effective for a conducting score, which we have to read vertically, turn pages quickly, and use as a reference more than anything. Every conductor marks up their scores differently, and I thus far have been using the system my teacher uses, which requires colored pencils and a ruler. As someone who enjoys having a well-organized system, including color-coding and straight lines, it’s been really fun to learn this new method of score study. If this sounds exciting to you too, I encourage you to look into it further!
5. I want to help redefine what a “conductor” looks like
And lastly, as I’ve gotten deeper into what it might look like to study conducting/be a conductor one day, it’s become clear that it will most likely be an experience that encompasses more things about me than just my conducting skills. Conducting is a traditionally male-dominated field, and with that unfortunately comes expectations of what a conductor should look like, what they should wear, and the attitude they should have on the podium. The stock image of a “conductor” that might come to mind as you’re reading this pretty much sums it up. And so, my experience of conducting, from the very beginning, is shaped by my identity as a cisgender white woman. When I, or any person who doesn’t fit the “traditional” old, white, male mold, steps up to the podium, simply because of how we look/sound/present, we become a representative of a larger whole. And, those non-white/cisgender/male-identifying people face an entire spectrum of scrutinization that I cannot speak to, and it’s important to make space for them to be on the podium in the first place. A mentor of mine described a deep-rooted aspect of the experience of a female conductor, in reference to how it operates within gender inequality: “if a female conductor makes a mistake, then it’s not just her mistake, it’s a failure of all-female conductors. When a male conductor makes a mistake, it’s his own.” It has been a difficult experience to come face to face with how I am perceived on the podium, in contrast to how I might want to be perceived. It’s also been an exercise in self-worth, as I have to emphasize to myself that it’s ok to dress however I want on the podium, as long as I am comfortable, and it’s ok to state my opinion or make a request to the orchestra without an apology. Something that’s been really helpful in this process is the opportunity I’ve found to engage in the community of female conductors, where shared experience is affirming (check out “Girls Who Conduct!”). I do have some trepidation about moving forward as a conductor, but I am passionate and I work really hard– and while I know these qualities don’t guarantee success, I know I’ll learn a lot on the way, and I’ll be exploring something new and exciting in orchestra, which I love. I’ve been lucky to have had a pretty smooth experience thus far, but from what I’ve learned about others’ experiences, and from my experience existing as a woman on this earth, I know this might not always be the case. I hope this doesn’t scare anyone away from pursuing conducting-- in fact, I hope it emboldens you to hold on even tighter to who you are and to never sacrifice it as you continue to follow your dreams.