If you are skilled with the baton and have the charm and wit to properly engage an ensemble of musicians, then you may have for yourself an incredibly versatile career as a conductor. Conductors are necessary people for a wide variety of musical forces, from major symphonic orchestras to military wind bands to college choirs to even coaching large chamber music ensembles in rehearsal settings, the employment outlook for conductors is pretty good, despite the fact that, like with any other field in music, there is a seriously high level of competition.
In order to become a conductor of any ensemble, one typically needs at the very least a master’s degree in conducting. You can point to someone like Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel who skipped college because he became an international sensation at a young age, but the reality is that Dudamel is not just an exceptional talent, but a true exception to the rule. Nearly every conductor has a master’s degree, with many of them obtaining doctorate’s in conducting as well.
Most conductors choose a conducting specialty. The three standard ones at the top conducting programs are wind ensemble conducting, orchestral conducting, and choral conducting. Although it’s not unheard of that a conductor with an orchestral conducting degree may end up directing a choir, or vice versa, there are many different issues to address musically with different ensembles, which requires the conductor to have advanced knowledge, practice, and specialization.
In order to become a conductor of a major symphony orchestra, you have to have tremendous experience with a large number of ensembles, as well as skill. Once you have achieved this, you will likely take on an assistant conducting role for many years with a major orchestra conductor, until you are able to secure a position yourself as a conductor.
Varies widely among different ensembles. Conductors of top symphonic orchestras, like the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony, can make as much as half a million per season, or far, far more.
Really though, according to the Berklee College of Music Salary guide, the salary range of conductors varies widely and dramatically, anywhere from $20,000 – $300,000, for most. This has to do with the fact that nearly every ensemble has its own budget, funding sources, prestige, audience likability, etc. The lower end of the scale refers to conductors in part-time community orchestra positions, while the higher scale reflects the salaries of conductors in top-tier symphonies.
Good Resources for Conductors
- The author Frank Battista, a highly revered teacher at the New England Conservatory, has published a number of well-known conducting texts, including the highly praised text On Becoming a Conductor.
- A book used frequently in a number of university beginner and intermediate conducting classes is Donald Hunsberger’s classic text The Art of Conducting.
- A solid article that illustrates many basic conducting techniques
- An interesting book that is less about conducting technique about more about the business of conducting, as told by one of America’s Greatest Conductors.
Featured Image is entitled Frederik Magle conducting a symphony orchestra 10 by Frederik Magle Music Via Flickr Creative Commons