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Become An Orchestra Conductor

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Working As An Orchestra Conductor

  • Thinking Creatively
  • Establishing and Maintaining Interpersonal Relationships
  • Performing for or Working Directly with the Public
  • Developing and Building Teams
  • Getting Information
  • $242,398

    Average Salary

What Does An Orchestra Conductor Do

Music directors, also called conductors, lead orchestras and other musical groups during performances and recording sessions. Composers write and arrange original music in a variety of musical styles.

Duties

Music directors typically do the following:

  • Select musical arrangements and compositions to be performed for live audiences or recordings
  • Prepare for performances by reviewing and interpreting musical scores
  • Direct rehearsals to prepare for performances and recordings
  • Choose guest performers and soloists
  • Audition new performers or assist section leaders with auditions
  • Practice conducting to improve their technique
  • Meet with potential donors and attend fundraisers

Music directors lead orchestras, choirs, and other musical groups. They ensure that the musicians play with one coherent sound, balancing the melody, timing, rhythm, and volume. They also give feedback to musicians and section leaders so that they can achieve the sound and style they want for the piece.

Music directors may work with a variety of orchestras and musical groups, including church choirs, youth orchestras, and high school or college bands, choirs, or orchestras. Some work with orchestras that accompany dance and opera companies.

Composers typically do the following:

  • Write original music that orchestras, bands, and other musical groups perform
  • Arrange existing music into new compositions
  • Write lyrics for music or work with a lyricist
  • Meet with companies, orchestras, or other musical groups that are interested in commissioning a piece of music
  • Study and listen to music of various styles for inspiration
  • Work with musicians to record their music

Composers write music for a variety of musical groups and users. Some work in a particular style of music, such as classical or jazz. They also may write for musicals, operas, or other types of theatrical productions.

Some composers write scores for movies or television; others write jingles for commercials. Many songwriters focus on composing music for audiences of popular music.

Some composers use instruments to help them as they write music. Others use software that allows them to hear a piece without musicians.

Some music directors and composers give private music lessons to children and adults. Others work as music teachers in elementary, middle, or high schools. For more information, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and high school teachers.

For more information about careers in music, see the profile on musicians and singers.

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How To Become An Orchestra Conductor

Educational and training requirements for music directors and composers vary, although most positions require related work experience. A conductor for a symphony orchestra typically needs a master’s degree; a choir director may need a bachelor’s degree. There are no formal educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music.

Education

Employers generally prefer candidates with a master’s degree in music theory, music composition, or conducting for positions as a conductor or classical composer.

Applicants to postsecondary programs in music typically are required to submit recordings, audition in person, or both. These programs teach students about music history and styles, as well as educate them in composing and conducting techniques. Information on degree programs is available from the National Association of Schools of Music.

A bachelor’s degree typically is required for those who want to work as a choir director.

There are no specific educational requirements for those interested in writing popular music. These composers usually find employment by submitting recordings of their compositions to bands, singers, record companies, and movie studios. Composers may promote themselves through personal websites, social media, or online video or audio of their musical work.

Important Qualities

Discipline. Talent is not enough for most music directors and composers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and seek to improve their technique and style.

Interpersonal skills. Music directors and composers need to work with agents, musicians, and recording studios. Being friendly, respectful, and open to criticism as well as praise, while enjoying being with others, can help music directors and composers work well with a variety of people.

Leadership. Music directors and composers must guide musicians and singers by preparing musical arrangements and helping them achieve the best possible sound.

Musical talent. To become a music director or composer, one must have musical talent.

Perseverance. Music directors and composers need determination and perseverance to continue submitting their compositions after receiving rejections. Also, reviewing auditions can be frustrating because it may take many different auditions to find the best musicians.

Promotional skills. Music directors and composers need to promote their performances through local communities, word of mouth, and social media platforms. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base and getting more work opportunities.

Training

Music directors and composers typically begin their musical training at a young age by learning to play an instrument or singing, and perhaps performing as a musician or singer. Music directors and composers who are interested in classical music may seek additional training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Music directors and composers often work as musicians or singers in a group, a choir, or an orchestra before they take on a leadership role. They use this time to master their instrument and gain an understanding of how the group functions.

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Orchestra Conductor Typical Career Paths

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Average Length of Employment
Orchestra Teacher 4.8 years
Conductor/Brakeman 4.5 years
Road Conductor 3.7 years
Conductor 2.8 years
Top Careers Before Orchestra Conductor
Instructor 5.6%
Clinician 5.6%
Teacher 5.6%
Violinist 4.2%
Principal 4.2%
Lecturer 2.8%
Director 2.8%
Organist 2.8%
Top Careers After Orchestra Conductor
Conductor 6.6%
Teacher 6.6%
Director 4.9%
Coach 4.9%
Faculty 4.9%
Clinician 3.3%
Soloist 3.3%
Violinist 3.3%

Do you work as an Orchestra Conductor?

Orchestra Conductor Demographics

Gender

Male

60.8%

Female

33.3%

Unknown

5.9%
Ethnicity

White

61.0%

Asian

12.7%

Hispanic or Latino

12.6%

Black or African American

10.6%

Unknown

3.1%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Italian

66.7%

Spanish

33.3%

Orchestra Conductor Education

Schools

University of Kansas

9.1%

Bowie State University

9.1%

Southwestern University

4.5%

Butler University

4.5%

Virginia Beach City Public Schools

4.5%

New York University

4.5%

University of Florida

4.5%

Millikin University

4.5%

Illinois Wesleyan University

4.5%

University of Oklahoma

4.5%

Carnegie Mellon University

4.5%

University of Massachusetts Amherst

4.5%

Ohio State University

4.5%

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

4.5%

Mary Baldwin College

4.5%

Northern Arizona University

4.5%

Arizona State University

4.5%

Western Connecticut State University

4.5%

University of South Carolina - Columbia

4.5%

State University of New York Stony Brook

4.5%
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Majors

Music

43.5%

General Education, Specific Areas

19.6%

Education

6.5%

Writing

4.3%

Elementary Education

4.3%

Entertainment Business

2.2%

Business

2.2%

Counseling Psychology

2.2%

Global Studies

2.2%

Computer Science

2.2%

English

2.2%

Accounting

2.2%

Music Performance

2.2%

Music Teacher Education

2.2%

History

2.2%
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Degrees

Masters

45.7%

Other

23.9%

Bachelors

15.2%

Doctorate

10.9%

Certificate

2.2%

Diploma

2.2%
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