But I Was Following the Conductor!


If I were to add one more point to “Who’s the New Guy?” – an article with advice for young music professionals – it would be one related to following the conductor.

All the usual complaints about conductors aside, there is one phenomena that deserves some discussion. Whenever ensemble playing is concerned, a good rule to observe is to follow what is going on around you.

This trumps anything else – even contrary direction that might be coming from the podium.

In a situation where a group’s ensemble precision might be a bit ragged, it is always better to follow the musicians around you. In saying this, I am not being cynical and anti-conductor – in fact, quite the contrary.

Why follow musicians around you and not the conductor?

Because sometimes conductors follow an orchestra, or they beat behind the pulse for an effect. Sometimes a conductor will beat ahead of the pulse and will push or anticipate the pulse, again for effect.

Young or less experienced musicians may be tempted to precisely follow this type of conductor in an attempt to fit in. This, in spite of what might be actually going on in the ensemble around them.

This can be a big mistake.

While the offending player has the excuse of “but I was following the conductor!” –  from both the audience’s perspective and from fellow musicians they are out-of-sync. They will stick out like a sore thumb and are in effect throwing a wrench into the works.

In other situations, this tactic might be used for a less noble purpose –  even for spiteful reasons. It is a passive-aggressive attempt to subliminally punish the conductor or other musicians, who in the player’s mind, are not exactly in sync with the baton.

This is a no-win game that only makes that player look badly. Playing games like this – either earnestly or nefariously –  is counter-productive and accomplishes very little. Resist the urge to play this game no matter how tempting it might be.

It is a negative head trip that is not conducive to positive music-making and positive long-term relationships with colleagues.

Being in sync with fellow musicians is the bottom line. A harmonious music performance supersedes everything else – even sometimes the conductor.

University of Horn Matters