Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 06-15-2019, 11:28 AM
Whack-a-Mole's Avatar
Whack-a-Mole is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 20,968

Are Conductors of any use on stage?


I was watching some America's Got Talent clips on YouTube that featured choirs. Many of them had a conductor up front gesticulating madly while the choir sang.

Is this of any use whatsoever or is it just the conductor trying to get on stage too?

I get the conductor is the person who arranges the music and gets the choir/musicians to do what they do. The conductor is important, even critical in this regard. It is their vision that brings the whole thing together. They should be praised and respected for their work. (really)

But my question is do they need to stand on the stage and flail at the performers to produce the final product?
__________________
"I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it." ~John Stuart Mill
  #2  
Old 06-15-2019, 11:32 AM
Whack-a-Mole's Avatar
Whack-a-Mole is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 20,968
This may be better in Cafe Society...mods move if you think it is better there.
__________________
"I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it." ~John Stuart Mill
  #3  
Old 06-15-2019, 11:51 AM
PoppaSan's Avatar
PoppaSan is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2011
Location: West shore Lake Michigan
Posts: 2,306
Somebody has to tell everyone when to start and when to stop the held notes. Hard to do that when that person is in the group itself instead of standing in front. The conductor is also acting as a metronome with all the flailing about. There is actually a pattern to the madness. This is based on my 14 years of school bands and choirs.
__________________
This place is beginning to feel like a tin foil hat convention.
  #4  
Old 06-15-2019, 11:54 AM
TruCelt's Avatar
TruCelt is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Near Washington, DC
Posts: 11,293
Absolutely. And they do more than just indicate time and transitions. The conductor is like a painter and the singers/musicians are their colors. Every song has an infinite number of possible variations in timing, phrasing, etc. The individual singers or musicians may each have his/her own idea of how their specific part should sound, and how to emote through it. But the conductor's all-encompassing vision of the song and how it should sound when the pieces come together drives the final result.

No member of the choir or orchestra can hear all the other parts correctly. The conductor's place at the front and center can hear that and guide it from the audience's perspective.

An interesting experiment along these lines is the Orpheus in Boston, which plays orchestral music with a more chamber music type of set-up. There have been many others through the years. As an audience member, I can say that this is a very different experience, and the musicians can not be placed for optimum blending of the sound from the audience perspective. It also requires a certain personality type from the players/singers. If you have one ego-driven performer, and no conductor to rein them in, the balance of the whole soundscape can be thrown off.

It's not unpleasant at all, it's just more like sitting in on somebody else's jam session, then attending a performance that is for the audience. It's my understanding that for the musicians it is a more rewarding experience, as they feel more a part of the whole, rather than a one-on-one relationship with a conductor who is pulling it all together.

Last edited by TruCelt; 06-15-2019 at 11:56 AM.
  #5  
Old 06-15-2019, 11:55 AM
Whack-a-Mole's Avatar
Whack-a-Mole is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 20,968
Quote:
Originally Posted by PoppaSan View Post
Somebody has to tell everyone when to start and when to stop the held notes. Hard to do that when that person is in the group itself instead of standing in front. The conductor is also acting as a metronome with all the flailing about. There is actually a pattern to the madness. This is based on my 14 years of school bands and choirs.
If the conductor was not on stage gesticulating madly would you and the orchestra be unable to play well?
__________________
"I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it." ~John Stuart Mill
  #6  
Old 06-15-2019, 11:58 AM
Chronos's Avatar
Chronos is offline
Charter Member
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jan 2000
Location: The Land of Cleves
Posts: 83,884
[Moderating]
Yup, looks like Cafe Society material to me.
  #7  
Old 06-15-2019, 12:06 PM
Whack-a-Mole's Avatar
Whack-a-Mole is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2000
Location: Chicago, IL USA
Posts: 20,968
Quote:
Originally Posted by TruCelt View Post
Absolutely. And they do more than just indicate time and transitions. The conductor is like a painter and the singers/musicians are their colors. Every song has an infinite number of possible variations in timing, phrasing, etc.
Fair enough but presumably they have practiced a lot with the conductor overseeing and directing how they play.

So, does a well practiced choir/orchestra need their director to stand in front of them and wave their arms?

Put another way, are the musicians/singers lost without someone standing in front waving at them?
__________________
"I did not mean that Conservatives are generally stupid; I meant, that stupid persons are generally Conservative. I believe that to be so obvious and undeniable a fact that I hardly think any hon. Gentleman will question it." ~John Stuart Mill

Last edited by Whack-a-Mole; 06-15-2019 at 12:09 PM.
  #8  
Old 06-15-2019, 12:18 PM
markn+ is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2015
Location: unknown; Speed: exactly 0
Posts: 2,430
Previous thread, with links to even previouser threads.
https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=858960
  #9  
Old 06-15-2019, 01:25 PM
Ulfreida is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: pangolandia
Posts: 3,488
Speaking as someone who has sung in a semi-professional 100+ person choir, the answer is yes, you will get lost. Maybe not you personally but the person next to you, who will pull you askew and then you lost your place or your pitch or the tempo and you've pulled someone else into error. Then the people who absolutely know the piece and have strong voices will start guiding their section but what if those people are off a quarter beat from each other? What a mess. Been there. Keep your eyes glued on your conductor, just like they tell you at rehearsal, thousands and thousands of times.
  #10  
Old 06-15-2019, 01:34 PM
Acsenray is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Apr 2002
Location: U.S.A.
Posts: 35,726
Yes, someone has to keep time for everyone. In a rock band, it can be the drummer. In a large ensemble, especially one whose genre doesn’t have someone loudly beating the “one” every measure, it has to be someone everyone can see.

People don’t naturally keep time in synchronization. It’s very hard.

And, as stated above, in a complex piece, people will get lost counting hundreds or thousands of beats.
__________________
*I'm experimenting with E, em, and es and emself as pronouns that do not indicate any specific gender nor exclude any specific gender.
  #11  
Old 06-15-2019, 03:45 PM
szabrocki is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 60

Conductors are absolutely necessary.


Check out https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFrsBMXipDk

Rainer Hersch shows how much a conductor can influence an orchestra in a entertaining way. There are many videos out there.
  #12  
Old 06-15-2019, 08:44 PM
Francis Vaughan is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Adelaide, Australia
Posts: 5,041
Just the issue of time is huge. This is arguably where the conductor first came from. As described above, once you get past a few musicians it becomes difficult to manage without a central authority on time. In an orchestra musicians have a heap of challenges. They can't hear the whole of the sound, indeed some players have their entire experience dominated by a couple of nearby instruments, and have very little to guide them with their own contribution to the overall sound. What makes things more difficult for many players is that in an orchestral piece there will be long periods where they don't play at all.
A little appreciated problem is the speed of sound. A professional level orchestra plays to compensate for the delay introduced by the distance from the back row to the conductor. For a small ensemble this isn't an issue, but the human ear becomes sensitive to delays over about 10ms. (The Hass effect.) That is a distance of roughly 10 feet. You will find that the back row (wood winds, winds) deliberately play very slightly ahead of the conductor in order to compensate. They play in order to make the sound in the audience cohere, not the sound that they hear cohere (in which case they would be already behind the strings, and doubly behind as heard by the audience.
The tempo and overall balance will never be the same in performance as in rehearsal. There is always a dynamic with the audience. Changes in the acoustics of the venue when filled with people, and an almost psychic feedback of appreciation with the audience causes the conductor to change things dynamically.
Probably the most clear example of the role of the conductor is when the orchestra plays a concerto. The performance becomes a duet, with the soloist and conductor playing together. This is quiet an achievement. Most concerts are performed with remarkably little rehearsal. A working orchestra will begin preparing and rehearsing a performance the week of the performance, with the the soloist arriving for only a few rehearsals. Somehow the orchestra has to jell with the soloists personal performance of a piece. Whether it is standard repetiour, or new music, there will be significant artistic interpretation of a piece that the orchestra needs to be able to work with. The conducor's job is to provide the best possible partnership with the soloist's performance. This is very dynamic, and is closer to a jam than outright by the book performance. The conductor is following the soloist and responsible for keeping the orchestra both in time with the soloist - and just as importantly following the nuances of the dynamics and emotional colour of the performance as it unfolds. The conductor is probably the only person on stage who can hear the entirety of the performance The soloist has the first and second violins in their ear, and much of the orchestra won't be able to hear the soloist over their nearby compatriots.
You will sometimes see orchestras - especially small chamber orchestras - led by their leader - the principal violin. Usefully, time can be visually established by the leader's bow movements, but the smaller size of the orchestra and removal of some of the dominating loud instruments makes it easier to manage.
The conductor was a late addition to orchestras, but their addition was arguably pivotal in making performance of music from the Romantic era onwards viable, and one of the lesser acknowledged enablers of progress in music.

Last edited by Francis Vaughan; 06-15-2019 at 08:45 PM.
  #13  
Old 06-15-2019, 08:56 PM
Musicat is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Oct 1999
Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI USA
Posts: 21,135
My word, Sir. I do not "flail" or "wave", I lead the orchestra!

Last edited by Musicat; 06-15-2019 at 08:56 PM.
  #14  
Old 06-15-2019, 09:18 PM
AHunter3's Avatar
AHunter3 is online now
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: NY (Manhattan) NY USA
Posts: 20,363
Here's a choral conductor who is definitely doing useful things up there.
  #15  
Old 06-15-2019, 09:37 PM
snoe is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 2016
Posts: 1,375
Felliniís Orchestra Rehearsal is a political satire where an orchestra asks this same question, eventually overthrowing the conductor and replacing him with
SPOILER:
a giant metronome.
Someone posted the last 9 minutes of the movie on YouTube ó watching it will obviously spoil the ending. https://youtu.be/85DwyqwqACo

From my musical experience (youth through college, symphony and chamber), conductors are pretty essential for any group bigger than six or so.
  #16  
Old 06-16-2019, 01:18 AM
DSYoungEsq is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: Indian Land, S Carolina
Posts: 14,402
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
IBut my question is do they need to stand on the stage and flail at the performers to produce the final product?
While I know you are indulging in some hyperbole here, if you think what a conductor is doing is "flail[ing] at the performers" while conducting, you obviously aren't aware of what a conductor does. It only looks like flailing.

I personally know the conductor of the Charlotte Symphony, as well as a few of the musicians. From discussions with him, and them, it's quite clear to me that his presence on stage flailing at the performers is vital. Not only is he, of course, reminding them of what they have worked out during rehearsal to do, but he is also deftly blending the performances of the players, which differ in subtle ways each and every time that a piece is played. He is also, of course, performing the monotonous, but nevertheless necessary function of keeping the 50 to 100 musicians together in their beat, since trust me, the second violinist sitting six rows back on stage right (left as the audience sees it) isn't able to tell what the cellist four rows back across the stage is doing time-wise.

As someone who has performed in choirs ranging from small ensemble to very large groups (12 members or so to 100-plus), I consider a good director essential during the performance to producing the best possible result. Lacking such a person flailing away at me, the group might perform well enough for the average person to be ok with the result, but not anyone who really knew good music.
  #17  
Old 06-16-2019, 01:47 AM
ThisSpaceForRent's Avatar
ThisSpaceForRent is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: University City, MO
Posts: 1,552
Quote:
Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
Just the issue of time is huge. This is arguably where the conductor first came from. As described above, once you get past a few musicians it becomes difficult to manage without a central authority on time. In an orchestra musicians have a heap of challenges. They can't hear the whole of the sound, indeed some players have their entire experience dominated by a couple of nearby instruments, and have very little to guide them with their own contribution to the overall sound. What makes things more difficult for many players is that in an orchestral piece there will be long periods where they don't play at all.
A little appreciated problem is the speed of sound. A professional level orchestra plays to compensate for the delay introduced by the distance from the back row to the conductor. For a small ensemble this isn't an issue, but the human ear becomes sensitive to delays over about 10ms. (The Hass effect.) That is a distance of roughly 10 feet. You will find that the back row (wood winds, winds) deliberately play very slightly ahead of the conductor in order to compensate. They play in order to make the sound in the audience cohere, not the sound that they hear cohere (in which case they would be already behind the strings, and doubly behind as heard by the audience.
The tempo and overall balance will never be the same in performance as in rehearsal. There is always a dynamic with the audience. Changes in the acoustics of the venue when filled with people, and an almost psychic feedback of appreciation with the audience causes the conductor to change things dynamically.
Probably the most clear example of the role of the conductor is when the orchestra plays a concerto. The performance becomes a duet, with the soloist and conductor playing together. This is quiet an achievement. Most concerts are performed with remarkably little rehearsal. A working orchestra will begin preparing and rehearsing a performance the week of the performance, with the the soloist arriving for only a few rehearsals. Somehow the orchestra has to jell with the soloists personal performance of a piece. Whether it is standard repetiour, or new music, there will be significant artistic interpretation of a piece that the orchestra needs to be able to work with. The conducor's job is to provide the best possible partnership with the soloist's performance. This is very dynamic, and is closer to a jam than outright by the book performance. The conductor is following the soloist and responsible for keeping the orchestra both in time with the soloist - and just as importantly following the nuances of the dynamics and emotional colour of the performance as it unfolds. The conductor is probably the only person on stage who can hear the entirety of the performance The soloist has the first and second violins in their ear, and much of the orchestra won't be able to hear the soloist over their nearby compatriots.
You will sometimes see orchestras - especially small chamber orchestras - led by their leader - the principal violin. Usefully, time can be visually established by the leader's bow movements, but the smaller size of the orchestra and removal of some of the dominating loud instruments makes it easier to manage.
The conductor was a late addition to orchestras, but their addition was arguably pivotal in making performance of music from the Romantic era onwards viable, and one of the lesser acknowledged enablers of progress in music.
Jeeze Dude....Take breaks or BREATH and put in page breaks or spacing.
  #18  
Old 06-16-2019, 03:40 AM
bob++ is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Worcestershire UK
Posts: 6,651
Good example: With a conductor, it would have looked more like this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan
Just the issue of time is huge. This is arguably where the conductor first came from. As described above, once you get past a few musicians it becomes difficult to manage without a central authority on time. In an orchestra musicians have a heap of challenges. They can't hear the whole of the sound, indeed some players have their entire experience dominated by a couple of nearby instruments, and have very little to guide them with their own contribution to the overall sound. What makes things more difficult for many players is that in an orchestral piece there will be long periods where they don't play at all.

A little appreciated problem is the speed of sound. A professional level orchestra plays to compensate for the delay introduced by the distance from the back row to the conductor. For a small ensemble this isn't an issue, but the human ear becomes sensitive to delays over about 10ms. (The Hass effect.) That is a distance of roughly 10 feet. You will find that the back row (wood winds, winds) deliberately play very slightly ahead of the conductor in order to compensate. They play in order to make the sound in the audience cohere, not the sound that they hear cohere (in which case they would be already behind the strings, and doubly behind as heard by the audience.

The tempo and overall balance will never be the same in performance as in rehearsal. There is always a dynamic with the audience. Changes in the acoustics of the venue when filled with people and an almost psychic feedback of appreciation with the audience causes the conductor to change things dynamically.

Probably the clearest example of the role of the conductor is when the orchestra plays a concerto. The performance becomes a duet, with the soloist and conductor playing together. This is quite an achievement. Most concerts are performed with remarkably little rehearsal. A working orchestra will begin preparing and rehearsing a performance the week of the performance, with the soloist arriving for only a few rehearsals. Somehow the orchestra has to jell with the soloistís personal performance of a piece. Whether it is standard repertoire or new music, there will be a significant artistic interpretation of a piece that the orchestra needs to be able to work with.

The conductorís job is to provide the best possible partnership with the soloist's performance. This is very dynamic and is closer to a jam than outright by the book performance. The conductor is following the soloist and responsible for keeping the orchestra both in time with the soloist - and just as importantly following the nuances of the dynamics and emotional colour of the performance as it unfolds. The conductor is probably the only person on stage who can hear the entirety of the performance The soloist has the first and second violins in their ear, and much of the orchestra won't be able to hear the soloist over their nearby compatriots.

You will sometimes see orchestras - especially small chamber orchestras - led by their leader - the principal violin. Usefully, time can be visually established by the leader's bow movements, but the smaller size of the orchestra and removal of some of the dominating loud instruments makes it easier to manage.

The conductor was a late addition to orchestras, but their addition was arguably pivotal in making performance of music from the Romantic era onwards viable, and one of the lesser acknowledged enablers of progress in music.
  #19  
Old 06-16-2019, 04:47 AM
Francis Vaughan is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2009
Location: Adelaide, Australia
Posts: 5,041
  #20  
Old 06-16-2019, 07:48 AM
Ruken is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: DC
Posts: 7,334
Quote:
Originally Posted by Whack-a-Mole View Post
Fair enough but presumably they have practiced a lot with the conductor overseeing and directing how they play.

So, does a well practiced choir/orchestra need their director to stand in front of them and wave their arms?
You presume wrong. I would routinely get the music Friday. We'd have evening rehearsals Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday, concert Friday, concert Saturday. A good chunk of those rehearsals you aren't even playing because the conductor is going over parts with different sections.

For a pop concert, e.g. touring rock band, Tony Bennett, etc., wants a pit orchestra, we would have just one rehearsal.
  #21  
Old 06-16-2019, 08:32 AM
DrFidelius's Avatar
DrFidelius is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Mar 1999
Location: Miskatonic University
Posts: 12,475
The conductor is also a musician, and the instrument they play is the entire orchestra.
__________________
The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent any other persons, organizations, spirits, thinking machines, hive minds or other sentient beings on this world or any adjacent dimensions in the multiverse.
  #22  
Old 06-16-2019, 11:24 PM
rowrrbazzle's Avatar
rowrrbazzle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: Chicago
Posts: 8,706
Leonard Bernstein asks these questions and gives his answers in a 1955 Omnibus program. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1dn3at
  #23  
Old 06-16-2019, 11:29 PM
rowrrbazzle's Avatar
rowrrbazzle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: Chicago
Posts: 8,706
A websearch on "orchestras without conductors" turns up a wealth of articles on these questions.
  #24  
Old 06-17-2019, 12:25 AM
JeffB's Avatar
JeffB is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: San Jose
Posts: 2,986
Quote:
Originally Posted by rowrrbazzle View Post
Leonard Bernstein asks these questions and gives his answers in a 1955 Omnibus program. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1dn3at
Thanks for posting this -- fascinating.
  #25  
Old 06-18-2019, 01:24 AM
rowrrbazzle's Avatar
rowrrbazzle is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 1999
Location: Chicago
Posts: 8,706
I just found this earlier thread, with links to even earlier threads. https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb...d.php?t=858960
  #26  
Old 06-18-2019, 03:19 AM
LLCoolL is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2017
Location: SF Bay Area, USA
Posts: 253
Quote:
Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
......A little appreciated problem is the speed of sound. A professional level orchestra plays to compensate for the delay introduced by the distance from the back row to the conductor. For a small ensemble this isn't an issue, but the human ear becomes sensitive to delays over about 10ms. (The Hass effect.) That is a distance of roughly 10 feet. You will find that the back row (wood winds, winds) deliberately play very slightly ahead of the conductor in order to compensate. They play in order to make the sound in the audience cohere, not the sound that they hear cohere (in which case they would be already behind the strings, and doubly behind as heard by the audience....
This is absolutely fascinating. I trained as a physicist, but I'd never considered this effect. Thanks for posting.
  #27  
Old 06-18-2019, 09:54 AM
ZipperJJ's Avatar
ZipperJJ is online now
Just Lovely and Delicious
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Northeast Ohio
Posts: 25,338
I've played in a few instances with a guest conductor. Even though the band had rehearsed the music beforehand and knew it, and it was simple music, and the guest conductor was just as good/professional as our regular conductor... it still was hard to follow them. The whole band had issues, not just me (in none of the instances were we professional musicians).

A conductor is pretty crucial to the whole operation. They're an important part of the band and they do in fact lead the band to where they want it to go.
  #28  
Old 06-18-2019, 10:23 AM
aceplace57 is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2009
Location: CentralArkansas
Posts: 25,828
Keith Lockhart has been the conductor of the Boston Pops for 24 years. He and his staff would be very involved in planning the performances for the entire season. Keith is the face of the orchestra and does a lot of promotional work.

Conducting a live performance is just one part of his job.

Last edited by aceplace57; 06-18-2019 at 10:23 AM.
  #29  
Old 06-18-2019, 11:19 AM
Ruken is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2003
Location: DC
Posts: 7,334
Re: acoustics, aside from the delay, it can just be hard to hear all of what's going on. Especially when you have the piccolos shrieking in your left ear. There's a heavy visual component to playing together, as most pieces aren't just set steadily to a metronome for their entirety. At small size you can see everyone. At large, you cannot. Hence the conductor.
  #30  
Old 07-02-2019, 08:55 PM
Cayuga is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Connecticut, USA
Posts: 1,098
Quick bump:

Last weekend I saw a musical at a summer stock theater. There was no orchestra pit; the six-piece orchestra was backstage. A monitor hanging on the back wall of the audience let the 10 or so dancers see the musical director/ conductor so they could all stay in step with each other.

And thatís to say nothing of the constant tweaking and directing an orchestra does during a performance
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 12:13 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017