If you've ever seen an orchestra perform music, you've probably seen the conductor in front, waving a stick yet saying nothing. What exactly is the conductor doing? What purpose does he (or she) serve? Scroll down for more ...
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The conductor's most-obvious role is to lead the orchestra - to direct them when to start, when to stop, how fast to go, when to play louder, when to play softer, and so on. The conductor does this not by verbal instructions but rather by the movement of his hands and arms. Even though the musicians have their music in front of them and know how to play their notes, an orchestra might have as many as 100 musicians, and therefore having a leader in front makes it all come together.
Another role of the conductor is to shape the overall sound of the music being performed. A standard orchestra generally has four sections: woodwinds, brass, percussion and strings. The conductor needs to listen to each group as the orchestra as a whole plays together, and make sure that the different sections have a balance in the overall sound.
The conductor also needs to interpret the music and guide the orchestra accordingly - there may be a section of a musical composition that calls for the strings to play the melody and therefore the conductor will need to guide the much-louder brass section to play at a level that allows the strings to be heard.
Let's see a professional conductor in action! The video here features Gustavo Dudamel conducting Beethoven's 5th Symphony.