This weekend, on February 27th, I will be conducting my first concert in four years. Not from lack of trying, not from lack of experience, and not from lack of competency. It’s because becoming a conductor is hard.
Leaving out the fact that we’re still dealing with the tail end of basically two years without the ability to host regular gatherings and rehearsals, it’s difficult to become a conductor because you aren’t there yet. To become a good conductor you have to conduct, but to conduct you have to be a good conductor. You need experience to get experience.
I don’t mean to whine and boo-hoo about how difficult it’s been the past few years. We’ve all felt it, we’ve all lost money and gigs and opportunities thanks to shrinking and tougher opportunities. But it’s been an especially tough time for those of us that are still becoming established.
Established conductors lost a year, but now most orchestras are playing again. Those that don’t need experience have been able to slowly continue to conduct because they already had jobs lined up with orchestras that were eager to meet again.
When I say that I’m conducting my first concert in four years, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t conducted at all in four years. I’ve conducted plenty since then, but mostly rehearsals, sectionals, recording sessions, or just one or two pieces of a program. Those were only available because I’d set myself up as a trustworthy conductor that can step in when needed or be called upon.
During the pandemic, I got my first position with my own orchestra, but we couldn’t have a concert because of restrictions, so that concert never happened. During the pandemic, I was supposed to start working as an assistant with a local orchestra, which would have allowed me to conduct weekly and conduct a small piece on most of their concerts, but that was scrapped as well.
And, during the pandemic, I started working with a small startup. Somebody sent me a google form; a way to express interest in this new idea. I attended their preliminary planning meetings and made sure I helped the project however I could. That group is now, less than half a year later, a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit and ready to perform its first concert. And guess who’s conducting! The Denver Rock Orchestra presents our first performance on February 27, 2022, at the Archetype Distillery in Denver, Colorado.
To be a conductor takes skill, dedication, hard work, and focus. To become a conductor takes patience, grit, and a little ingenuity. Also, luck. Lots and lots of being in the right place at the right time, and being ready for the right opportunity at the right time.
Join me over on my podcast Podium Time, where we talk about how we can become better conductors.