4.3.1 Character


The character traits identified by Maxwell are important for conductors for a number of reasons. Here are some examples to reflect on.

Conviction: in order to stand up in front of a group of musicians and tell them what to do, a certain strength of character is required – especially if those musicians are more experienced than you are. To quote Sir Mark Elder, ‘Orchestras employ conviction’ .

Inspiration: not everyone has the charisma of Leonard Bernstein or the charm of Carlos Kleiber but conductors need to be able to be able to command the attention of the ensemble and inspire. We are the focus of everyone’s attention (hopefully) and so we must accept responsibility for setting the atmosphere in the room.

Positivity: our business is to criticise, so it is vital that we learn to do so in a positive and encouraging manner, and that we remember to give positive feedback as well as constructive criticism

Humility: it is important to remember that as conductors we do not make a sound. Without the musicians in our ensemble the concert will not be very successful – we need them more than they need us. We must also show humility to the music: our job is to realise the composer’s intentions.

Passion: if we are not able to make this evident to the musicians, how can we expect them to display passion in their playing or singing?

Decisiveness: nobody respects a conductor who can’t make a decision. Ultimately, that is our job. A bad decision is better than no decision at all.

Observing Leadership in Action

(Allow around 30 minutes for this activity)

Observing how conductors command attention and convey leadership is important for the aspiring conductor. Using your internet search engine, key in the search term ‘conducting with face’


You may have found several items in your search, but hopefully you will have seen examples of how great conductors such as Leonard Bernstein communicate using just the eyes and other non-verbal means.

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