Do Orchestras Really Need Conductors?

Have you ever watched a symphony orchestra being led by a conductor and thought, "Hey, anyone could do that -he's just waving his arms to the beat of the music!"? I recall thinking that when I was very young. But now a study conducted by Yiannis Aloimonos of the University of Maryland and other researchers has put the question to a scientific test, involving musicians in Italy.

They installed a tiny infrared light at the tip of an (unnamed) conductor's baton. They also placed similar lights on the bows of the violinists in the orchestra. The scientists then surrounded the orchestra with infrared cameras.

When the conductor waved the baton, and the violinists moved their bows, the moving lights created patterns in space, which the cameras captured. Computers analyzed the infrared patterns as signals: Using mathematical techniques originally designed by Nobel Prize-winning economist Clive Granger, Aloimonos and his colleagues analyzed whether the movements of the conductor were linked to those of the violinists.

Not only did they analyze whether the conductor influenced the violinist's movements, but they also compared a veteran conductor with an amateur. You'll have to go to NPR to read what they found, but first, let's hear your opinion. What do you think the results of the study were? And when you make your prediction, please let us know if you are a musician. Link -via the Presurfer

(Image credit: Flickr user University of Denver)


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Well, not if you are looking for the whole content. Neatorama has some complete and original articles, but we are mostly a link blog, directing people to all corners of the net where you can find neat stuff. That's what we do. It's possible you could find all these interesting articles on your own, but that can be quite time-consuming.
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I think that a post that doesn't actually answer the question posed in the headline, but requires you to go elsewhere means I shouldn't have come here in the first place.
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At our local symphony (Lancaster PA), the conductor is really like the executive of the orchestra...he works to bring in star soloists and new composers and he puts together the music that will be performed during the year...so in addition to leading the performance, he is the guy that organizes everything and makes it into a cohesive unit. You marvel at the musicians' virtuosity but it's the conductor that is the prime mover.
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I'm not a musician in any way other than listening. I've often wondered why professional musicians, who practice the songs over and over in rehearsals, THEN have the sheet music right in front of them in case they can't remember what they did in rehearsal, THEN have to have a conductor in front of them. And none of them are even looking at the conductor, they're all looking at their sheet music.
And how come only classical music 'needs' a conductor? Jazz, rock, country, pop, folk, ska... big bands, small bands... none of them has a conductor. Normally a drummer just gets the beat started with a "one-and-a-two-and-a" so that the band starts together and then they continue from there.
Conductors aren't needed.
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I'm a musician (as you may have guessed from my username.) I've played in many bands and orchestras and I can tell you, there's some very complex music out there which does require a conductor. Witness, for example, the first few minutes of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", a piece I have played in an orchestra. Each instrument plays a completely different rhythm, and it would be impossible to put together without a conductor.
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