The Path to Conducting

The Path to Conducting

Benjamin Northey talks about short and long term conducting goals.

Benjamin Northey
Melbourne, Australia

The Path to Conducting

Benjamin Northey talks about short and long term conducting goals.

Question: 

Hi Ben!

I am an aspiring conductor who would love to ask you some things about your path to conducting.

I am an 18yo first year university student, studying a Bachelor of Science and a Diploma of Music (with Clarinet as my main instrument) at the Melbourne Conservatorium. Don't let this put you off - I am extremely passionate about music, both clarinet performance, conducting and the study of musicology, but I also enjoy science too!

To date, my conducting experience has consisted of: 

  • Some lessons from Dr John Lynch
  • Co-Musical Director of two musicals with a community theatre group
  • The MYM Summer Conducting masterclass, with Luke Dollman this year - I believe you were a part of this a few years ago?


I am hoping to have further opportunities with various ensembles, including musical orchestra pits and larger ensembles over the course of this year (and in the coming years as well). 

My main question is, what advice can you give about the path from where I am now to perhaps being a professional ensemble conductor (such as your position now), or an MD for theatre (not sure about your experience in this - just thought I would ask anyway!)?

What things should I do to get better in the short term and long term? How should I go about gaining experience (the age old conducting question!)? How should I stagger my learning across the next few years? If I wanted to study in Europe at some point and had the drive and passion to do so, at what age and how much experience should one have to attempt this? Is it worth having a weekly teacher - or are staggered masterclasses better? 

What other advice can you offer to help me follow the path to being a professional conductor?

Oh, and one last question. I am very interested in watching rehearsals with professional orchestras, such as the MSO. Are there any opportunities for this? I am extremely interested in good rehearsal technique, as well as seeing good conducting technique up close.

Thank you in advance!

Answer:

Thanks for the question and good to hear of your passion for music. Also good to see you have pursued some conducting opportunities. Sounds like you have had some valuable experience already. 

In terms of pathways the main thing is to develop your musicianship at this stage. The best thing I ever did was to have a long career as an instrumentalist before I got into conducting. By the time I decided to pursue studies I was a well rounded musician and that has been a blessing for me. 

I would still take every opportunity you can to be in front of an ensemble, whatever the project. This is the best learning tool you can find. Regarding the MT world piano skills I think are essential. Most MD's seem to come from that position, also arranging music is a valuable skill. 

You should play a 2nd instrument, a stringed instrument if possible. So much to learn there. 

Master classes are excellent opportunities for learning repertoire and having exposure to excellent teachers. Luke Dollman is terrific so I would do that course again for sure. 

Tertiary studies are on offer internationally. I personally would do your undergrad here and build experience first. 

Practice your transpositions, clef reading and analysis skills. Also as much music history as possible. Watch rehearsals. I can of course have you as a guest at MSO anytime. 

Keep me posted!