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So, what does a conductor actually do?

(video: Rowan Atkinson ‘The Conducter’)

On Yahoo Answers, Wilford Brimley asks:

"I don’t understand why an orchestra needs a conductor… How can a rock band or jazz band play without one? Would they not know how to play all of a sudden if there wasn’t a guy waving his arms around? … So, why are they needed at all?”

Good question! Wilford isn’t the first to notice that conductors do look a bit silly, waving their wands about, not actually making a sound beyond the odd impassioned grunt. One might be forgiven for thinking of the conductor as a formally-attired dancer, wobbling various body parts in time with the music. But, apart from snorting, wiggling and tottering, here are the other fun things conductors do:

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Power Couples of Classical: Opera’s Kim and Kanye


Photo by Frank Martin of The Times (London).

This operatic power couple met when pianist and conductor Richard Bonynge became a singing coach and took (Dame) Joan Sutherland under his tutelage.

Unable to imagine existing on stage or in life without each other, the pair soon married and began performing as a duo—Bonynge the pianist, Sutherland the soprano—Bonynge later went on to conduct all of her performances. The pair were faithfully committed in life and work for 56 years until her death in 2010.


Welcome to our new talk-free classical music stream.

You can listen online by launching the radio player, or by choosing the Classic 2 icon on your ABC Radio app. Stick around for a different perspective on classical - you might be surprised.

ABC Classic 2. Simply classical.