The role of leadership in conducting orchestras

Logie, Nicholas (2012). The role of leadership in conducting orchestras. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis examines the leadership role of the orchestral conductor. Conducting is one of the most visible manifestations of leadership in action. Because of this, references to conductor leadership can be found in literature on management and studies into organizational leadership as well as seminars aimed at corporate leadership. However, issues of leadership appear to form only a tangential part of conductor training and development. Compared to the in-depth study of musicianship and gestural technique, leadership appears to be a skill left to ‘on-the-job’ experience and with minimal reference to existing studies and understanding of leadership.

In order to explore further the nature of the conductor’s leadership role, a survey of 31 aspiring conductors from eleven different countries forms the original research element of this thesis. The survey is comprised of seven open-ended questions and includes questions on the perceived relevance of leadership in conducting orchestras, role models, leadership metaphors from other disciplines, and exposure to issues of leadership during training. The survey material is analysed and then discussed with reference to established leadership theory. In addition, reference is made to the views of established conductors to be found in openly available interviews.

The question that lies at the core of this thesis asks whether leadership skills are relevant to conducting orchestras. And, if so, are there ways in which aspiring conductors can be helped to assimilate these skills? In addition, the investigative nature of the literature review seeks to pull together all the strands of scholarship that find inspiration for other fields from the leadership role of the conductor.

The conclusion proposes three elements to understanding conductor leadership: exploring personal authenticity, two theoretical leadership frameworks (conductor leadership continuum and modes of leadership) and practical suggestions for accelerating leadership experience including real-time mentoring and an increased emphasis on the direct interaction between student-conductor and orchestra.

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