Award Date

May 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



First Committee Member

Taras Krysa

Second Committee Member

Anthony Barone

Third Committee Member

Diego Vega

Fourth Committee Member

Justin Emerich

Fifth Committee Member

Simon Gottschalk

Number of Pages



In African polyrhythmic drum circles there is a proverb that exemplifies the necessity of common vision and community in group musical performance: “I am because we are.” This simple ideal is ostensibly mirrored in the western institution of the symphonic orchestra, an ensemble of many that nevertheless must arrive at one, shared interpretation of a piece of music. The structure of the orchestra is a complicated hierarchy with section players at its base, followed by principals, the concertmaster, and finally the conductor. Although conductors are the public face of leadership in orchestras, if they alienate the musicians they will have limited or even negative effects on the final musical product. With the exception of perhaps difficult rhythmic passages and youth ensembles, musicians do not typically need help keeping time. Despite this fact, university and conservatory programs center on developing physical conducting technique, often neglecting the social skills necessary to thrive as a professional conductor. By focusing so heavily on baton technique graduates of conducting programs face a gap between practice and performance, as there are many additional skills, such as social skills and leadership, which are necessary to be a successful conductor. This leaves newly appointed conductors in a period of flux, with little guidance on how to take their musical leadership to a level where both their physical technique and personality inspire musicians and audiences.

My dissertation will explore this gap by investigating what orchestral musicians need from a conductor. I will address the following research questions: What do musicians want from their conductor in order to reach their collective objective of a unified, polished, and inspiring musical performance? How do musicians’ needs differ in academic and professional settings? Based on these answers, what do conductors need both from musicians and their training to prepare them for their first professional post?

Traditional pedagogical texts often overlook that conductors and instrumentalists are human beings, ignoring the psychological implications inherent in musical performance. There are a few texts and studies that explore these issues from conductors’ perspectives and many studies that investigate the complex social interworking of the symphony orchestra. A literature review of traditional conducting literature and qualitative studies on conductors and performers reveals that these findings are not incorporated into existent conducting literature.

In this dissertation I address this gap by including a comparative study of university students in the Western American University Symphony Orchestra and professional musicians in the Middletown Symphony Orchestra. I worked with both ensembles in the capacity of Assistant Conductor and conducted qualitative studies, including observations, participant interviews, and critical self-reflection, with members of each orchestra.

Based on these methods, I determined that there are three main skills that student conductors and instrumentalists do not acquire from university training and current pedagogical texts:

1. Collaboration

2. Rehearsal Techniques

3. Concert Programs and Audience Reception

To provide an example of how these findings and current pedagogy can be integrated, I close this dissertation by offering a model book chapter that elaborates on these three skills with additional suggested resources and activities. This material could be incorporated into conducting texts to provide some insight into the depth of study and complications that arise in working with human beings so intimately.

In doing this research my hope is to contribute to an ongoing academic conversation on conducting pedagogy. In providing graduating conductors with further insight into professional expectations, they will be better prepared to direct orchestras and be inspiring, engaging, and effective leaders earlier in their careers. Similarly student musicians might uncover gaps in their own educations that will help them as they enter the professional realm. Both instrumental and conducting professors may use this research to address gaps in their own pedagogical tools.


Conducting Pedagogy; Music Ethnography; Music Psychology; Music Sociology; Orchestral Conducting; Symbolic Interaction Theory


Curriculum and Instruction | Education | Music | Sociology

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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