Classical Symphony Orchestras – Do They Need Conductors?

“A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.” – Max Lucado

My paraphrase: Whatever it is you wish to accomplish in life, you must ignore the naysayers.

What Is A Classical Symphony Orchestra?


Of course, when we think of the word ‘classical ‘ our musical minds go back to the classical period (1775-1825).

Whereas classical music refers to a particular genre or style of music the term itself is broadly used to describe all types of orchestral music.

Some of the greatest composers and masterminds of that period include Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang A. Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert.

So, what is a Classical as opposed to Symphony orchestra?

Classical vs. Symphony Orchestra

A classical orchestra is considered to be smaller than a symphony orchestra and has fewer instruments.

A symphony orchestra, meanwhile, is a large classical orchestra, consisting of a mixture of instruments, inclusive of percussion, double bass, woodwinds, and strings family.


The Amazing One-Man Band

According to Wikipedia, a one-man band (or woman) is a musician who plays a number of instruments simultaneously using his hands, feet, limbs or other body parts.

You have probably heard about an amazing one-man-band street performer (Cigo man band.)       

Apparently, this guy, a singer, accompanies himself on the acoustic guitar, with a harmonica strapped below his mouth. He also has a flute or clarinet attached to his neck with cymbals between the knees. Additionally, a bass drum is attached to his back triggered by a pedal tied to his feet.
How he moves about and performs is truly remarkable, but, additionally, he has tambourines and maracas attached to his limbs.

He walks the streets displaying his talents, and patrons reward him with monetary donations gifts in a special pouch extending from his neck.

What’s more, one-band men (and women) are becoming more and more commonplace worldwide.


Throughout the years, the music industry has produced many great, world famous multi-instrumentalist.
Take the renowned Prince for example. He is reported to have played over 27 musical instruments, all really well.
These include clavinet, percussion, saxophone, harmonica, piano, keyboard, drums, and the beat goes on.

Watch the conductor

The story is told of Joshua Bell, one of the world’s most prominent violinist and conductor. Renowned for his passion, and multi-faceted musical interest, Joshua has a very unusual way of conducting his 44-member chamber orchestra.

Rather than waving a baton, he directs when playing his own violin, by sending signals and direction that orchestra understands. For instance, every dip in his violin, raise in his eyebrow or the way he draws the bow, communicates the sound he’s looking for.

Winner of many awards including Grammy, he is also a soloist, chamber musician and recording artist. He won an Oscar for his soundtrack, the Red Violin, one of over 40 CD’s he has recorded. Joshua is an outspoken advocate for classical music and a strong proponent of musical education in the classrooms.

To Conduct Or Not To Conduct 

Do orchestras really need conductors?

Are conductors merely overpaid showman stealing the performer’s thunder by their arm-waving, body twisting antics?

Can’t the band members read and interpret the music themselves?

Yes, an orchestra can, in theory, keep time without a conductor.

However, despite the fact that conductorless orchestras are becoming more commonplace, research suggests that there is, indeed,  a …

Need For A Conductor

  • Without a conductor, there is the temptation of each band member to interpret the music for himself, thus creating disharmony and timing issues.
  • Synchronize the movements of all band members particularly in large orchestras where there is a time-lag in sound from the back to the front of the players.
  • A scientific study revealed that a conductor’s influence over the players is tremendous. Orchestras with conductors produced an overall much more delightful performance than those without.

What do you think?



Hope this article has helped you in some way. Your questions, comments, and suggestions are always greatly appreciated. Please leave me a comment below.

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Sources: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Cavan Project

Seattle Symphony

NPR Classical

2 thoughts on “Classical Symphony Orchestras – Do They Need Conductors?

  1. By far, my favorite classical composer is Beethoven. I don’t know how he did it, but he took the best of what Bach and Mozart gave to us all and added a heaping helping of EMOTIONAL IMPACT to it, and still today he serves it up with a “POW!” to any listening.

    I have never seen an orchestra play without a conductor. For me that would be truly weird, having played in symphony band through high school and now watching my son perform in orchestra.

    Oh, and Joshua Bell? He’s the BOMB!! lol

    1. Thanks TJSchlender for your insightful comments. Beethoven is also my all time favorite composer.

      I too, was very surprised to hear about conductor-less orchestras, but  my research suggests they are becoming more popular than one may think.

      Thanks again and best wishes.

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