Other Professional Ensembles
In addition to the big orchestral institutions, there are numerous other professional ensembles and choirs across the globe that hire conductors on short-term or long-term contracts. It is worth mentioning specialised contemporary music ensembles, wind band ensembles, smaller chamber orchestras, sinfoniettas, jazz ensembles and big bands, and the list goes on. Opera choruses, independent soloist choirs and orchestra’s own symphony choirs may also be relevant workplaces for choral conductors.
While a few of them work on a full-time basis, the activity and production of most of these ensembles and choirs are limited to and centred around specific performances and recording sessions. In common for most of them is that they have a unique and specific musical profile and usually need highly specialised conductors. Getting a job here requires field-specific experience and passion for the particular genre of music as well as contacts, or friends, within the ensemble or community in question. Many choirs, for example, are led by renowned singers with a particular interest in conducting and/or with prominent artistic leadership qualities.
If you are interested in learning more about choirs and the pathway to choral conducting, you may want to have a look at the video interviews with James Burton, Justin Doyle and Simon Halsey in section 3 in the Careers Office, Learning From the Best.
Military bands and ensembles connected to military organisations across the world perform every year at civic events from graduation ceremonies to military parades as well as in the prestigious concert halls of the world. Conducting these bands usually means being comfortable performing many genres of music such as symphonic wind band repertoire, standard big band repertoire, military marches/marching band repertoire, jazz, crossover, pop and contemporary music.
Many military bands often require not only a Director of Music (usually a commissioned officer) but also a Band Master (usually holding a non-commissioned officer rank). Depending on the size of the service, there may be ranks that are responsible for overseeing all the ensembles within that particular military arm. Appointments to these roles often come as a result of successful promotion through the ranks, although each country operates their military hierarchy slightly differently. Although, almost without exception, applicants are generally required to be a citizen of that country before being able to enlist.
In the British military, “musician” is one of the few trades where one must start at the lowest rank and work up to a commission through time served as well as ability. There are certain advantages to this, one being that through the course of training to become a Director of Music, it is expected that you pass a degree program through an affiliated university. This is normally fully funded and applicants still maintain their salary whilst training. The US military on the other hand can accept applicants for Director of Music from people not currently serving in the military. However in order to be successful, an applicant must be: A US citizen, hold a bachelor’s degree (or higher), display significant conducting ability, and be eligible to pass both military and officer training. Likewise, in Finland you do not necessarily need to be promoted from within the band, however, you must have completed mandatory military service and have applied to the Wind Orchestra programme at the Sibelius Academy and be admitted to the Military Music School.
It is also worth noting that as a conductor in the military your job does not stop at the podium. A Director of Music in, for example, the British Army’s “Corps of Army Music” could be expected to play a key role in organising prestigious events such as the “Trooping of the Colour” or other large civic events as well as managing the smaller ensembles and performances that form part of the corps day to day tasks. Additionally, a Director of Music in the military would be expected to be “in command” as if it were any other military unit, which means taking the lead on any number of administrative and military tasks not directly associated with conducting.