How to choose the right conductor for your school band: Ten tips for finding the best person for the job.

Saul Richardson B.Ed (hons), MACE

Principal, Jazz Workshop Australia

[box]When looking to hire a conductor for your school band it is critically important that you hire the right person, first time. The wrong choice can have far-reaching negative implications for your band, your program, the reputation of your school and for the students.[/box]

The fact that you have a band shows that you think it is important and can make a valuable contribution to the cultural life of your school and to your students’ education and well-being. Hire the right person for the job and the band will flourish, bringing benefits to everyone involved for years to come.Best person for the job? check.

Here are some tips for making sure you hire the best person for the job.

1. Conducting a school band is a teaching job; it is not a performing job. Hire someone on the basis of their qualifications, experience and track record as a conductor and music educator. Do not fall into the trap of assuming the best player must be the best teacher: they rarely are, if ever!

2. Look closely at their track record. Where have they worked before this? Are they actually experienced? What results did they achieve? You MUST follow up references, and dig beyond what a shortlisted candidate has told you. If they have worked for any length of time they will have a reputation. Be sure to find out what it is.

3. Beware of “export references”. These are recommendations from a current employer who wants nothing more than to be rid of the person as soon as possible.

4. A professional will give details of conducting, teaching, educational experience, and teaching achievements on their CV. They will make these things prominent, ahead of their experience as a performer. If they do the reverse, it is a warning sign that they are an under-employed performer interested only in supplementing their income. These people are not professional educators and will not give your band or students top priority.

5. Find out how many other schools the candidate has worked for and for how long at each? If they have been at lots of schools and for a relatively short time at each it is a very bad sign. Very bad! They are probably not interested in building a strong band or able to maintain a strong band through hard times. They probably don’t have the skills or training needed to develop and maintain a high quality band. Maybe they have a personality problem that prevents them working effectively with students, parents, other teachers or administrators. A personality clash with an employer at one school is understandable, but at multiple schools raises questions about the conductor. Avoid them.

6. Find out why they conduct. It should be for educational reasons. It should be because it is their profession and they think it is an important job. It should be because they have trained for or built up lots of experience to do that kind of work.

7. Find out where they plan to be and what they want to be doing in five years’ time. It should be at your school and they should have a five to ten year plan for developing the band and the program.

8. Take a keen interest in each candidate’s track record. What someone has actually achieved says a lot more than what they claim they are going to do.

9. It is a very good idea to ask your shortlisted candidates to run one or two trial rehearsals with the band, if you already have a band. You should pay them for their time, but be clear it is just a trial. You should also put them initially on probation so that you and the conductor each have an “out” after a term or so. Someone fun and charismatic in the first few weeks may turn out to be not so good in the long run. Sometimes such people only have a couple of ideas, and they run out pretty quickly. This is another reason why you must look at their track record. Just because someone interviews well doesn’t mean they can be outstanding in the long-term.

10. Once you have hired the right person, trust and respect them as a professional. The conductor should have control over the band, the program, the repertoire, personnel, and so on. Having gone to the trouble of finding an outstanding, qualified band teaching specialist, don’t ruin that effort by letting unqualified others have undue influence. Parents, school administrators and generalist music teachers are examples of unqualified others who often want to micromanage conductors. If you chose the right person for the job, such micromanagement will be unnecessary and to the detriment of the students.

Bonus tip #11. It is an excellent sign if a candidate can show they have done some training or professional development in teaching, band direction, instrumental pedagogy, jazz pedagogy (if it is a jazz band), conducting, and so on. It means they should have some real, certified skills. But it also demonstrates their genuine interest in the field and a willingness to invest their own time and money. Under-employed performers looking for a quick supplement to their income will almost never make this kind of investment.


4 thoughts on “How to choose the right conductor for your school band: Ten tips for finding the best person for the job.

  1. Cathy Roberts says:

    Thanks Saul for a great, well written and informative article. My daughter’s Primary school is currently in the process of recruiting a conductor for our concert band. I’ve passed the article onto the interview panel, who were very happy to be reminded of these important pointers.

  2. Stringspace says:

    Last year our school arranged a concert but that doesn’t go well. We should have checked their track record before appoint them. I am glad, you shared this online.

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