Disorderly Conducting – a miscellany of mischief

  1. Arrive late. A relaxed, casual entrance, ideally sipping from an oversized cup of coffee, will lull the animals singers into a false sense of security.
  2. Ensure you are hard to see from the stage by wearing a shirt exactly the same colour as the pit wall.
  3. Spend at least twenty minutes poring over the score and chatting with music staff, dispatching them with detailed, pre-emptive notes for the less experienced singers who only have a couple of lines to sing. Seven or eight notes apiece should unhinge them entirely.
  4. Choose your weapon carefully. The right baton can be crucial. Ideally it should be virtually invisible at a distance of about 10 feet.
  5. Alternatively, eschew the baton entirely, thereby freeing up another hand for incomprehensible t’ai chi-type gestures.
  6. Either way, render the monitors useless by keeping your beat too low to be picked up by the pit camera.
  7. Announce that you will begin with the overture. If you time this correctly you will hear muted grumbling from the singers, most of whom arrived an hour early to warm-up.
  8. Make at least a dozen or so abortive attempts at the opening. Even if it is perfectly played, find some excuse to repeat it over and over.
  9. Grudgingly batter through the first five pages of the overture with all the finesse of a drunken kangaroo in a glassware shop.
  10. Bring everything to a grinding halt by suddenly sub-dividing your beat.
  11. Take five minutes to sort out the ensuing carnage, all the while clinging doggedly to your need to conduct a randomly selected bar in seven instead of four.
  12. Get really fired up by driving straight through to the end of the overture, lurching en-route through various inappropriate tempi, and studiously ignoring all dynamic markings.
  13. Pause for self-congratulation and repeat. (By now, at least an hour should have passed and nobody will have sung a note).
  14. Start the opening scene.
  15. Push relentlessly, allowing no space whatsoever for breathing or phrasing, and generally encouraging artillery-level dynamics from the orchestra whenever a singer opens their mouth.
  16. Vary between an awkward four-beat and a horribly contrived two-beat, even if you’re in 3/4. Keep this up until the singer gets completely lost. Shouldn’t take too long.
  17. Establish that any confusion is solely down to the singer’s inability to count, rather than their understandable lack of ability to decode the indecipherable.
  18. Insist that they watch you at all times.
  19. Repeat the number using completely different tempi, varying the beat as much as possible, and picking up and putting down the baton at random moments.
  20. Shout “Watch!” every minute or so.
  21. At the end of the number, assure everyone that it was much better the second time. Even though it wasn’t.
  22. Ingratiate yourself with the singer of the title role by lobbing them a few meaningless compliments, before racing carelessly through their aria with scant regard for their status or experience.
  23. Stagger through a previously unrehearsed duet for tenor and soprano, ignoring the appalling multitude of tenor atrocities in favour of working repeatedly through the highest phrase for the soprano in search of just the right roundness of “ee” vowel.
  24. Launch into the duet a second time at a ridiculous new velocity, leaving the tenor in a previous time zone, and triggering near-hysteria in the soprano, as she tries to cope with what has now become a bravura coloratura number.
  25. Answer your phone. It might be the Met. Don’t stop conducting.
  26. Drive the tempo hard right up until the soprano’s high phrase, then slam the rubato on full whack and leave her hanging.
  27. Call the tea-break. Announce that you will pick up from the top of the duet.
  28. During the break, if any singers are in the auditorium, gather your music staff together in a huddle. Talk in hushed tones, occasionally looking anxiously in the singers’ direction. Paranoia is your friend.
  29. After the break, announce that you will pick up exactly where you left off. Before anyone has a chance to object that the stage is set for the wrong scene, dive headlong into the finale.
  30. Do not stop when the chorus fail to appear for their big entrance. If you’ve judged it correctly they should still be in the canteen.
  31. Do not stop when the stage manager tries to inform you that they aren’t there.
  32. Do not stop when the chorus eventually appear and start remonstrating with the stage manager that the stage isn’t even set up for their scene.
  33. Upon reaching the end of the chorus scene, announce that you will repeat it.
  34. Get your assistant to do it.
  35. Go and relax for ten minutes with a coffee at the back of the stalls.
  36. Check the balance. If you can hear any singing, the orchestra isn’t loud enough.
  37. Switch places with your assistant, and conduct the scene for a third time, shouting alternately “How’s the balance?” and “It’s not together!” at nobody in particular.
  38. Announce that for the last bit of the rehearsal you would like to do the duet again. If the soprano hasn’t broken down yet, now is your chance. (The tenor will do exactly what he did the first two times).
  39. Revise your previous tempo to adopt a steadily slowing lento, then suddenly rush into her high phrase, giving her no chance to breathe or prepare.
  40. Call lunch abruptly in the middle of the phrase.


  1. Never talk or acknowledge the existence of any singer who has fewer than 50 bars of music. If you have the luck to be Italian, talk only to your fellow Italians and grimace at everyone else. Remember, there is no chance that any of the singers have sung for a better conductor than you and actually know how the music should go.

  2. How about this one? At the end of a full General Dress one of our conductors insisted on keeping the audience (literally) locked in the auditorium with the lights off while she did 20 minutes of notes with the orchestra. She asked them to remain seated ‘for their own safety’. The full cast and chorus were also required to standby.

  3. Excellent !!! you just forgot one : – ask a singer, just after his first aria or big solo moment “were you marking ?” or “but you were not singing full voice just now, were you ? “

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