A Word from Tom: Kids Conducting

From the beginnings of Inside the Orchestra, we have always included an opportunity for a student to conduct during the school programs. I believe it was actually my talk radio experience, which started around the same time in 1986, that inspired me to add this element. When one is about to go to a commercial in broadcasting, it is preferable to “tease” into the next segment, so that the listener will be compelled to not switch channels and stay with the program.

When I would show a school student body various conducting patterns, having them go through the gestures with me, I teased ahead with: “in a moment, one of you will have the chance to conduct this orchestra!” This has always elicited “oohs and ahs” from the kids. And consequently, they would watch in earnest, mimicking my conducting patterns.

At the time, I didn’t realize the parallel between the two art forms of radio and Inside the Orchestra. The creativity was organic and it was later on that I became aware of the similarity.

Finding the right piece for a child to conduct was so important. One usually thinks of a march, or something in “two,” simple and easy. But I found that making a “triangle” and beating in “three” more accessible. In my opinion, a triangle pattern can solidify a tempo much faster than any other meter. Here is one of my favorite videos of a child helping me conduct:


I have become “known” for teaching a novice how to conduct – in fact, a few years ago the Boulder Philharmonic brought me in to teach a donor how to conduct a piece he had bid on in a silent auction– that was fun!