Tara Simoncic has traveled the world as a conductor. She is part of a growing group of women breaking one of the last glass ceilings in the music industry: wielding the conductor’s baton. As part of The Guardian’s “A Day’s Work” series, Tara has agreed to share her passion for music and a glimpse into her fast-paced life. Leave more questions for Tara in the comments, and she will answer them when she has a break later in the day.
1. What is your typical day like?
There is no typical day as a conductor! But I can give examples. When I’m not rehearsing or performing, I spend a lot of time studying and developing my own interpretation of music. If I am conducting a ballet, I study the choreography as well as the music. I correspond with the administrative team of the organization and choose the repertoire of upcoming concerts, participate in fundraising events and do interviews. On the podium, I rehearse for about three hours in a row or play. During rehearsals, I separate things and try to get exactly the sound and interpretation of the orchestra that I have in mind. In a ballet rehearsal with dancers on stage, I have very little time to rehearse the orchestra. In this case, the main emphasis is on adapting the music to the choreography and making sure that you are leading the correct tempos for the dancers. If you don’t, you could cause an accident!
2. There has been a lot of talk lately about who wants a work / life balance. Does your work provide this?
For me, being a musician is a full-time job. You never really leave your work behind, and it’s always on your mind. Your triumphs and failures largely shape who you are and can alter your mood, which can be difficult for people to deal with. There are a lot of ups and downs. There is an endless amount of preparation that can be done; there is always something to work on, to study or to practice. I travel a lot for work, and sometimes I go a month at a time. Personally, these circumstances make it difficult to have a relationship and to follow friendships and family. Ideally, I would like to focus more on my personal life, but I’m not sure if it’s in my nature to do so because leading is my passion in life and probably always will be the priority.
3. What is the craziest / most unexpected thing that has happened to you at work?
Everything is unexpected in the performing arts. In ballet, the conductor has several elements to consider simultaneously. When the music stops between stages and the lights go out on stage, there is a certain number of seconds, a signal on stage from the curtain or a light in the pit that tells the conductor when to start over. the music. Recently, I was in Russia to conduct three ballet productions in one week. No one spoke English and there were no lights in the pit. As a solution, the first violin would bend down and push me with its bow at the crucial moments of knowing when to start. It worked: the musicians saw that I could adapt to the situation, and it gave us a stronger bond in the end.
4. What makes a great day at work?
It’s hard to describe, but there is an electricity and an energy that exists between the conductor and the musicians. If you bring in the right energy, they will know exactly what you want from music through your physical movements, facial expressions, and energy. I can’t describe how cool it is to make a movement with my arm that conveys a message to the musicians, and therefore, to hear back the sound that I wanted to convey through my physical movement. It’s an amazing feeling and it doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a great day at work.
5. What is your annual salary? Do you benefit from advantages?
I am a freelance conductor, so there is no annual salary. Conductors are not part of a musicians’ union and we have no job security. There is often no limit to the number of hours we are asked to work for a particular job. I am given a contract for every job I have and sometimes the fees are negotiable. Conductors’ fees vary widely from job to job. With orchestral jobs, I usually get paid for the time I spend on the podium in rehearsal and in concert. For ballet, I often get paid for time on the podium as well as time spent watching dancers rehearse without an orchestra to learn the choreography. Since I am a freelance writer, I do not receive any benefits for any of my managerial work. Having said that, I feel incredibly lucky that I can make a living just as a conductor right now.
6. What is the biggest mistake you made while working?
When I learned to lead, I made a lot of mistakes. I was in my twenties and had never conducted a full orchestra until I had the opportunity to conduct Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in the Czech Republic in a master class. There’s a famous horn solo in the last movement, and because I was young and didn’t know any better, I was trying to imitate a recording by a famous conductor. The tempo of the recording was quite slow, and being a young conductor, I probably conducted it even slower than the recording. The horn player put down his instrument mid-solo and refused to play. I had no idea why he had stopped until I was told in front of all my peers and the orchestra that my tempo was impossible to play. The horn player only replayed when I agreed to speed up the tempo. Lesson learned.