Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Does size matter?

How many conductors does a service need?

What constitutes an appropriate number of conductors working at a given centre?

The original model presented to the world in the nineteen-eighties, in the last days of the State Institute in Budapest, was a colossal one. A hundred, two hundred, conductors working together, with people on maternity leave, plus trainers, maybe a couple of hundred student-conductors and all sorts of supernumery staff. It used to be said that all this served the largest single population of children with cerebral palsy in a single institution that you could see anywhere in the world. Perhaps this was true.

That size of that institution (here using the number of conductors as index) could certainly not be emulated anywhere in the developed world, for a variety of reasons, though in the late eighties and early nineties there were several ambitious plans drawn up, somewhat smaller than the Hungarian model but still aspiring to what in the West would be regarded as a big-institution provision. Conductor workforces were projected for up to around fifty, with deemed otherwise, plans were cut back, ambitions were curtailed and only Tsad Kadima, in Israel, has succeeded in building up a conductor workforce around the fifty mark (interestingly, not in a singe institution, but spread out across a variety of services in different settings).

As for the rest of the world there are a very few services sized at around a dozen conductors. These may be regarded as big. I have no data to map exact size, though the distribution tails down from a still relatively few medium-sized services of, say five to seven conductors, to conductors operating entirely on their own (sometimes only for part of their time).

What do conductors want?

Some conductors are not happy at working in isolation from their fellows. Others relish the opportunities and freedom that this provides, and respond and innovate accordingly.

Looking back to my own personal experience as a young professional some thirty to forty years ago (not as a conductor!), I found working alone and building my own team an exhilarating and creative way to work. I also had two ill-starred experiences of working for others, already set in their ways and expecting to have things done in certain ways (both of which I regarded as dumb and retrograde). All most frustrating and stultifying. The ‘hero-innovator’, I found, is never less welcome than amongst own kind.

But I do know that not everyone felt the same!

Sometimes for good, sometimes for ill, the number of conductors at a particular site, in conjunction with their relative experience and a host of other factors, must be counted as something else that works to shape the nature of conductive practice as it spreads around the world.

For some, perhaps solo working, though with the back-up of a wider conductor organisation, could prove a useful compromise.

It seems that the question of the size of size of conductor provisions depends upon the conductors involved and their match with wider professional context in which they operate. Fitting the ‘right conductors’ to the right jobs, in a diverse world where it is no longer possible to define a ‘typical’ conductor job specification, may be more a important question than the simple one of size.

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