Could In Ear Monitors (headphones) eliminate the need for Symphony Orchestra Conductors?

Okay, this is a weird topic, perhaps. But I have been watching PBS’s “Great Performances” series called “Now Hear This…” which is intriguing to me, as part of my world is being a working musician.

One of the very clear statements by the program host, “celebrated Violinist and Chief Conductor of the Mexico City Philharmonic, Scott Yoo”, is that the real reason for a “Conductor” is that the folks on one side of the Symphony Orchestra “…can’t hear the other side.” Extrapolation: If there was an effective multiple, in-ear monitor mix for EACH of the instrumentalists, you wouldn’t need a conductor. Unless for show.

Motion picture soundtracks have had this situation for years… with many recordings for film tightly timed (the performing instrumentalists) with headphones. In a live performance, in-ear monitoring has evolved to an extremely high level. Shure, Inc., out of Illinois, is a major player in this field as are others in the “transducer” manufacturing game… those who make microphones often make headphones. There are about 100, plus or minus, musicians in a Symphony Orchestra.

This means you’d have to invest a substantial amount initially for a 100+ feed monitor mixer with in ear headsets. However, this “one time” investment would last years. Not to devalue the position of a Conductor, but from a Post COVID economic standpoint, it seems that not requiring a conductor for timing might be a huge step forward. Plus, even WITH a conductor, certainly creating a better way for everyone to hear each other would be a benefit. The entire concept MUST have already been employed at better funded Symphony Orchestras… …just sayin’.

About pbwilder

Over halfway to 100 years old. Finally have enough perspective on life to start pontificating, mostly for my own amusement. If folks find ideas of interest, send money. No, seriously, join in. Life without ideas is like milk without Toll House cookies. - PBW
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