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African American Conductors

             Conducting, as we know it today is less than two centuries old. On the other hand time beating; a way of holding players and/or singers together, has been around for several centuries. In the absence of written notation, the leader's hands indicated the direction of the group. As polyphony entered the musical picture, it became essential that the beats be on target. Interpretation at the time was of no importance. It has been indicated through engravings that in addition to hands, leaders of instrumental and vocal forces utilized a foot, a stick, a pendulum, a handkerchief, or maybe even a piece of paper. In the seventeenth century the element of interpretation entered the music scene, enhancing the role of the leader greatly. This freedom of interpretation increased the conductor's responsibility, although no universal practices existed. Gradually the method of time beating approached uniformity; as meters became established, so did the conductors movements. .
             In the eighteenth century two conductors were often used for operas. One conductor would direct the singers and the other conductor would direct the orchestra. On occasion there were three directors. The principle or lead violinist would often be the lead director, followed by the keyboard player and a conductor. Orchestras without conductors also existed during this period, a tradition still continued today in chamber orchestras. Gradually the lead violinist director became more important than any other type of director transforming himself into lead conductor. The violinist would lead the orchestra by using the violin bow to conduct in the same manner that the baton would be used later. By the early period of the nineteenth century, about the time the size of the orchestra had expanded tremendously, a conductor had become a fixture. This paper will inform the reader on a brief history of conductors in general, the importance of a conductor, the history of black conductors, important and revolutionary black conductors, the future and popularity of black conductors, and how black conductors influenced the art of conducting.

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