'It's important to master German subtleties'
In the latest instalment of My German Career, The Local spoke with US-born conductor Scott Lawton about Germany's musical world.
Where do you live and what do you do?
I live in Dortmund and work as an orchestra conductor. My "steady job" is leading the North Rhine-Westphalia police orchestra, a professional concert band maintained by the state police. Parallel to this, I am active as a guest conductor with symphony orchestras, most often with the German Film Orchestra in Potsdam.
How did you land your job and do you have tips for anyone seeking similar work?
I came over from the US in the late 1980s and my first job in Germany was as rehearsal pianist and conductor for the ballet company at the Bielefeld city theatre. Since then I have worked in opera houses, have conducted major commercial musicals (like Les Mis, Phantom and Chicago) and have collaborated with many popular artists on crossover projects and film music. In the beginning of April led live performances of Disney's "Fantasia" in the Cologne Philharmonic Hall. My tip for anyone wishing to be a conductor: know the kind of music you most love "inside out" and play at least one musical instrument really well.
Is it important for you to be able to speak German in your position?
Extremely important! The conductor's job is all about communication - most visibly with the use of gestures and often with the help of a baton, but just as much with language. There is often a lot to clarify in a short time, so it's important to be precise and organized, as well as creative. The conductor needs first of all to have a clear concept of how the musical piece at hand needs to sound when everyone is playing.
They then have the responsibility to convey this vision to a group of musicians in such a way so that they all work best together to help make this vision happen. Since differences of opinion occasionally crop up, it's important as well to master the subtleties of language so that no one is offended when they are corrected! And finally, I enjoy speaking to the audience (in German) in the course of a concert and sharing with them background information about the different musical works which they are hearing. So: a good command of language is a big help!
What are the key differences practising your profession here and your home country?
There's actually no difference between being a conductor here and in the States…except that there is more work in Germany, mostly because there is much more public support for the arts in general, and for orchestras in particular.
What are the best and worst parts about working in Germany?
The best part - along with the chance to work with many wonderful orchestras - is the absolutely unproblematic access to good health care. The worst part is that too many people here smoke in public!
Do you plan on staying?
Yes – I have a family here and enjoy living in Europe.