Behind the Music with Emily Cox

We speak to Emily COX, one of the participants of the National Concert Hall’s female Conductor Programme 


Emily Cox

You have to act in the style of the music, come up with body language and gestures which match this and try to engage as many of your senses to prepare for the performance - even thinking about the music as a character, smell, texture or flavour! 

The National Concert Hall launched theFemale Conductor Programme to address one of the most enduring and unyielding glass ceilings for women in the world of classical music- picking up the baton and becoming an orchestral conductor.

We speak to one of this year's participants, Emily Cox, who is a graduate of Bachelor in Music Education from Trinity College Dublin and Royal Irish Academy of Music with a First-Class Honours and Gold Medal Award, Diploma in Piano Teaching. We ask her about her experience of the programme so far.


Why did you want to be a conductor? As a teenager playing in concert bands and ensembles, I admired conductors and have, on some level, always wanted to emulate them. As the conductors changed, I realised that conductors can have completely different styles and can change the sound of an ensemble. I was fascinated by this, and as an educator I love that I can bring my love of music to other people and help them to create a performance.   

What do you think defines a good conductor? Clarity of gesture, understanding of the score, musicality and technique are, of course, vital. But I think the most important things are that they work well with people, and someone who has something to say in the music.   

What are the challenges faced by female conductors? A perception that we aren’t good enough, don’t know enough and don’t have the physical size to be a convincing conductor. That comes from society (although it isn’t always obvious to see), but more so from ourselves. For many young musicians they will work mostly with male conductors and, like me, never question that. There are now strong female conductors from Ireland and abroad showing that we can be just as able and powerful as male conductors.   

Why did you apply for the Female Conductor Programme? I had always been interested in conducting, and from working with choirs I knew I loved being a choral director. I had studied some orchestral conducting in college but really wanted to explore it further. This course gives a real opportunity to work with exceptional tutors, and to become part of a community of female conductors in Ireland who can promote our status in music in the future. I was excited to apply! 

A photo of Emily Cox
A photo of conductor Karen Ní Bhrion

What is the most important thing you have learnt so far? 
As a conductor, you have to really immerse yourself in the music you are performing if you want the ensemble to sound as you want them to. You have to act in the style of the music, come up with body language and gestures which match this and try to engage as many of your senses to prepare for the performance - even thinking about the music as a character, smell, texture or flavour!  

What would you say to someone considering applying for the next Female Conductor Programme? If you want to be the person at the front of the ensemble who drives a performance and makes it happen - apply. If you want to surround yourself with some of the most inspiring women in music in Ireland - apply. Even if you’re afraid that you don’t know everything a conductor should or don’t have all of the technique - apply. This kind of opportunity really could change your career.  

Who is the conductor you most admire and why? I really admire Karen Ní Bhrion. As a young, Irish, female conductor who is making a name for herself internationally she is a real example of what is possible for us. 

What is your greatest ambition as a conductor? My greatest ambition as a conductor is to bring an ensemble to their full potential and use what I’ve learned to give opportunities to young musicians. I want to be a person who makes things happen and pushing myself to become the best conductor I can be will really help me to do that. 

What other skills, other than musical appreciate and interpretation, do you think you need to be a good conductor? 
Drive, determination, communication, acting, patience, not being afraid to make mistakes and a lot of hard work!  

In your opinion, can anyone be a conductor? Yes! It takes hard work, lots of musical experience and determination to make things happen for yourself, but with that you can do anything, including learning to conduct.

The National Concert Hall's Female Conductor Programme is kindly sponsored by Grant Thornton. 

Participants in the National Concert Hall's Female Conductor Programme