Conduct Us

Created and Directed by: Charlie Todd
Producers: Alan Aisenberg, Andrew Soltys
Editor: Denis Cardineau
Director of Photography: Ilya Smelansky
Camera: Myo Campbell, Denis Cardineau, Ilya Smelansky, Chloe Smolkin, Spencer Thielmann
Production Sound: Harris Karlin
Photography: Ari Scott – flickr set (photo credit for all photos on this page.)
Production Assistants: Juan Cocuy, Kelley Dunlap, Peter Kelly, Michael Tannenbaum
Producers for Carnegie Hall: Nate Bachhuber, Jonathan Bradley, Adrienne Stortz
Musicians: Ensemble ACJW, see video for full credits
Special Thanks: Ethan Lercher & Rossini Yen, 34th St. Partnership

For our latest mission, we put a Carnegie Hall orchestra in the middle of New York City and placed an empty podium in front of the musicians with a sign that read, “Conduct Us.” Random New Yorkers who accepted the challenge were given the opportunity to conduct this world-class orchestra. The orchestra responded to the conductors, altering their tempo and performance accordingly. This project was a collaboration with Carnegie Hall and Ensemble ACJW.

In our Mission Report video, you can check out some behind-the-scenes footage of our rehearsals, and some additional footage of different conductors:

Enjoy the videos first and then go behind the scenes with our mission report and photos below.

Rehearsal at Julliard with an untalented conductor
Conducting an orchestra is something very few people every get the opportunity to do, especially if you have no qualifications whatsoever. I pitched the idea of giving everyday New Yorkers the chance to be a conductor to Carnegie Hall, and they got on board and helped me make it happen. In the tradition of our Say Something Nice project, I wanted to the real stars of the project to be the random people who encountered our sign and decided to say yes to the opportunity.

The musicians enter the square
The musicians for this project were from the incredibly talented Ensemble ACJW. We worked with them on our Instant Date project as well, and a couple of musicians from that project came back for this one. I was blown away at how great they sounded at the rehearsal, and then even more impressed with their ability to improvise and follow a random conductor who didn’t know what he was doing.

After the orchestra took their seats in Greeley Square, Agents Andrew Soltys, Peter Kelly, and I brought out the podium, revealed the sign, and walked away.

My favorite part of the mission was waiting to see who would go first. It’s not so hard to step up there after you’ve seen someone else do it, but it took courage to be the first.

Amazingly, the first person to step up was the girl pictured above. Her father was in the orchestra, and her mother encouraged her to do it. She placed a coloring book on the music stand and then started conducting. (The first person you see conducting in the video was first the second time we set up, a little later in the day.)

We had an awesome variety of conductors throughout the day. People of all types participated.

Some were especially energetic.

Some had very unconventional styles.

A crowd gathered very quickly, with many staying to watch for nearly an hour. It was fun to watch new people join the crowd and see them slowly figure out what was happening, and that they could be next if they liked. There was never a formal line to participate, but people politely waited their turn behind others who had been there longer.

The crowd applauds a conductor.

Most people conducted on the slow side. It takes some experience to know how to properly conduct at a faster tempo. Every now and then someone would go super fast and it would be lots of fun.

One of the best moments of the day came when a security officer for the 34th Street Partnership gave it a shot. The crowd rallied behind him big time. After about a minute or so he put the baton down and told the orchestra, “That’s it y’all! I’ve got a job to do!”

I think the guy in the photo above was my favorite conductor. He was incredibly expressive and conducted very slow at first and then sped up as he went along.

The orchestra performed for about an hour before taking a break. We removed the podium and the crowd dispersed. Then we staged it a second time for about another hour. We probably had about 30 conductors throughout the afternoon. I know no one who was there will ever hear The Marriage of Figaro again without remembering the day. Thanks to Carnegie Hall and Ensemble ACJW for sharing your talents with us!

Mission Accomplished.


Our Instant Date video with Ensemble ACJW:

Say Something Nice: