Get a conducting lesson from Montreal maestro Jean-Sébastien Vallée

Jean-Sébastien Vallée explains the meaning behind the hand gestures he uses to conduct on stage.

Conducting is about creating an 'exciting performance,' Vallée says

Jean-Sébastien Vallée will be conducting at the CBC Christmas Sing-In concert on Dec. 9. (Tam Lan Truong/

What is a conductor doing with his arms?

Montreal conductor Jean-Sébastien Vallée says it's gathering the musical energy of his musicians and then sending it out in same direction.

This he says, "creates a much more exciting performance."

Vallée says it's a common misconception that his exuberant arm gestures are tied to prompting specific sounds from musicians.

"Even conductors sometimes … don't fully understand what we are supposed to do," says Vallée.

The 2018 CBC Sing-In takes place at Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul. (Tam Lan Truong/

He also says that, in the last 15 years, the conductor's role has also evolved to include a lot of off-stage work.

"We have to deal with the political part, with the media part, with making sure people understand what we try to do."

But what is a conductor doing with his arms?

Vallée, who conducts the annual CBC Sing-In, has a few key gestures that he uses on stage to help him communicate with his players. 

Starting and stopping

When Vallée wants his singers to start, he moves his hand down in a chopping motion.

To get his singers to stop singing he does a clockwise gesture with his hand.


To get the choir to sing louder he expands his arms outwards. To have the choir sing quieter he moves his hands in the opposite motion.


Vallée controls the tempo by using what he calls a 'conducting pattern.'  For example, in a piece of music with four beats in a bar, there is a specific gesture for each beat in the song.

Vallée says becoming a conductor is about learning "how to make a group sound its best."

He adds that CBC's annual Sing-In concert is his favourite time of year. 

"It's really unique to be in front of so many singers both in front of me and behind me. It's a really powerful sound that makes your hold body vibrate and get excited to hear all that wonderful music." 

Conducting 101, with Jean-Sébastien Vallée

4 years ago
Duration 1:34
The CBC Montreal Sing-In is almost here...but what is the conductor doing with his arms? Maestro Jean-Sébastien Vallée explains.

The CBC Christmas Sing-In concert can be heard on Christmas Day at 12 p.m. on CBC Radio One (88.5 FM in Montreal) and 4 p.m. on CBC Music (93.5 FM in Montreal, 104.7 FM in the West Island). Julie Nesrallah will host the national broadcasts. 

It will also be heard on Dec. 25 at 2 p.m. on ICI Musique classique, Radio-Canada's classical web radio service.

The complete CBC Christmas Sing-In is also available for online streaming at


Craig Desson


Craig Desson is a producer and journalist at CBC Montreal. He was born in Montreal and has lived in Ottawa, Toronto, Germany and Sierra Leone. Craig has also worked for CBC Radio.


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