A new study asked an old question: Do orchestra conductors actually serve a purpose, or are they pure spectacle?
To answer that question, the University of Maryland analyzed whether the conductor leads the orchestra or the orchestra leads the conductor. In this experiment, researcher Yiannis Aloimonos and his colleagues installed tiny infrared lights at the tip of a conductor’s baton as well as on the bows of violinists. While the orchestra played, infrared cameras captured every movement, which were then analyzed using mathematical techniques pioneered by Nobel-Prize winning economist Clive Granger. The scientists in this study theorized that if the movements of the conductor predicted the movements of the violinists, then the guy holding the baton was clearly in charge.
So what happened? It turns out the purists were right all along — the movements of the violinists were indeed predicated on the movements of the conductor.