The Art of Conducting

The modern orchestral conductor emerged with the rise of large scale symphony orchestras in the 19th century. In orchestral and choral music, a musician – a concertmaster – was able to use his body or bow to maintain rhythm and indicate the kind of sound to be played. The typically bombastic and verbose Richard Wagner was one of the first to write a dedicated monograph on conducting titled, Ueber das Dirigiren or On Conducting (1869). Silhouettes of Gustav Mahler and other famous conductors by the artist Otto Boehler show the prominence and esteem for the role they played in creating music. They were (and remain) figures of virtuosity; conducting is an art in itself. It is a separate skill from that of being a virtuoso soloist. Conductors are stereo-typically egomaniacs, dictatorial and susceptible to extremely capricious behaviour. All is forgiven, however, after the resounding delivery of a symphony from a podium. The persona of the symphonic orchestra conductor has been taken up, appropriated and subject to variation within the diverse cultures of football fandom.

mahler silhouetteThe capo, or, in Indonesia – the dirigen – is the conductor of the crowd-as-orchestra, choir. Capo, an Italian word roughly meaning ‘leader’ shows the link of the ultra movement’s roots in Italian football where ‘ultra’ fandom emerged in the 1960s-70s. The dirigen, who stands upon a steiger (coming from a Dutch word for ‘scaffolding’) is the leader of chants and an emblematic figure of a team’s supporter group. He is often a hyper-masculine figure, who simultaneously teaches, cajoles, harangues, encourages and exhorts the masses under his tutelage and guidance. Young women also perform as dirigens, but my understanding is that they are only active in complementing the primary (male) dirigen. Fan groups such as Jakmania of Jakarta and the Bonek of Surabaya may have a relatively high proportion of female fans, and sometimes, some are guest dirigens, without ever assuming a more permanent and incontestable position upon the steiger.


Stadium architecture and the particular style of the dirigen helps shape the football soundscape. Stadium Kanjuruhan of Malang in East Java, for example, is a 45,000 Olympic style stadium in which an athletics track surrounds the football field. The tribune, the stands, form one continuous curve around the field creating the potential for unified singing. The sound easily dissipates as there is no roof upon the stadium; fans too are far from the action as well as fans on the opposite sides or ends of the field. The soundscape of Kanjuruhan Stadium is characterised by the slow, rhythmic beating of drums, with a simple and highly repetitive melody and lyrics. The conductor plays a varying role: ranging from being active and mouthing the lyrics or indicating the gestures to be made or slowing the rhythm to taking a more relaxed stance once the crowd has become united. The better the chant is known, the less a conductor is required to perform. During the anthem, for example, the conductor often only takes a ceremonial role, perhaps swaying in time, or only mounting the steiger upon the anthem’s completion. To be too active during the anthem would be to draw too much attention to oneself and compromise the unity of the singing. The soundscape is created through various methods of music, sound making. A football stadium in the Indonesian football leagues contrast significantly with the highly organised, rigid and regulated football stadia and atmospheres of Europe: whether it be England, The Netherlands or Germany. The stadium in Java, particularly the two I am more familiar with, the Mandala Krida of Yogyakarta and the Manahan Stadium of Solo are characterised by a quality of emptiness that is to be filled up, rather than an already existing ‘official’ soundscape or visual infrastructure. Sound is not contested so much between supporters an already existing soundscape, but they instead, bring the overwhelming majority of sound to the game.

Media Gate B7.3


A film by Andi Bachtiar Yusuf, The Conductors (2008) studies three kinds of conductors: a symphonic conductor (Addie MS), a choral conductor (A.G. Sudibyo) and, the conductor of Aremania, Yuli Sumpil (pictured at the top of this post). Addie MS speaks his disappointment with the reluctance of Indonesia’s presidents to build a symphony concert hall. He compares Indonesia negatively with Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam, regardless of their different histories. Yuli Sumpil, on the other hand, states, ‘where else can you find 45,000 people singing together, if not at a stadium?’ For Sumpil, the stadium is a home for all sorts of people, who find a shared space in the stadium, regardless of their differences. The orchestral conductor is stands above most of the musicians he conducts; the football-fan conductor, however, is lower than those who follow his directions. The orchestral conductor is professional and engages directly with his musicians, who are also highly trained and skilled. The football-fan conductor is awarded his position, not through some kind of appointment by a committee, but by the choice of the masses of fans; as soon as he loses their faith, he is gone. Yuli Sumpil was the dirigen of Aremania for some 10 years, prior to his death in 2012 and through his longevity in the position the Arema fans too became learned in his style of conducting leading to the creation of more complex chants. Andre Jaran (pictured above), only  have been in the role of dirigen for a couple of years, is still molding his musicians into a compact choir; complaining frequently of the high turnover of fans and the different positions they adopt from game to game.


A stadium is not a concert hall;  and tens-of-thousands of young men is no symphonic orchestra. The order which fans submit themselves to, under the command of an esteemed and iconic supporter contrasts greatly with the mayhem that often unfolds at the end of games when fights and riots often take place. The chants, the whistling, the hissing, the booing and the singing of the anthem ranges from the menacing to the euphoric to the threatening and the insulting. A conductor is the primary symbol of the club’s fan base, and while a hero to many, he is subject to the rage and hatred of opposing teams. He is the figure who conducts and creates a soundscape of passion and who maintains and inculcates loyalty and fanaticism to his club.

Gustav Mahler conducting

Gustav Mahler, legendary composer and capo, in action

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