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Chapter One

An Introduction to Conducting

Many musicians chose a career in music because their initial involvement in performance provided exciting, fulfilling and rewarding experiences. These experiences introduced us to the sensations of achievement and recognition as well as a new world of emotions and feelings. Through study and practice, our skills and knowledge - and the rewards they return - increase and expand. For a few, this leads to a successful career as a professional performer. For others it may lead to careers in teaching, research, composition or simply a life rich in musical activities and experiences. Many follow musical careers involving conducting, from church choir directors, to band and choir directors, to professional conductors. Conducting and performance have many things in common. Both are directly involved in the creation of a musical event. Both require intense and lengthy study, both require substantive levels of musical expression, and both require continual maintenance and maturation. They differ in that while the performer is able to exert dominant control over the resulting performance, the conductor is only able to guide and direct others to that end the performance is the result of the combined effort of both performer and conductor. While opportunities to conduct ensembles comprised of mature, professional performers are rare, opportunities abound in teaching and with non-professional, community organizations. This course of study was developed to introduce young conductors to basic physical conducting concepts and skills. The patterns and gestures discussed in the course of this text have been designed to create a fundamental conducting skill that will be applicable in most ensemble situations vocal or instrumental. This text does not address the mental aspects of conducting (interpretation, score analysis, or rehearsal preparation/techniques). It does, however, attempt to provide extensive examination of the physical process through expanded patterns and pattern design, basic gestures their variations, and the practical application of patterns and gestures through psychological conducting. Conducting Defined The American College Dictionary provides a number of definitions for the verb conduct, many of which are directly applicable to our needs: - to act as conductor - to direct as a leader - to lead or guide; escort
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- to serve as a channel for (sound) Each of the above definitions offers a description of an aspect of the musical application of the term conduct. To act as a conductor suggests placement - physically placing oneself before a group of musicians (ensemble), as well as the assumption of the duties and responsibilities of such a position. Implied in this definition would be the necessary training, both physical and mental. Physical training involves the development of physical gestures that not only provide clear communication between conductor and performer, but also create an environment that fosters the highest level of musical and technical performance on the part of the performer. Mental training involves the understanding of historical implications and perspectives in music, theoretical and analytical skills and techniques, musical expression, and the technical understanding of the forces that comprise their ensemble. Conductors may also wish to develop an awareness of the psychological implications of being able to work efficiently and successfully with the individuals within the ensemble. To direct as a leader involves the manner in which the conductor discharges the duties and responsibilities of the position. Perhaps the most necessary ingredient in the relationship between performer and conductor is respect. A conductor earns the respect of his performers through musical competency, professionalism, and integrity. Musical competency requires a thorough grasp of theoretical and historical aspects of music. The conductors interpretive skill is based on (1) an ability to understand and comprehend the musical intricacies of a score through diligent analysis, and (2) to perceive and understand the historical and sociological influences on the composer - musical style and performance practices, sociological influences, even the composers personality. The conductors level of professionalism and integrity can be measured by the level of knowledge demonstrated, the manner in which they interact with their performers, the quality of the product they extract from their ensemble, and the level of consistency and accuracy with which they operate. To lead or guide involves the moment to moment processes the conductor would employ in such a position. Physical conducting technique is immediately apparent. A conductors physical gestures provide an ensemble with the necessary directions to start and stop together, to change tempo or dynamics, or to make adjustments to the musical style. On another level, the conductor can develop the ability to make subtle changes in musical expression and interpretation to achieve a degree of spontaneity in performance in spite of the fact that the performers may be quite familiar with the music. Again, performer respect for the conductor is a prime ingredient. At an even higher level, it is possible for a conductor to completely dominate an ensemble, literally superimposing his will on the performer to the point that they are unable to exercise their own creativity. Lastly, to serve as a channel may be the ultimate conducting experience. It suggests that, at least figuratively, a conductor is able to shape, bend, and mold not only sound, but also the experience of the music itself. One would normally expect that only the finest professional ensembles (composed of mature, accomplished performers) would be able to obtain such a level of performance. It is possible, however, for developing performers, under appropriate leadership and guidance, to attain such a level. The necessary ingredients include the highest levels of respect between both conductor and performer, an ability for the performer to execute in a technically competent manner, and
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a knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the music in the fullest possible sense by the conductor. At such a level, the conductor may be less conscious of the ensemble and its product and more conscious of his/her mental image of the work - the mental image developed through intense score study and tempered by a vast background of knowledge and experiences. Conducting As an Art Conducting is a performing art. Like any other performing artist - vocalist, pianist, violinist, percussionist, flautist - the conductor, to be truly effective, must obtain the highest level of mastery of both the physical and mental aspects of his art. The development of a body of physical gestures that allow him to communicate with the performers at any level and in any situation - from student to professional, from rehearsal room to performance - is absolutely crucial. As performers must practice their instruments until the highest level of technical mastery is achieved, so must the conductor attend to the physical mastery of patterns, gestures, and the functional, coordinated motions of both hands simultaneously. By developing a level of technical mastery well beyond any level encountered in performance, performers enhance their ability to concentrate less on the technical aspects of performance and focus more on the musical aspects - musical expression, sentiment and communication. It is no different for the conductor. Complete mastery of the musculature allows the conductor to concentrate his energies on the ensemble and the product of their efforts. Otherwise, the conductor must constantly attend to more mundane matters; such as on which side of the pattern is the second beat placed, or constantly watching the score in order to determine what to do next. The conductor must be competent in the intellectual, non-performance areas music theory, music history, and performance practices. These academic areas provide the conductor with access into the music itself and generally fall under the rubric of interpretation. Substantive music theory skills allow the conductor to understand how a composition is constructed, from the overall architectural design to the structure of the phrases, from tonality to chord progression, from broad concepts such as consonance/dissonance and tension/release to specific compositional techniques such as stretto and sequence. Music history is not only the study of broad developments in music and how they relate to historical developments in general, it is also a study of musical styles, composers and their specific styles, and the transition from one style period to another. The study of performance practices provides an understanding of the customs and procedures that were employed by performers in the actual rendering of the music within a given style period. When employed in the process of studying scores, these academic competencies provide the conductor the ability to interpret music. The ability to interpret is not a mystical gift with which one is born. It is the result of intense examination and study of the above three areas as well as their maturation through a wide range of experiences, both in music and in life. Appropriate interpretive decisions are the result of successful academic study/research and its practical application. Application occurs by first

acquiring a broad base of musical models through exhaustive listening and then learning to reference them during score study and on-podium conducting. The successful conductor demonstrates equally effective levels of competency in both the physical and intellectual areas. The acquisition of an intellectual understanding of a musical work is the result of intense score study - accomplished in advance of the first rehearsal. The intellectual skills employed in the process are initially acquired through enrollment in undergraduate and graduate music programs, less often through individual, independent means. Unfortunately, such preparation is incomplete and literally years of additional study and application are required before the skills become functional and efficient. The acquisition of physical skills begins with this course. The physical skills to be covered include patterns, basic gestures, left hand techniques, and gesture design, as well as the non-physical skills of score mechanics and instrument transposition. Again, the similarities between conducting and performing are underscored. The acquisition of physical skills requires constant attention, making daily practice a necessity. Types of Conductors Are there different types of conductors? The answer is really both YES and NO. YES in that conductors generally specialize in a specific type of ensemble - a choral conductor, a band director, and an orchestral conductor, for example. NO in that a good, basic conducting technique should allow a conductor to be able to work at a reasonable level in any ensemble situation. It is the conductors knowledge that makes the difference. This is precisely the case with the educator/conductor who must actually teach the performers how to play before they can be conducted as an ensemble. In a different sense, conductors can be divided into two groups - the professional conductor and the educator/conductor. The professional conductor works with performers who have attained a very high level of proficiency on their instruments. They rehearse relatively little - perhaps four to eight hours - for each performance. Performers prepare their parts prior to the first rehearsal, and rehearsal time is spent achieving the interpretive concepts presented by the conductor. The professional conductor must have total and complete knowledge of the score prior to the first rehearsal. The professional conductor, interestingly enough, does not have to possess the highest level of physical technique nor an in-depth technical knowledge of the individual instruments in the ensemble. The ability and maturity of the performers offset the conductors lack of knowledge in these areas. The educator/conductor, on the other hand, works with individuals whose abilities vary from rank beginner to and including professional caliber. Their ensembles rehearse on a regular basis, most often daily, and generally may have from 4 to 8 weeks preparation for a performance. The conductors knowledge and familiarity with the score, depending on the level of the ensemble, may be somewhat cursory, particularly if the ensemble is young and inexperienced. However, the educator/conductor must be completely familiar with the instruments of his ensemble, to the point where he can perform to modest levels on each. His pedagogical knowledge of these instruments

serves as a basis for, perhaps, 80% to 90% of his daily activities - developing students must be taught before they can execute and attain on their own. The educator/conductor, in focusing on teaching students to perform, often overlook teaching them to follow the conductor. First, they must recognize patterns, and the placement of the beats within. Then, such basic elements as dynamics, cues, and holds and releases must be understood. As player proficiency increases, so should the level of communication between conductor and student - musical styles (staccato and legato), accentuation and emphasis, adjustments in tempo. The advanced levels include the conductors ability to communicate all levels of musical expression to performers so that they may execute such instructions without explanation. The line of communication is not just from conductor to performer. Conductors who carefully observe their performers can acquire considerable understanding of their ensemble as well as insight into its personality. For example, performers look to the podium for a number of reasons: a. Reassurance. Performers, particularly inexperienced ones, often look to the conductor simply to confirm that what they are doing is correct - are they in the right place with the correct notes and the proper style? b. Instructions. When performers sense that something is wrong, they will look to the podium for assistance - instructions to locate the correct measure or pulse, should they be playing or not, is that the way it should sound, or is it time to come in? c. Confirmation: When performers are rendering their parts and events are proceeding properly, many performers continue to look to the podium for confirmation that such is the case. In addition, performers execute more effectively and confidently when they feel that they are in accord with the events occurring around them. When they are not playing, they may also continue to look to the podium to watch for additional instructions. Consequently, conductors should observe their performers for the same reasons: a. Reassurance. The conductor needs to watch the performer for indications of potential problems: adequate preparation for an entrance or a facial expression that suggests hesitancy or outright fear can be addressed with ample time prior to execution. b. Instructions. Performers require some degree of time in order to respond to a conductors instructions. Add to that the fact the conductor must have the attention of the performer before any communication can take place (and vice versa!) and it becomes necessary to establish communication well in
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advance of the moment of execution. c. Confirmation: Observation of the ensemble can provide the conductor with information regarding the general level of focus and intensity of the performers as well as individual problems and circumstances. Communication, and the eye contact that establishes it, is a two-way commitment. Conductors often exhort their ensembles to watch, probably because visual instructions were given to the ensemble and few, if any, performers look to the podium. Performers, particularly the inexperienced, tend to look to the podium as long as the conductor looks back - if not to the specific individual, at least to the ensemble. When performers look to the conductor and find him staring intently at the score or they see only nondescript timebeating gestures with no other forms of musical expression, they will tend to focus their attention more and more on the music itself. Such a situation is very common when the technical requirements of the music become very demanding. To insure the highest level of visual communication with their performers, conductors must maintain a constant level of eye contact with them. It may seem that the discussion has wandered somewhat from conductor types. The point is that the type and personality of the performer has a considerable effect on the conductor. Mature, independent performers require considerably less attention and assistance than do developing performers. In that case, the educator/conductor is best served by developing a clear, precise technique with a wide variety of easily recognizable and understandable gestures. The professional conductor, on the other hand, will be welladvised to develop extremely competent score preparation and analytical skills to support the interpretive requirements of that position. That is not to say that both skills are not required of either conductor. The professional conductor can greatly enhance his overall effectiveness on the podium with a highly developed physical technique. Furthermore, with proper developed score study abilities and techniques, the educator/conductor is able to address considerably more than just mechanics - the ability to achieve substantial levels of musical expression as well. Conductor Activities In what specific activities or tasks is a conductor involved while on the podium? When actually conducting during a rehearsal or a performance, a conductor is involved five different activities. The first involves the physical technique. Employing the proper pattern, cueing an entrance, signaling a dynamic level change or executing a caesura are examples of physical gestures. If a conductor is uncomfortable with conducting a fivebeat pattern, his thought process continually checks to insure that the beat points are always correct and no mistakes are made. When patterns are sufficiently practiced, however, one can become capable of their execution without consciously controlling the muscles in the arms and hands. Similarly, gestures in general can become a physical reaction by the conductor either to something produced by the ensemble or to something
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the conductor perceived in this thoughts - such as a signal (left hand, palm forward) to a player that they are playing too loudly. The conductor should not have to first determine that the player is too loudly, then review a list of possible reactions, select the proper gesture, and then implement its execution. A completely mature physical technique is established when the conductor does not have to consciously control his physical gestures. Second, the conductor must actually listen to the ensemble. For our purpose, the initial problem is to recognize that there is a difference between the verbs hear and listen. When one hears, one simply directs their attention to some sound or sounds. However, when one listens to those sound(s), they are actually attempting to make determinations about what is sounding - tone quality, volume, pitch level, timbre, and tessitura. Younger, less experienced conductors may hear their ensembles, but do not always recognize and identify all that is being sounded. For the successful conductor, the ability to listen and perceive each note of a sonority, its quality, pitch level, and balance level is mandatory. Such ability is not just the result of undergraduate ear-training courses, but considerable experience at conscious, intense listening habits. The second task, then, involves the conductors awareness of what is being produced by the ensemble. Third, the conductor must bring to mind the music being performed in its intended state. This mental image of the music is the result of intense score study, the accuracy and thoroughness of which will be reflected in the quality of the image itself. Therefore, the conductor must not only be aware of what is being produced by the ensemble, he must also be recalling his mental image of the music. That which the conductor is hearing in his mind is the work as determined by his study - the theoretical analysis, the stylistic implications, historical perspectives, and interpretive applications - a model of the work which will ultimately serve as the basis for the ensembles final presentation. That which he is hearing with his ears is the efforts of the performers. Fourth, the conductor must compare the mental image of the music developed through study with that actually being created by the ensemble. This process involves all areas of performance - technical execution, musical style, and musical expression. The conductor notes areas that do not compare favorably and devises ways to make adjustments. For professional conductors working with the highest caliber performers, the adjustments are made primarily to the product of the ensemble. For the educator/conductor working with developing performers, adjustments may have to made to both the conductors prepared model and the product of the ensemble. The last task is the actual process of making the adjustments. During rehearsal, the conductor may make the necessary adjustments through a variety of means. He may stop the ensemble and make verbal suggestions, including the actual rehearsal of selected items. He may also make verbal comments while the ensemble is continuing to execute. Or he may employ physical gestures to communicate those suggestions without verbal explanation. Obviously, during performance, communication through physical gestures and facial expressions is the only viable alternative. When reviewing these tasks, it becomes evident that there is a considerable amount of energy focused on the mental aspect of conducting: listening, analyzing, comparing and communicating. Any conscious thought directed towards the determination, control and execution of physical gestures may be wasted energy - or, the
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very least, ineffectively spent energy. This statement gains even greater weight when one considers the fact that physical motions can be developed to such a point that conscious thought is not required for their execution. When learning to play a musical instrument, like the piano, the initial stages of playing requires conscious thought to use the correct finger to depress the correct key at the proper time. When considerable technical dexterity is acquired, the performer no longer has to consciously control the mechanical action of the fingers and hands - too much can happen too quickly. In such a case, the performer must train the fingers to react directly to what the mind perceives, without the need to have the perception translated into specific muscle movements. Such is the case for the conductor. Physical motions should not be controlled by the mind. To do so distracts the mind from the other, more important processes with which it must be involved. The conductors physical gestures are selected, executed and controlled by what is perceived through listening, recollection, and reaction. Some gestures, like time beating, are established directly by the music itself. Most other gestures can be viewed as reactive - they are the result of the conductors reaction to something that is perceived. As noted earlier, when the conductor realizes that the ensemble is performing at a dynamic level stronger than that notated in the music, he does not think OK, they are too loud, so I will raise my left hand with the palm facing out and the fingers up. If they do not reduce the volume then I must raise it higher, moving it back and forth, finally lowering it. And as a last resort, I could also employ a facial expression that suggests saying the sound shhh... While those may be the physical actions taken by the conductor, the thought process cited is distracting and an inefficient waste of mental energy. Such actions need to occur simply by the thought ...they are too loud. The thought process that follows should not be concerned with the physical execution of the gestures themselves, but rather with the ensembles reaction to the gesture, the quality of that reaction, as well as any other perception of their performance.

Summary The conductors physical technique is the primary focus of this course: the creation, definition, development and acquisition of a body of physical gestures that can be employed and executed without conscious thought, and that can communicate easily, quickly and accurately with performers of varied ability. Such ability, however, cannot be acquired in the matter of a few weeks or even months. Like any other performer, the conductor must practice and continue to develop the physical skills on an on-going basis. This text will first examine time-beating gestures - beat patterns. Next, the focus will shift to gestures themselves - stick styles, fermatas, and releases, use of the left hand,
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and cues. Finally, we will begin the process of acquiring these gestures as usable skills through the technique of psychological conducting. Remember - like any other physical capability, the acquisition of conducting gestures requires practice, and in considerable doses!