Conductor's Technique

Lead Yourself to Lead the Choir

Condursi per Condurre

It is known that the ‘first times’ are endowed with a mix of worry, adrenaline, desire to do well. Thus, even this new column for the first issue of a nascent magazine has not shirked from producing the effects mentioned above: a space to talk about the directorial technique will have to deal – in my opinion – with addressing its various aspects, like a book constantly ‘under construction’. Here, then, is that the recipe I have thought of is that of brainstorming, a sort of commented editorial plan that Dirigo’s guests will refer to when they dedicate their experience and expertise to deepen the following topics (and others that, of course, will come to mind). Let’s start with the first 10 points, certainly not in order of importance:

Classic Technique and Focal Point Technique

One of the main topics of debate in the last decade among management professors is the confrontation, sometimes heated, between supporters of the classical technique and those who find the focal point better. Both have a ‘work surface’ on which the hand that marks the time moves, but essentially the former distribute the pulsations in symmetrical points with respect to the center (with the right hand: the first in the center, the penultimate outside on the left, the ‘last upwards, any further movements equally distributed bipartisan between right and left), the others’ beat’ the pulsations all in the center and the respective ‘bounces’ oscillate between right and left depending on which movement is showing. Also, in this case the last two are the outside left and the one facing up, to adequately prepare the next measurement. Each of the two approaches has its pros and cons, the important thing is the functional clarity of the phrasing and the interpreters agree on this.

Active gesture and passive gesture

Whatever the technique used to show the rhythmic scan, the ‘not to do’ thing is undoubtedly more important than the action itself. First of all, do not disturb or obstruct the flow of the Music and the messages it would like to convey through the performers. In this sense, the choice of the passive gesture is particularly effective, the one that limits the ‘presence’ of the conductor by ‘letting the singers and instrumentalists do it’ Of course it requires preparation, responsibility, understanding, ability … ultimately, enormous trust and esteem among all the players in the field, of which the teacher is a ‘coordinator’ rather than a ‘imposer’. Does this limit the role of the director? It is undoubtedly sufficient to carefully observe the interpretation of the Allegro with the concluding spirit of Symphony no. 88 by F. J. Haydn by the Cleveland Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein to realize how the leadership remains undisputed, despite (or rather ‘thanks to’) conducting only with the eyes and facial expressions. To find it, google ‘Bernstein direct with your eyes’ and that’s it!

Vocality

The choir director works with voices, but he is not necessarily a singer. The conductor also guides the instrumentalists, but he would not know how to play – in most cases – every instrument of those he leads. Of course, but he has studied ‘orchestration’ in depth, he knows the limits and virtues of each of them. Here, the choir director cannot exempt himself from having specific vocal knowledge, not only to be able to put himself ‘on the other side’ as much as possible (which is undoubtedly enormously formative), to be able to exemplify in a useful way, but also to know what to ask, how to ask, educate, how to do it, get the most out of the human material with which it interacts, not inhibit (indeed, disinhibit), attract the maximum credibility of the singers with whom he will face the ‘journey’ from rehearsal to execution.

Posture

Each instrumentalist studies how to deal with his own instrument; often the teachers do not agree on ‘how’ to do it, but all believe that we cannot avoid asking ourselves the problem and find ways to solve it. If it is true, as it is, that the choir director is an instrumentalist (and the leading choir is his instrument), the syllogism cannot fail to lead to the need to have a strong and well-founded body awareness by investing heavily in the posture used during the activities. This not only to prevent physical damage (a bit like the way the employee sits in front of the terminal for several hours / day), but also and above all to get the best ‘sound’ from the ensemble he instructs and directs. No to rigidity, yes to balance; no to ‘shots’, yes to fluidity … and so on.

Analysis and Composition

Sore key. Let’s also assume that the good director has trained well in the previous points, but what if he has nothing to ‘say’? It is clear how much every ‘physical’ exercise becomes in vain. How it is possible to stand in front of a group of people, perhaps even music lovers, but professionals in the most varied areas of society, without having in-depth studies of composition, arrangement, musical analysis especially with regard to the repertoire to be addressed … this is all a mystery unfathomable. It is mainly a question of dignity towards oneself, but also of a good dose of respect towards those in front of you. Sometimes (read: often / always) commitment, energy, ‘getting busy’ are not enough, but honesty, the desire to question oneself, to grow as individuals, even before circling the podium. Therefore, it is essential to benefit from the study of composers of the past and present to create the conductors of the future!

Alternative choral conducting techniques

Those who have worked with non-professional choirs, especially those of white / youth voices or those dedicated to inclusion, know that the key thing is to establish a shared language with which to understand and communicate. ‘Shared’, in fact, not necessarily ‘conventional’. In recent years, very useful and productive alternative languages and uses of manual gesture in the direction of the choir have also become more widespread in Italy (thanks to an enormous dissemination work carried out by the most important conducting teachers and the world of choral associations). Think of Kodaly’s chironomy, LIS (sign language), the use of body percussion, up to the enormous spread of choral choreography. What unites them all? Undoubtedly the search to make the gesture one’s own, therefore ‘singing’ through the whole body, breaking down any tension. Important points to think about even when, especially in the authorial and / or historical repertoire, such ‘alternatives’ are not contemplated.

Psychological aspects

Directing requires commitment, passion, dedication, a lot of study, but ultimately it is a gesture of Love. A transport more or less continuously controlled inside and outside the score, by the Music that will be realized through it with the performance. Love which is irrational, by definition, but which must interface with the rationality inherent in studies. Love that requires trust, that requires the courage to abandon. A conscious abandonment that involves the director, the interpreters and whoever listens to them. A listening that must move emotions, otherwise it is not Love, but its greatest antagonist, Boredom. To reach these magnitudes and avoid the worst, one cannot help but work on oneself, seeking and researching every means to be able to break down walls and obstacles. Music must be questioned and it must be able to question us … without filters.

History and Research

Knowing the socio-historical-cultural background not only of the pieces under study (of fundamental importance), but also of the choir that has chosen us as conductors, can give incredible ideas for research, study and improvement. It helps to understand the choices, not always happy, made to date and to draw suggestions on those still to be made. It allows you to find interpretative strands, hooks, guidelines to give coherence to concert programs, to the didactic imprints to make what you do ultimately intriguing. Of course, it is not essential, but it creates interest, stimulates attention, gives that ‘more’ that attracts. Not to be underestimated, not only with regard to the chorality of a popular imprint, but also (and here lies the real challenge) that cult.

The amateur choir

Italy has thousands of choirs, from all backgrounds. They are all communities, small or large, in which culture is developed and one learns (not always, but it is a good omen to affirm it) to live together civilly and to place oneself at the disposal of a higher goal. The amateur ‘loves’ what he does, does not sing for salary, but often knows how to deepen and give enormous satisfaction. Different generations with the most disparate interests and expectations meet in the choral space-time, all ready to give their best to feel good together, even before and even more than to please the public. A huge resource that, if wisely orchestrated and guided, could be an excellence of the Bel Paese. Of course, we need and will need capable guides, but we want to be well-meaning and hopeful.

 

Concerts VS Competitions: knowing how to conduct

Diametrically opposed worlds regarding choir preparation strategies. Concerts are for everyone; competitions increasingly for the very few, high-profile and aimed at an ‘amateur’ chorus that ‘non-professional’ has, by now in many cases, only self-certifications of economic non-perception by the interested parties. Both, however, represent a gigantic choral showcase that allows anyone (even outside the choral world) to listen to everyone, therefore, to draw inspiration, make comparisons, grow. The director cannot remain ‘closed’, but must turn around, get an idea of the available proposals, update himself, grasp stimuli. He must overcome the laziness of conscience to feed his ‘Choral Being’ with the best menus available (as well as knowing the worst, and then avoiding them). Ultimately, he must… lead himself to lead the choir!

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