Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Tonal Tuesday - Conducting 101

Are you the one who uses her index finger to conduct the music on the radio?  Are you constantly watching the director at the choir concert?  Is the bathroom mirror constantly fogging us just when you get to the big finale of Beethoven's 5th?  Then this post is for you.

I didn't know I would end up teaching music even though it was a favourite subject for me.  I actually ended up teaching music by default when the man they hired quit at Christmas and there I was switched from literature and geography to music.  When I came back from the Christmas holiday, not only was I the new music teacher but I was also newly married.  It was an interesting time.

I learned by doing.  It was expected that the students would participate in the music festival.  That meant that someone had to wave their hands at them to keep the singing together.  At that time, waving and keeping time was probably all I actually did.

Since then, I have taken a number of courses and conducted a whole lot more choirs.  Let me share some of what I have learned that I am certain will help you take the next orchestra to the cadence with panache.

1. Learn the beat patterns.  Whatever the time signature, there is a corresponding beat pattern.  I spent much time in front of the mirror trying to get my arm to keep the pattern.  Later you will add dynamics with the left hand but for now, check these out and get in front of the mirror.  Most rock songs are in 4/4 time just so you know.  Waltzes are 3/4 and marches are 2/4.  Now go!

Beat 1 is always the down beat as it has the most "weight" or the strongest accent.

2. Baton or no baton? I personally do not use a baton.  I have tried - valiantly.  I have wacked myself more times than I care to admit.  I have also lost my grip and all but wiped out the sopranos.  I know many conductors like and use a baton especially with a large group.  My style just doesn't allow for baton.  I would love to hear what YOU do.

3. Dynamics in conducting.  There are a few ways that people learn to conduct the dynamics or loudness and softness of the music.  Some use bigger motions when the intention is louder sound.  Some, like me, raise the right hand, palm up, for crescendo and lower it, palm down, for softer.  Whatever your method, you and your choir need to understand the sign language.  It is all about communicating.

4.  Move or stand still?  My dear hubby always says that watching me from the back is very entertaining.  There is no way in this world that I could be still while conducting.  Music is a passion and as such my entire body is involved.  Now there is a point at which too much action from the conductor could be distracting to all.  I believe that I have found my middle ground where I don't distract from the awesome sounds the singers create.  I lean forward when the music is intense and needs great focus.  I open up with broader movements when the a grander sound is required.

I have simplified the process here somewhat.  Conducting is a very personal and yet co-operative effort.  Communication and practice are the keys.  As long as your singers understand what you mean and you are consistent in your movements, you can take them from the printed page to great sounds.  The fun you have while you work to make that happen is the gold of the process.  Let me see those arms up, ready 1 & 2 & 3 &----

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