SIMPLE STEPS TO MORE MEANINGFUL EXPRESSION
Doubtless this will find dedicated teachers totally immersed in the challenges of another school year. I hope all will agree that we owe it to our art to constantly strive to improve our non-verbal communication. However, finding time to practice the art of conducting in the already hectic, demanding, insanely busy life of a teacher may seem like an insurmountable task. Follows a short list of suggestions for improving one’s conducting and enhancing ensemble focus.
ELIMINATE BAD HABITS
“A true leader leaves in others the conviction To carry on. Can you get far enough away from Yourself to analyze yourself?” – Howard Swann
Make a video recording of your conducting during a rehearsal – This is generally the “I can’t believe I have developed so many bad habits…or why did my evil twin invade my body on this video” stage! Study the video, and create a list of habits you wish to eliminate, then set about to eliminate said habits one at a time.
Common habits include: Excessive rebound, sameness in size/style of gesture, excessive body motion, head in score, left hand mirroring, ad infinitum.
Attack one aspect of desired improvement at a time – Rehearsals provide a great opportunity to improve conducting skills. Let your students know you are working to eliminate a specified habit. Invite students to alert you if they see the designated bad habit. (I once offered $1.00 to the first student who noticed my right hand “pinkie” was extended, a habit I acquired for no good reason. Seventeen dollars later, I was cured. This was the best $17.00 I have ever spent!) Not only did I communicate to my students that I was intent on improving my art, but the focus this generated took rehearsals to a much higher level of intensity. I never let that intensity go!
“Technique is communication. The two words are synonymous in conductors” –Leonard Bernstein
BREATHE IN TEMPO
“Allow the breath to be the connector between your body, Your mind, and your spirit.” –James Jordan
Conductors who avoid the time-worn “one, two, ready, play” style of initiating sounds save rehearsal time, and train students to watch the conductor. Even beginners can be taught to breathe in tempo by having them respond to the preparatory gesture by first “sizzling” four counts of a specified tempo, then once a level of confidence is reached, replicate this with the instrument.
ALWAYS MEMORIZE THE FIRST MEASURE – OR AN ENTRANCE FOLLOWING A REST
“Focus is the quintessential component of superior Performance In every activity, no matter what the level of skill or age of the performer.” – Tim Gallway
This practice will ensure ensemble focus. Make it a practice to quickly scan the ensemble to check that all eyes are on the conductor. Everything the ensemble needs to know about the music should be communicated with the breath and preparatory gesture: tempo, style, volume, intent, energy, focus. This is one of the most important gestures a conductor may employ.
IF YOU WANT STUDENTS TO WATCH, YOU MUST HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!
“Music-making begins in the mind, and not In the stick…it is what you listen to just before It happens.” –Leonard Bernstein
The best conductors constantly strive to develop an ever-increasing vocabulary of gestures in order to convey the musical intent of the composer. Elizabeth Green invited her students to “touch the sound.” Pablo Casals eloquently stated that a great conductor has the ability to convey the music between the notes.
Just as poor posture or hand position is a detriment to proper performance skills, so is the belief the conducting need only exist to “beat time.” Once habits that are detrimental to one’s conducting are eliminated, we are free to explore a virtual universe of self-expression.
“My job is to awaken possibility in other people. If the eyes are shining, you know you are doing a good job.” – Ben Zander
Here’s to shining eyes. Have a great year…whatever it takes!