Artistic and Effective Conducting
by: Dr. Ryan Kelly and Dr. Jason Paulk
Part one in a series
How much do you think about your conducting? Really think about it? Most of us spend far more time planning lessons, planning rehearsals, and even studying our music than we spend thinking about our gestures. Now, let’s ask a different question. How much time do you think about improving the sound of your choir? Getting them to sing more legato, getting them to sing with greater intensity, and getting them to sing with better diction? The answer to that question is likely a significant amount of time. Most conductors, as they are planning rehearsals and running rehearsals, are actively thinking about how to improve their choir’s tone and musicianship.
This article is the first in a series of articles about conducting gestures and how you can improve your choir’s sound and musicianship faster by improving your conducting skills than by developing impressive things to say to them in rehearsal or searching for the next great rehearsal technique. This series could also be called “Better Conducting, Better Singing” because we believe that a choir’s singing is directly linked to and elicited from the conductor’s gesture. The tools necessary to improve your ensemble’s performance are literally—right at your fingertips!
Of course, a blog post is somewhat of a dry, impersonal way to inspire change in one’s physical gestures, but we hope these articles primarily get you to think more deeply about your conducting, and to think more about how the sounds that you hear from your choir might be sounds of your own making, if you will … sounds that your arms and hands are eliciting from your singers. “What they see is what you get,” a very good conductor training video by Rodney Eichenberger, says it all in the title: if you like what you hear from your choirs, it’s because your singers are responding to your gestures; if you don’t like what you hear from your choirs, it’s because your singers are responding to your gestures. For a change in sound, simply change the stimulus–the gesture.
Our future posts will build on this philosophy—that our conducting determines our choirs’ sound—with the following topics: “score study to determine specific gestures,” “breathing and preparation gestures,” “active and passive gestures,” “articulation,” and “conducting self-makeover.”
Ready to learn more? Here’s part two of our conducting blog series.
About the authors:
Dr. Ryan Kelly is associate director of choral activities at West Chester University of Pennsylvania where he directs Mastersingers, Cantari Donne, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble and teaches courses in conducting and choral music. He previously taught choral music at Kilgore College in Texas. He earned his D.M.A. in choral conducting from Michigan State University; he also has an M.M. from the University of Oklahoma and a B.M. from Houston Baptist University. He is an active lecturer and clinician with numerous appearances at national, regional, and state conferences of the National Association for Music Education and the American Choral Directors Association. His publications include a critical edition of Carl Fasch’s Missa a 16 voci (Carus-Verlag, 2014), multiple articles in Choral Journal, and compositions with Augsburg Fortress Publishers. Also an experienced church musician and organist, he is organist at Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Bryn Mawr, PA. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Jason D. Paulk
Dr. Jason Paulk is director of choral activities at Eastern New Mexico University where he conducts University Singers, Chamber Singers, and Swanee Singers and teaches conducting and choral methods courses. His degrees include a D.M.A. in conducting from the University of Oklahoma, an M.M. in conducting and an M.M. in music education from Westminster Choir College, and a B.M.E. from Stetson University. Prior to ENMU, he taught at Deltona High School in Florida. Choirs under his direction have performed at state music conventions in Florida and New Mexico for the National Association for Music Education and at the national convention for the American Choral Directors Association. He maintains a busy national schedule of conducting and lecturing, and as an author, regularly contributes to Choral Journal, Music Educators Journal, and Teaching Music. He most recently authored a book chapter in The Nurturing of Talent, Skills, and Abilities (Nova Science Publishers, 2013). He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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