WATCH YOURSELF ON VIDEO – The best way to make immediate progress in your ensemble conducting is by setting up a video camera in your rehearsal space, recording several rehearsals and then viewing the videos. I recommend using two different camera angles; one from the back and center of the ensemble, and the other from your right or left profile. The first angle (back-center) shows precisely what the ensemble sees. When you view the video, you will immediately find examples where your gestures and words need to be economized and improved. The second camera angle (from the side) will reveal any mechanical issues that may need correcting. These little mechanical issues slip into our conducting over time, so we’re not always conscious of their arrival. The video doesn’t lie, so it will be easy to find ways to improve your gestures and verbal directions right away.
CONDUCTING BETWEEN THE BEATS – As I view and work with other conductors, one of the most common problems I see is lack of resistance in their gestures. The beats are usually in the right place in their pattern, but sometimes there is nothing going on between them. Beat resistance is crucial toward adding musicality to your ensemble’s singing. Spending time improving this aspect of your conducting will have an immediate effect on the sounds your choir makes. Consider this example from the 2018 LMEA All-State Women’s Chorus:
SHOWING THE MUSIC – As you prepare to conduct your choir, be sure you’ve developed a clear sense of the character of each particular piece in their folder. Each musical offering has a specific mood that must be conveyed through your gestures. Some anthems require light and dance-like gestures, others more of a marcato march, and still others a very legato approach. Implementing the appropriate character of each piece is paramount toward your ensemble reflecting the same in their singing. Consider these examples of mood or character:
LESS IS MORE – As you look for ways to improve your conducting, try to identify wasted motion that can be taken away from your gesture. It is easy to overdo things, but often in our passion and expression we add unnecessary motion that may get in the way of the music. As you watch yourself on video, some of these wasted gestures will present themselves to you clearly. The same holds true with your words of instruction in rehearsal. Consider ways to economize your instructions to make them more clear and precise.
A WORD ABOUT JOINTS – I know a number of conductors who suffer from fatigue and physical pain in their shoulder and elbow joints caused by their conducting gestures. This pain is often caused by too much physical gesture specified in one of these two joints. Consider how much motion you’re requiring from your shoulder, elbow and wrist. If you’re suffering from chronic pain in any of these joints, you much transfer energy to one or both of the other two. Take a minute right now to practice this. Conduct a few measures using only motion in each of these three joints individually; first all in the shoulder, next all in the elbow and finally all in the wrist. It’s easy to feel where too much repeated motion applied to one single joint can create chronic pain over time. Train yourself to become aware as you conduct, so you can avoid joint pain and injury.
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