Choral Conducting and the Construction of Meaning
It is a truism in teaching choral conducting that the director should look like s/he wishes the choir to sound. The conductor's physical demeanour has a direct effect on how the choir sings, at a level that is largely unconscious and involuntary.
It is also a matter of simple observation that different choral traditions exhibit not only different styles of vocal production and delivery, but also different gestural vocabularies which are shared not only between conductors within that tradition, but also with the singers. It is as possible to distinguish a gospel choir from a barbershop chorus or a cathedral choir by visual cues alone as it is simply by listening.
But how can these forms of physical communication be explained?
Do they belong to a pre-cultural realm of primate social bonding, or do they rely on the context and conventions of a particular choral culture? Is body language an inherent part of musical performance styles, or does it come afterwards, in response to music? At a practical level, to what extent can a practitioner from one tradition mandate an approach as 'good practice', and to what extent can another refuse it on the grounds that 'we don't do it that way'?
This book explores these questions at both theoretical and practical levels. It examines textual and ethnographic sources, and draws on theories from critical musicology and non verbal communication studies to analyse them. By comparing a variety of choral traditions, it investigates the extent to which the connections between conductor demeanour and choral sound operate at a general level, and in what ways they are constructed within a specific idiom. Its findings will be of interest both to those engaged in the study of music as a cultural practice, and to practitioners involved in a choral conducting context that increasingly demands fluency in a variety of styles.
You can preview and/or purchase it here.
N.b. The paperback edition of this book doesn't include the DVD of video clips that came with the original publication.
In order that new purchasers don't have to miss out on the full experience, I have uploaded all the clips to a youtube playlist. I have left this unlisted - so you can't just find it by searching - as the original filming was done for the purpose of accompanying the book, not general distribution. But I'll be more than happy to send a link to the playlist to anyone who has bought the book and doesn't have access to the video clips - just drop me an email to ask.