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Choir Conducting Quality Analysis Essay

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Updated: Jul 18th, 2022

The main work of the choir conductor takes place during rehearsals. After the conductor selects music and singers, he begins musical interaction with the choir. The conductor explains to the singers how he would like the piece to sound. Gestures, facial expressions assist the conductor in interaction with the singers. The easier it is for the chorus to understand the conductor’s body language, the more deeply they will perceive his idea about the final sound of a piece of music.

There are some rules in conducting, the observance of which helps the choir and the conductor himself to achieve success. During the rehearsal, the conductor must be able to keep the choir’s attention. Otherwise, the choir will stop perceiving the conductor’s words, which may affect the quality of the music. A good conductor is also distinguished by building positive relationships with his choir. When selecting a future piece of music, it is necessary to focus on the level of musical skills of the choristers. The quality of conducting can therefore be evaluated depending on how the conductor follows these rules.

The Moray Catholic Choir rehearsal video excerpt is an excellent example of the interaction between singers and the conductor (Jung, 2014). It is important to note that the choristers in the above video were not familiar with the material before the rehearsal. Also, the skill level of the participants in the rehearsal session varies. To evaluate how high the level of Graham Scott Barton’s conducting is, one should be guided by these circumstances.

The conductor uses several methods of explaining musical material at once. Barton visually demonstrates to choristers how to achieve the proper sound (Jung, 2014, 0:28). With a hand gesture, he shows the sound’s direction and how the sound changes its volume.

For the conductor’s convenience, a piano has been installed in the hall where the rehearsal is taking place. The piano serves as an auxiliary instrument when learning a choral piece. It helps the conductor to set the required rhythm. Graham Scott Barton tentatively plays the melody so that the choristers know ​​the tempo (Jung, 2014, 1:21). Since the choristers are not prepared appropriately for singing without the necessary warm-up, it is imperative to do the exercises beforehand. In this video excerpt, the conductor constantly alternates types of activity – one exercise replaces another. This helps students stay focused throughout the class.

A chorale piece being learned requires enthusiasm from the singers. That is why the conductor frequently makes jokes, maintaining the optimistic mood of the choir (Jung, 2014, 1:28). Singers have to learn a passage on the fly, so the conductor needs to be patient with the singers’ mistakes, especially since some have a mediocre level of training. Barton asks them questions to ensure that the choristers understand how the passage should sound and the meaning of the exercises being performed. Guided by the fact that the singers were not prepared for the lesson in advance, he chose a relatively simple piece. The choristers had to learn the traditional African song “T’ink of me.” Considering all the essential circumstances while choosing a chorale piece makes an ordinary conductor a top-class conductor.

The clarity of the conductor’s instructions and the performers’ sound accuracy are indicators of the choir’s performance success. With hand gestures, Barton adjusts the volume of the sound and signals the beginning of the exercise and its end. The conductor’s hand movements are standard, and therefore the instructions are clear. Inappropriate gestures from a conductor can lead to misunderstandings between him and the chorus, which can affect the success of the performance. Insufficiently experienced conductors usually find it difficult to control the movements of both hands. Therefore, the ease with which Barton copes with this task demonstrates his high skill.

The quality of performance on stage is also influenced by the correctness of the sound of an individual singer. Exercises in which the choristers sing a single note or even a tune one at a time can significantly develop the performers’ hearing. Barton tests the accuracy of specific singers by asking them to sing solo (Jung, 2014, 4:21). He does not interrupt the vocalists until the exercise is completed and only then makes a comment, if necessary.

Barton’s explanation of the material and vocal practice follow each other. Barton invites his students to share their observations in the process of introducing the choristers to the score. The conductor’s comments clarify the choir’s observations and make it possible to see a complete idea of ​​the passage’s tempo, the mood of the analyzed piece, and so on. He provokes dialogue by asking, “What else do you see? How about the notes on the page themselves?” As soon as it becomes clear to the conductor that the choristers understand how to sing a piece, he immediately asks to perform it.

To summarize the above analysis of the video snippet, Barton’s conducting quality is exceptionally high, which is confirmed by several observations. It seems that one can achieve equally outstanding excellence by using correct gestures, improving the ability to hold students’ attention, and focusing on students’ specific needs and skills. Considering not only the overall choral sound but also the sound of particular soloists may also help conduct’s improvement.

The main components of Benjamin Kirk’s successful conducting are maintaining visual contact with the singers, precise hand movements, and pinpoint accentuation of the singers’ attention to the necessary details in the music (Kirk, 2018). Kirk’s use of facial expressions and body movements helps to ensure that he fulfills his function as a choral conductor to the fullest extent. His hand movements are in complete correspondence with the change in the melody of music, demonstrating the professionalism of the conductor.

As stated earlier, to be an excellent conductor, it is necessary to consider the choir with which you interact. This conductor works with professional singers to whom he does not need to explain the meaning of gestures used in conducting. He also does not need to explain the core points in the score to such professional vocalists, which helps the conductor to go immediately to the stage of improving the sound and working on crucial details. Therefore, at the rehearsal of the Bach motet, Benjamin Kirk preliminarily focuses the attention of the choristers on the moments that are important to him and then asks to perform the excerpt following the recommendations (Kirk, 2018, 07:08).

A professional conductor is obliged to navigate the score of the piece under study flawlessly. As shown in the video, Kirk refers to specific singing voices (“the bottom voice”) and specific moments in the melody (“page 70”) (Kirk, 2018, 10:29). Knowledge of sheet music, in particular, helps the conductor to detect errors in the interpretation of the material by the singers. The moment of such correction of the vocalists’ manner of performance was shown in the video mentioned earlier (Kirk, 2018, 12:10). Like the conductor analyzed above, Kirk maintains a positive attitude even when criticism is required.

During a live performance, the conductor makes every effort to ensure that the vocalists put into action all the instructions they receive from him. The louder and more voluminous the sounding of the fragments should sound, the more sweeping Kirk’s gestures become. When Kirk realizes that hand movements alone will not be sufficient to demonstrate the power of the sound, he engages his body into conducting. The conductor squeezes his body, which serves as a signal for the vocalists to calm down to the limit. An increase in sound volume is required, and the vocalists see how the conductor straightens up and captures more and more space. The conductor’s body movements appear here as a reaction to the music. Using this visual technique to communicate with vocalists helps the conductor to be fully understood by the choir.

As Kirk interacts with professional choral vocalists, he must use standard hand movements for conductors. Otherwise, the choir’s conductor is at risk of being misunderstood both at rehearsal and, at worse, at a concert. Among the conductor’s standard gestures, seen in the video, there are “quieter,” “louder,” “smoother,” “hold the note.” As it is known, the most important gesture of the conductor is the gesture indicating the rhythm of the piece. As it becomes apparent while analyzing the video fragment, even an unprepared musician can easily understand Kirk’s rhythmic motions.

It is necessary to dwell in more detail on how the conductor manages eye contact. During the performance, he signals with his eyes the groups of singers that his gestures are directed towards them. He includes those singers who remained silent or those who now need to sing louder with his gaze. In addition, it becomes clear from Kirk’s eyes what kind of emotion he wants the singers to demonstrate at a particular moment in the performance. Every good conductor knows that during prominent solos, it is best to look away from the soloist. As a professional in his field, Kirk refuses to look at the soloists at the rehearsals and performances.

Among the characteristics of Kirk’s conducting, which lead to the conclusion that he is a talented conductor, some can note the following. Kirk is fluent in body language; the singers can easily interpret his gestures, articulation, and gaze. Moreover, the conductor’s ability to work with professionals like him is beneficial to the choir’s sound. Thus, during the analysis, it becomes clear that Kirk uses the most effective conducting strategies, which testifies to his high-quality conducting.

All those essential characteristics that speak in favor of the high level of conducting have already been listed above. In the video filmed for the Conducting Competition, the conductor follows the requirements to ensure a high level of conducting. His body movements correspond to the mood of the chosen piece of music. The conductor skillfully maintains visual contact; with precise hand movements, he gestures to the choir. Due to the complex use of the conductor’s strategies, one gets the impression that the analyzed conductor is a professional.

A preliminary explanation of how he imagines the state of the lyric hero of a musical work helps to set the necessary emotional mood (Rideout, 2012, 1:57). The conductor says, “I imagine these are conflicting voices in the little man’s head, and some of them are trying to keep him calm, and some of them are growing increasingly agitated that he will not listen.” The conductor’s comments are crucial for the choristers to sing the passage in the right way. When a conductor feels that the choristers have taken his words accurately, he supports the choristers by saying: “Absolutely! Yes!” This conductor has a positive attitude, just like the other conductors mentioned in the analysis.

This conductor perfectly manages to keep the rhythm of the piece. However, in addition to the standard counting with his right hand, in challenging moments for choristers, he begins to create a rhythm using the sounds of his mouth (Rideout, 2012, 3:04). By helping in difficult moments, the conductor ensures the harmony of the sound and creates an emotional connection with the singers. It is almost as if he says to the vocalists, “I am with you.”

A relaxed atmosphere reigns during the rehearsal. Although the conductor is constantly joking, his jokes contain an indirect indication of how a particular passage should be performed. This playful form of interaction with the choir is more characteristic of this conductor than, for example, an emotionless description of how the passage should sound as a communication tool. Here again, humor serves as an instrument that helps to build friendly relationships in a choir.

This conductor can be characterized by expressiveness in emotions. He effortlessly switches from one state of mind to another due to a sharp change in music movement (Rideout, 2012, 4:51-5:08). The conductor understands how strongly the manner of performing a piece of choristers depends on what emotion he demonstrates to them at a particular moment. Possession of this skill and applying it in practice are the components that make up a high-quality conducting.

Visual contact and understandable hand gestures are equally important for this conductor. When necessary, gestures become harsh and abrupt; the conductor’s gaze becomes frighteningly tense. However, one passage replaces another, and now the chorus sees the smooth and slow movements of the hands and closed smiling eyes. Responsiveness to music is incredibly valuable to any conductor, especially to a good one. The way the analyzed conductor reacts to music is not an accident, but a process controlled by him, which has an explainable ultimate goal. This goal is to provide the required sound of a piece of music.

During the analysis, it was possible to ensure that all conductors have a high level of conducting. They possess their own characteristics that make their conducting style unique. However, they all comply with many rules for running a choir, leading to high-quality performances. In this essay, these rules and their practical use have been analyzed in detail with specific examples. In evaluating the quality of conducting, the author of the review was guided by how the conductor uses gestures, prompts the choir during rehearsals and performances, reacts to music, and other criteria. It was precisely such a detailed analysis, based on several criteria, which ultimately helped the author conclude that the conductors mentioned above are highly skilled professionals.

References

Jung A. (2014). [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Kirk B. (2018). [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Rideout G. (2012). [Video]. YouTube. Web.

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