Basics for choral conductors working with instrumentalists include such aspects as verbal and gestural communication, using the baton, articulation, and bowing. Verbally, the conductor is recommended to address instrumentalists in the same fashion he or she would attend a choir. The best course of action in terms of tuning the ensemble would be to rely upon pitches familiar to them. To create an understanding of harmony for a group, it is advised to check if the score is transposed or untransposed, which will also ensure the orchestra’s respect. In some cases, it is better to let the performers adjust their technique before any commenting if only there is no solid reason to persist. In terms of gestural communication, it is necessary to avoid beating “rhythms” not to confuse players. As the conductor is considered responsible for every beat, clarity, and familiarity of the gestures will be most influential.
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As for the use of the baton, a conductor is allowed not to use it at all. In case the baton is used, it should be gripped and directed correctly to become a natural extension of the arm. Yet, one of the essential skills that profoundly affect the quality of the sound is understanding the sounds of various articulations. Thus, in terms of successful bowing and articulation, it remains vital to arrive at successful tempo decisions working with the principal players. To decide whether bowing will benefit at all, it is recommended to work with the concertmaster to mark them in every string part before the music is distributed. In general, the essential thing that is required from a successful conductor is a defined idea of the music. They should be able to express in basic terms what is necessary to adjust the current sound to match their mental image.
The chapter Facing the Orchestra includes such essential aspects as building a relationship with orchestral players, preparation, the physical layout of the orchestra, the use of the baton, communicating, planning rehearsals, and anticipating the concert. The first thing recommended for a conductor in terms of the orchestra is to prepare psychologically and not to be overcome either with one’s shortcomings or the sense of power a full symphony orchestra can create. It is useful to remember that the quality of the choir singing is dependent on the choir member’s behavior and discipline. This crucial factor was also emphasized by Garnet (2017), who insisted on policing the boundaries while maintaining the choral culture. The next recommendation concerns the proper preparation, which includes knowing the score in detail, confidence about tempi, ensuring that vocal scores match orchestral parts in bar numbering, and marking in bowings for the string players.
A conductor’s attention should also be given to the orchestral layout based on their instincts and concerns. Using the baton as an extension of the conducting arm might be helpful with a large ensemble, although it is required to keep the gestures contained and efficient, making the true leader. Another hint here is to communicate with the orchestra allowing the whole body to demonstrate unity with the players, where the conductor’s priority is to give a good, clear beat. The power of cooperation has been accentuated in Varvarigou’s (2016) article as well.
Another suggestion is to work out a rehearsal schedule in detail to know which instruments are required for each part of the rehearsal. Forethought will allow to avoid embarrassing confrontations and demonstrate a high level of awareness and control. It is not recommended to change the schedule for the convenience of one player. During the rehearsal, the conductor should talk a little and keep their directions brief and clear. While anticipating the concert, the conductor is responsible for the professional reputation of the players by creating the circumstances for the best performance, such as acknowledging all the participants. Appendix 1 (Jordan 2009) is dedicated to the string resource guide and provides general guidelines for approaching choral/orchestral works, and a glossary of terms. It also suggests that those conducting an orchestra should be familiar with the mechanics and techniques of an orchestra.
Garnett, Liz. 2017. Choral Conducting and the Construction of Meaning: Gesture, Voice, Identity. London: Routledge.
Jordan, James. 2009. Evoking Sound: Fundamentals of Choral Conducting, 2nd Edition. Chicago: GIA Publications.
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Varvarigou, Maria. 2016. “‘I Owe It to My Group Members… Who Critically Commented on My Conducting’ – Cooperative Learning in Choral Conducting Education.” International Journal of Music Education 34(1): 116-130.