I attended both the Undergraduate Conducting Masterclass with Dr. Ann Howard Jones and the Graduate Masterclass with Dr. William Weinert. Each featured two student conductors working with the Harvard Collegium Musicum, a mixed ensemble under the direction of Andrew Clark.
The two masterclasses were structured very differently. The main goal of the undergraduate session was to improve physical gesture and expressivity, while the graduate session focused more on score interpretation and rehearsal strategies. During the undergraduate session, Dr. Ann Howard Jones drew from her own conducting philosophies to provide the two participants with feedback. She began the session by stating, "We should be as strong as we can be, and the more we compromise our postural mechanics, the less we are apt to be strong." She then proceeded to address various aspects of physical conducting, emphasizing that balancing yourself and maintaining good posture were two important first steps. Dr. Jones explained that "the beat should sit where the singer's breath is"; in other words, the conductor should be mindful that the placement of the ictus is not too high. She also suggested that the tempo of a piece can be made clearer if the conductor maintains a consistent speed when moving between beats, instead of immediately pulling up after each ictus. Dr. Jones advocated for simplification of the gesture whenever possible, insisting that conductors ought to "dare to be small" because indicating too many subdivisions can limit the singers' artistic responsibility. She stated that conductors often tend to assume responsibility for generating all of the energy, instead of trusting that the choir will emit energy as well. Dr. Jones suggested making separate mental lists of the conductor's responsibilities and of the choristers' responsibilities and comparing them. Once a conductor is able to comprehend the symbiotic relationship that exists between an ensemble and its leader, they become less likely to overdo gestures. The undergraduate session was very interesting and informative, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Dr. Ann Howard Jones in action.
After the Undergraduate Masterclass was over, I decided to stick around for the Graduate Masterclass. In this session, Dr. Weinert mostly stood back and observed the students working with the ensemble and interjected periodically with questions to guide their thinking process. He reminded the students to talk less and sing more, and he encouraged them to stop worrying about what they were showing and spend more time listening and responding to the ensemble. Dr. Weinert advocated for a fast-paced rehearsal environment in which the conductor never spends an excessive amount of time on just one section of a piece. He spoke to his belief that problems often fix themselves, and that the conductor doesn't get "extra points" for pointing out a problem before the choir even has a chance to fix it. Dr. Weinert also discussed the importance of the rehearsal accompanist, referring to the pianist in the room as "the one who runs the show." He said to one of the student conductors, "Singers will always follow the pianist, so it's up to you to make sure he's on your side." Dr. Weinert was supportive of the student conductors throughout the session, and he gave a humorous piece of advice towards the end of the conference: "Conductors make mistakes all the time. Don't stop the run-through if you mess up. Who watches the conductor, anyway?"
-Juliana Joy Child, IC ACDA Treasurer
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