Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the undergraduate conducting masterclass. The masterclass was occurring at the same time as several other sessions I was hoping to attend, and therefore, my original plan was to stay for the first hour of the class, and then slip out the side door of the church sanctuary. Instead, I found myself glued to my pew for the full two hours of the class, unable to tear my eyes away except when scribbling notes furiously in my notebook.
I suppose one could attribute my state of fascination to the fact that I have not yet received formal conducting training (it is traditional at my school to take conducting classes junior year and I'm still a sophomore). The clinicians, Dr. Ann Howard Jones and Dr. Jerry McCoy, in addition to being dynamic and engaging instructors, gave incredibly concise and effective advice to each undergraduate participant. Being a relative newcomer to the world of conducting, I am in no place to comment on the pedagogy behind the advice given by the clinicians, but I can definitely attest to the effectiveness of the clinicians' advice being evident in the resulting changes in sound of the choir.
One major takeaway I left the masterclass with was the necessity of a sense of air in the gesture and the concept of deciding whether you want your air to flow left, right, or vertically. In one particularly captivating moment, Dr. McCoy had one of the participants modify his gesture to mimic the air flow created by a ballerina running and jumping into a lift. The result was a flowing, moving line sung with a beautiful and clear tone. I am finding it difficult to explain with words the sense of excitement and inspiration I felt watching the participant's "aha!" breakthrough moment.
Another major concept that resonated with me was that of the intentionality of stance and gesture. Dr. Jones worked with one participant on correcting the reflexive movement in her knees by focusing the participant's energy into her arms. She also explained that one of the most difficult - yet most imperative - things to learn is to bring your choir to you instead of reaching for your choir by conveying strength through your stance. Dr. McCoy worked with one participant on keeping the torso expanded, explaining that a collapse of the conductor's upper body would lead to a collapse in the sound of the singers. He also worked with a different participant on keeping his gestures within the frame of his body.
I could write for ages about each concept and technical solution that the clinicians taught, but for the sake of time, I'll simply wrap up by thanking Dr. Jones and Dr. McCoy for sharing their expertise with us, and for giving me a wonderful introduction to the world of conducting.
-Nicole Cronin, IC ACDA '19
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