Learning to Conduct
  • VilyanorVilyanor
    Posts: 387
    I've been selected by the current director of my college's only "traditional" choir as his chosen successor after he graduates this semester. This is mainly due to my not inconsiderable knowledge of and love for Gregorian chant. The only problem being that I've conducted chant twice and never polyphony. Despite nearly seven years of piano lessons, my technical musical skill is stunted (bad teachers and laziness), and my knowledge of common practice music theory cursory and almost entirely forgotten, though I'm considering taking a course in music theory over the summer, or even studying it on my own as I'm quick to pick up such things.

    So I'd like to please ask for any counsel or help you all could give me. Are there any resources on the conducting of chant and polyphony that might help me? Or am I a hopeless cause at this point?

    My ardent thanks in advance.
  • Never a hopeless cause! Sorry I have no suggestions, I will be taking the excellent Association of Irish Choirs Choral conducting summer school again. Just to note that I have found it very helpful to have some training - so I would encourage you to seek out something similar. The colloquium does have classes on this, and did in past years which can be listened to, however they are a bit frustratingly only in audio, when really one needs a video to see what the teacher is doing.
  • There are books that you can read, but I learned most with a teacher (although I had read a few books beforehand).

    For chant conducting, there is to my knowledge not much besides Carroll, The Technique of Gregorian Chironomy and a dissertation from 1984 by William Lee Belan (I downloaded it from the internet, but can't remember where; PM me if interested).

    For conducting measured music, there are a several books. I found most helpful Bastian, Fischer, Handbuch der Chorleitung; I suppose there are similar books in the english language, other users on the forum will be more competent on this.

    However, reading alone won't bring you far; the best way to learn choral conducting is to conduct a choir under a competent teacher who will give you feedback afterwards. Here in Germany, every deanery has a professional full-time church musician with the responsibility to train new church musicians in preparation for an examination which certifies their abilities in organ playing, choral conducting, music theory etc. I am in the middle of my two-year training period for this examination, and I learned most about conducting from my teacher when he allowed me to conduct his choir, after showing the technical aspects of conducting in class with the other pupils.

    Therefore I would recommend asking somebody with experience in choral conducting to show you one-to-one the technical aspects and conducting under his supervision.
  • I recommend Max Rudolf's The Grammar of Conducting. I got my copy on Amazon for $3 used. It's an old book but it will give you good information on the techniques of Conducting in general. I first learned to conduct from this book in high school: my band director had a copy in his office and I borrowed it for a short time. There are other texts you can read, such as Conducting Technique by Brian McElheran, and Curtis and Kuehns book, but I can't remember the name of it, which is sad because that was my advanced Conducting textbook in college. For chant specific considerations you should consult resources on semiology, which I'm not deeply familiar with, but I have some experience in. Some others on the Forum probably have more resources on that for you.
    Thanked by 1janetgorbitz
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,674
    My experience with "chant" conductors has been that most wave their arms in circles alluding to beats but never finding them. Learn standard conducting patterns and practices. Books are helpful but the guidance of someone skilled in conducting is priceless. Is there a good church musician in your area who would give you some pointers?
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,259
    I know we've had discussions on this subject before. I can easily understand someone's use of Gregorian chironomy, but I don't necessarily agree with its (supposed) limits, and oftentimes I (personally) think that it doesn't allow for conducting the flow of the music/text.
    ...similar to people who insist on subdividing everything they conduct and never get the correct "flow" of something that should really just be conducted in 1 or in 2 (rather than, perhaps, 3 or 4).

    As long as people can follow what you conduct, and that the result is the (your) desired effect, that's what truly matters. A monkey can be taught to conduct, as can people with no musical sense whatsoever - but as long as you can clearly convey what you're trying to achieve by the way you direct, you'll be golden.

    (Just don't make the mistake of trying to catch up or anything like that.
    I had a director in college who told everyone on the first day of each semester that he sometimes gets caught up in the music, and so if you see him conduct in a forward, 1-beat circle, he's just waiting to find his place in the score, and/or get to the right beat.
    If you know you're in the wrong part of a measure, it's better to have A beat than to have people look up and think THEY are wrong and jump to the beat number that they see you conducting (hopefully that makes sense)).

    You can always watch youtube videos and try to emulate the choirmasters/conductors you think get the best output by their choirs/orchestras.
  • There are many books, as mentioned above, which give varyingly commendable tutelage about conducting. Another helpful thing for you would be to attend as many choral concerts and services at churches with good choirs as you can, and getting to know good choirmasters in your area, to observe good choral directing and learn from it. Too, there is no end to choral performances by Kings, or people like Harnoncourt directing Bach, and many other choirs on youtube which would give you good examples to follow. Also, if you have the time and funds, you could take a course in choral conducting at your local university.

    Thanked by 1moderntrad
  • It would be of tremendous value if videos of chironomy were posted.
  • Videos which include good verbal description as well.
  • irishtenoririshtenor
    Posts: 1,241
    I agree with Noel and Teresa: a couple of short "primer" videos on chironomy with clear, basic narrations would be profoundly helpful to the semi-trained musician who wants to start a garage schola or simply to bring some chant to their parish.
    Thanked by 1canadash
  • Think like a singer, and conduct accordingly.

    Sing the musical phrase, and conduct as if you're guiding the musical phrase.

    No, that's not discernably the chironomic way, but I've found that my non-chant-specialist fellow choir members find it easy to follow when (for reasons of vacation) I'm left in charge of the schola.
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  • There are a couple of videos at this page, of which in particular I found the short "chironomy excerpt" helpful: http://www.ccwatershed.org/cmaa/
  • Just a quick preview... this summer's chant intensive will be focused on teaching conducting of Gregorian Chant. Our director will be Wilko Brouwers... I hope to have detailed information about the course and registration information up on our website very soon. I'll be sending out a notice to our list when it is ready...

    In the past, we have had Colloquium breakouts on chironomy and various directing techniques, but it is difficult to allow enough time to really gain proficiency with only a total of four hours during the week. I would encourage those who are directors or prospective directors to consider attending the summer chant course...

    Also, Scott Turkington will be focusing on the direction of polyphonic music in his two breakout sessions at this summer's Colloquium.

    I hope this will be helpful...