June 2012 Heather Buchman wrote:
"It is always inspiring to reconnect with one’s craft, as I have the opportunity to do by observing
the teaching of my mentors Oleg Proskurnya and Leonid Korchmar at the conducting workshop
THE TECHNIQUES OF ORCHESTRAL CONDUCTING
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Edwin Mellen Press: ISBN10: 0-7734-0051-6 Pages: 720 Year: 2014
ISBN13: 978-0-7734-0051-1 Pages: 720 Year: 2014
It is unlikely that a person picking up this book needs to be told what conducting is. The reader is most likely an individual who is in one way or another acquainted with this art and who is interested in new information about the conducting pedagogy. Therefore, we believe that it is necessary to premise this book with an introductory foreword, which is dictated by a number of circumstances and conditioned by the specifics of the reviewed subject and, above all, by the subject’s insufficient presentation.
In recent times, instruction of the art of conducting has undergone a wide expansion. In numerous educational institutions, thousands of conductors are studying different types of conducting – symphonic, choral, folk instrumental, concert band, etc. Significant amounts of manuals and textbooks have emerged. Therefore, the conducting methodology has an ample amount of unsolved problems, which, morbidly, do not attract the attention of tutors and students.
The technique of conducting, if it is considered from the standpoint of applied gestures, is extremely simple and is not comparable with the techniques applied for the performance of musical instruments. To master the technique of measuring, as well as to teach it, is not difficult. But should it be said that one who masters the technique of metrical measuring has also learned how to conduct? The answer is not that simple. Not everyone who masters measuring is a conductor. This is proven by the fact that novice conductors who have equally learned all the technical approaches show their skills differently on the podium. Some conduct more or less expressively, though others can hardly manage the performance of the ensemble,that is,they essentially just measure. This is despite the fact that all of the conducting pupils may be equally talented musicians.
So what is the problem? Every so often, differences in the outcomes of tutoring, in the essentials and expressiveness of conducting, are explained either by the presence or absence of talent. And this is fair. Without talent, one cannot achieve success in the arts. But what conducting talent is and how it is exposed are questions without any comprehensive answers. What can be said with certainty is that conducting abilities and willpower make the techniques of orchestral management content-rich and dynamic.
It often happens, however, that with a more or less similar tutorial approach, the progress of different students is dissimilar. This gives us reason to assume that a musician with abilities in conducting intuitively converts the skills of measurement into an expressive device of gestural communication with the performers, and converts measurement into a gestural conductor’s “vocabulary”. And here, one more question becomes evident: how does talent transform the technique of measurement into the expressive technique of conducting? This question contains the main problem of coaching conducting, which has a substantial influence on teaching methods.
Thus, talent conditions the probability that the musician will master the art of conducting. However, we will look at this from a different point of view. Is it always the case that someone who shows no progress in conducting does not have talent? Conducting talent is a challenging complex of the specific approaches and psyche of the human. Are teachers trying, however, to actively develop the needed skills? Does this method of teaching provide? The answer will not be simple.
It is thought that differences in the results of conducting tutelage mainly depend on the correlation between the attitude of the student and the process of the performance management, on either his (or the tutor’s) tutorial task. Here in particular a talent for conducting is exposed. The corresponding ability of the musician allows him to intuitively find the correct task; as a result, he develops his talents, willpower, and technical mastery properly. Another conductor, however, without such an intuition (though with abilities), may be satisfied with the formal performance of the technical motions themselves, without exposing the abilities of willpower, and without trying to use them as tools of communication which influence the performers. It is possible to set such a task to a student, which he will follow during the course of study. But despite this, it is important that the method of study itself sets the goals of developing the student’s abilities and willpower. For this it is necessary, though briefly, to make an impression on the student about the essence of the conducting technique, about the mechanisms of the conductor’s inspiration.
If we take a closer look at the way that musical instruments are played, we find that instrumental techniques consist of a pattern of specific motions that have to be learned as thoroughly as possible. Thus, the methods of motion are mastered by the instrumentalist later; when they are coupled with the sound, such motions are not taken into account psychologically by the instrumentalist as independent motions. The performer is thinking in musical images; his fingers humbly execute all motions needed for adequate personification of musical thoughts. The musician does not think about the motions themselves; he operates mainly by the sense of the motions. This allows him to pull the sound to a certain dynamic and color, and helps to connect sounds into phrases and so on. The musician “talks off” his musical thoughts with his hands. In a similar way, we can verbally state our thoughts without thinking about the motions of the lips, tongue, and larynx that are needed for this action.
While leading a performance, a conductor uses certain motions as well, though these motions can be performed differently and with diverse approaches. This fact has an imperative meaning. For example, a conductor can affiliate the motions as a somewhat lasting tool which functions “universally” in all instances and for all orchestras. He sees the motions as signals on which the precise performance of the orchestra’s response depends. This type of management is akin to the actions of a dispatcher. He is senseless but only indicates dynamics, tempi, queues, etc. For such a conductor, the sensations and emotions of the performance are unimportant and misapprehended. Even if he experiences some emotions during score preparation, in the moment of performance he is completely preoccupied with the task of the exact indication of dynamics, signs of articulation, and other nuances of the performance. Most likely, he will master all the instructions of the technical approaches, displayed in conducting guides, as certain motions which have to be performed as precisely as possible.
In this instance, will a student develop performing sensations, be able to influence the musicians, and project musical images via the motions? The answer will most likely be negative.
The shortcoming of the aforementioned development of the conducting technique is that a connection between the conductor’s musical thinking and his gestures does not appear and progress. In the moment of the execution of management, they exist in parallel but they are not interconnected and coordinated, like a cause and effect. Thus the actions of such a conductor, despite precise indications of tempo and dynamics, do not influence the musical concept of the performance. But only this can have a strong-willed effect on the process of the performance, to make it lively and content-rich.
The antithesis of this approach to the conducting technique is a type of management with dominant “self-expressiveness” – with a gestural reflection of the conductor’s feelings perceived from the music. The conductor feels the emotional content of the music and assumes that he transmits feelings through his gestures, at times emotional or energetic. However, these physical “impulses” are mostly only disorganizing to musicians, and temperamental self-expressiveness makes a conductor’s gestures chaotic. This type of conducting is principally seen in the self-taught and in musicians who are gifted performers but who do not own the technique of conducting.
As it often happens, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The technique of conducting must be articulated and based on certain principles; otherwise, it will not be able to organize the process of a performance, its ensemble, or the precision of the rhythms, articulations and phrasings. To have an influence on musicians, however, the conducting technique has to reflect all the psychological processes in the conductor’s consciousness. Here the vividness, dynamics, and contents of a conductor’s musical images have crucial meanings.
The study of conducting should not just include an acquaintance with the tools of a motor technique. A development of the direct connection of gestures with musical images has to be established in the first place. For this, it is necessary to develop the motor sense, which primarily connects the conductor’s musical images with his gestures. In the beginning, however, the specific “conductor’s” vision and sensation of musical content have to be developed. They have to be active, dynamic, and vivid, to provoke both emotional and motor reactions. Every gesture of the conductor has to be consciously derived out of the musical content, reflecting the musical images. The student should remember that each method of the conducting technique is, in reality, just an element of unified task-oriented action needed to influence the consciousness of the performers.
It is necessary to keep in mind that the technical approaches which are suggested in this book have to be viewed only as typical and initial, but not as constant and “universal.” The most important thing is to grasp the inner essence of the method, its effectiveness and dynamism. Here again, the motor sensations are first and foremost the basis of possession of the method, tools for the development of the connection between musical pieces and a conductor’s actions, and a means of correcting for the executed approaches.
It may seem that some technical methods are depicted here in excessive detail (for example, the explanation of the motions of the rhythmically-contingent rebound). This is done not for the reason that students precisely learn the suggested gestures, but rather for training, for the development of the ability to use their own motor resources and hands for a skilled performance of any motion. Otherwise, these exercises assist in developing a sensation of the rhythmical fulfillment of the beat through the arms’ motions, which serve as tools for the development of the feeling of rhythm, and for the development of the connection between motor sensations and musical concepts.
Stating these or other technical methods of conducting, I first of all aspired to direct the student’s attention to the understanding of patterns, which are basics for each method. By the conception and practical mastering of these patterns, a student may vary his motions in accordance with the task before him and with the demands of performance leadership. Therefore, this book does not present numerous graphics and pictures demonstrating different gestures or positions of the body and head; that is not the type of accuracy on which the student should be focused.
The existence of different views on the art of conducting—and, in particular, the different attitudes toward the tools of performance supervision itself—is natural and caused by the specifics of this type of human activity. However, this particular instance does not keep in mind the individual differences in character, manner, and gestural “handwriting” distinctive to each conductor. Such differences are not only possible but desired. It is precisely this originality of the manual resources applied by each conductor which makes an impressive and potent impact on the performers. This refers to the differences of principle character, to a particular attitude towards the essence of the conducting art itself, towards the tasks appearing before the conductor as a performer and as the performance leader.
Disagreements about this problem are generated by the absence of a reliable comprehension of the mechanism of the conductor’s influence on the musicians. Primarily due to this reason, it is difficult to prove or disprove one or another point of view in the art of conducting. In the business of a conductor’s education, however, such an attitude is totally unacceptable. It is impossible to tutor or learn conducting without having a definite purpose, without a well-founded view towards the conducting art, towards the content and essence of the conducting technique. Hardly acceptable are such reasons as: “I conduct this way and achieve a good result,” or: “This is the way most conductors are conducting.”
Not having the opportunity, under these suggested guidelines, to provide a concept of the complex mechanism of the conductor’s influence upon the performers, I consider, however, the necessity of touching upon this problem’s most general aspects, of stating the basic principles.
It is customary to divide the complex technique of performance supervision into two parts – measuring and conducting, implying that this division serves as orchestral supervision’s lowest and highest sides. The specifics of the conducting technique itself provide the basis for this comparable division. The differences between these sides of conducting reveal themselves rather substantially. As was mentioned previously, to learn the simple techniques of measuring is comparably easy, whereas specific methods and, obviously, extensive and purposeful study are neededto master the expressive tools of conducting,. Measuring is only a fragment of the conducting technique, the imperatives of which could be given in explanation and description, while its highest features still remain unrevealed. Finally, the differences between the two sides of conducting techniques are disclosed in their antagonistic relation to one another. Thus, to aspire to conduct expressively, a conductor to some degree allows infringements of the rules of measurement, interferes with the ensemble and, on the contrary, by emphasized measuring, deprives the conducting of its metaphorical expressiveness.
But is it legitimate to divide the tools of performance supervision into two specified sides, and would such a division explain the essence of the conducting art?
Ask the instrumentalist whether he considers the art of instrumental performance to be divided into two parts – technical and expressive. It is reasonable to believe that he will not understand the question. In any instance, the instrumentalist will suggest that the technique is only necessary to embody his artistic intentions most fully.
The same should be said about the technique of the conductor. Thus, analyzing the craft of the tools of performance management allows us to consider the existence of its several hierarchically constituted levels. For the development of each subsequent level, the appropriate skills are required, especially for the advanced, higher levels of mastery. Consequently, conducting is not a measuring by any means, equipped with some additional methods which require the abilities of temperament and willpower; rather, it is a uniform system of the tools of performance management, for which measuring is the natural and indispensable basis. Just the measuring itself can be transformed into a mighty tool for the performers’ inspiration, in proper conducting.
The difficulty of the transition from the primitive means of metrical-temporal indication to the more complex levels of the art of conducting consists in the fact that each level requires the presence of more accomplished and specific conducting capacities and their consequent development. These are: first of all, amusical cultivation (a capacity to comprehend the form and structure of the piece, to sense the dynamic of its development), strikingemotional abilities(emotional responsiveness to the content of the musical metaphors of the piece), and strong-willed capabilities (a capacity to actively influence performers).
Additionally, the aforementioned capacities and abilities will not find their gestural embodiments if the conductor is not in possession of developed motor sensations. Finally, all of the above require the conductor’s creative imagination. Only imagination allows the conductor to find an adequate gestural means for transferring his/her musical concepts to the performers.
The conductor’s actions, which direct the expressive side of the performance, should at the same time not break the rules of measuring, for then conducting turns chaotic; although the gesticulations are expressive, they interfere with the management of the performance. Therefore, some conductors prefer to achieve expressiveness of performance during rehearsals. During the concert, though, they conduct with approaches which do not exceed the frame of the tool of measuring. Therefore, despite accuracy, such conducting carries traces of dryness and dogmatism. The task of the conductor’s mentoring should not only consist of the development of his necessary capacities, but also of his skilled ability to combine the expressive tool with the rules of measuring.
Thus, while managing a performance, the elements of measuring incessantly transform, acquiring particular expressive characteristics. These transformations could, in short, be characterized as follows:
The quantitative alterations: the movements of the metrical schemes could be larger or smaller in their amplitudes, faster or slower in their tempo. Thequalitative alterations: the movements could be robust or soft, abrupt or connected, to broadcast the varying fullness and color of the sound. In accordance with these alterations, the movements could find their applications.
The technical methods of both types of measuring transformations can be mastered without special effort. Strictly speaking, they transmit only what is indicated in the musical texture, but they do not yet interpret the piece. The next two types of the transformation of motions are quite a bit different from the first two, although not everyone succeeds in overcoming these. First of all, functional transformations need to be made. This means that the parities between the points of measuring, which express their musical connections and relations, are transformed. The conductor’s motions indicate the vibrant expansion of the musical texture with all its features.
The next and final type of alteration is connected with the colored intonation of the gesture, i.e., its emotional will-powered character and imagery. The conductor transmits not only his own understanding of the music, but also his own attitude to its imagistic-emotional content, and his own concept of the piece. Finally, he expresses his own attitude to the performing process itself.
In simple terms, it is possible to say: the first two types of alterations indicate that the conductor sees in musical notation (dynamics and marks of articulation). The majority of conductors are contented by these technical means. Thus, even a robot could carry out this type of supervision if it could learn how to read the notation. The third type of transformation reflects the process of the conductor’s musical thinking, that is, how he understands the content of the piece. The fourth type of transformation transmits the method by which the conductor senses the music. At this point, his gesture acquires its “tone,” i.e., it becomes lively, emotional, and strong-willed. In other words, the two final types of measuring transformations reflect not what is indicated directly by the composer, but what must be pulled from the musical texture itself. With the last type, the personality of the conductor shows itself the most, his performing manner and artistic individuality. It is obvious that this alone is the most difficult aspect of the art of conducting, not always within reach of even distinguished musicians.
We are talking to some degree about the hierarchical levels of conducting, about their expressive characteristics and richness. This does not mean, however, that the lower two levels are unessential for the process of expressive supervision of a performance. Similarly, as the higher floors of a building cannot exist without the lower levels, so the higher levels of conducting cannot be managed without the first lower two.
To what degree, however, should the conductor direct the expressive aspect of the performance? Should he, in his movements, transmit all the specifics of the musical texture’s development, the imagery of the musical flow, the emotional content, and so on? After all, a highly qualified orchestra does not need a conductor’s “prompting.” Furthermore, all the details of the performance can be advised to the orchestra by the conductor during the rehearsal. And maybe it is not necessary that the conductor inspire his orchestra by his actions. Will it be better if he retains peace in his mind by directing all his attention to the management of the ensemble and to the technical sides of the performance? And if we move even further, it is possible to say that a qualified orchestra does not need indication of all the nuances as long as they are written in the parts?
First of all, it is necessary to mention that the character and methods of the conductor’s activities depend on many specific circumstances. Thus, for example, a guest conductor is forced to work with an orchestra differently from that particular collective’s music director; an opera conductor works differently than a symphonic conductor; rehearsing a new piece differs from rehearsing a piece which is familiar to the orchestra. Finally, orchestras of different professional levels force a conductor to apply consequently different methods of practice. But to an even greater degree, these pointed situations reflect the character of the conductor’s governance of the performance.
We mention this assuming a somewhat ideal conductor, who is capable of rehearsing in any situation, and who can consequently retain a technique sufficient for the management of any musical group. But in reality, the conductor mostly rehearses with one orchestra, and conducts in a way which allows him his capacities and experience and, naturally, his maxim and understanding of the tasks of conducting – in part, the content and means of the technique of conducting.
As a matter of fact, it is possible to talk about two contrasting directions with which all conductors more or less become associated. For some of them, we see active and raptured governance of the performance. By his movements, a conductor aims to influence the performers’ minds and transmit his musical concepts to them. On the contrary, it is possible to observe an “objective” type of supervision, in which a conductor only organizes the process of the performance by using a strict technical tool. In this regard, a question arises about “active” and “formal” conducting.
Let us assume that, during rehearsals, a conductor meticulously works through (and secures) all the details of the performance. Should he then, during the performance, use the expressive gestures with comparable enthusiasm? It is assumed that the conductor will apply them in those moments in which they are needed. But can the conductor be sure that all the musicians remember his remarks and that all the technical challenges will be overcome without his assistance? Unfortunately, he can only learn the answer post factum, after a certain spot is performed. Therefore, wouldn’t it be better to “secure” the performance via the conductor, to remind the orchestra how to perform one or another spot of the piece?
Yet this alone does not define the tasks of the conductor during the supervision of the performance. What is most important is that the performance of the musical piece is a process in which the orchestra’s musicians and their leader are conjointly and actively involved. The performance demands not only a profound comprehension of the musical piece, not only the skilled application of technical tools – what is needed for its embodiment – but also exhilaration, and even inspiration. Should it be admitted that the conductor not only does not express his passion for the performance, but also demonstrates movements which do not match the character of the musical content, and are even sometimes counteractive to it? In the moment when the musicians try to affectionately and enthusiastically indicate the expression of the melody or dynamic crescendo towards the climax, is it possible for the conductor to justify limiting his actions to simply measuring and precisely indicating the tempo? Is it possible to admit that the musicians do not feel the conductor is the same type of exhilarated performer as they are?
Not at all, as long as the orchestra is not indifferent to the conductor’s attitude towards the performance. Musicians may forgive a conductor for his shortcomings (which they can correct by their own mastery), but they will not forgive his lack of exhilaration and poor temperament. Moreover, an orchestra always expects that a conductor will inspire them and transmit to them the fervor of his heart.
The conductor is first of all a musician-performer. Like the instrumentalist, he should experience the process of the piece’s embodiment in all of his bones—including musical thinking, physical sensations, and an emotional sphere. Like the instrumentalist, he should sense the direct connection of his musical imaginings and thoughts with his motor skills. Such a connection can be even more immediate for a conductor than for an instrumentalist. After all, in his gestures, a conductor may reflect the character of the musical images more brightly and (more importantly) illustratively, which plays a significant role in the process of leadership.
For the transmission of his performing intentions, the conductor searches for the subsequent expressive gestures. They can emerge only in the proper order if a conductor has distinct musical concepts—which are carried out actively—and developed motor sensations capable of “reading off” his musical thoughts and converting them into expressive movements. The conductor’s musical thoughts, gestures, and movements are strictly interrelated. During the routine of gestural practice, necessary for management of the expressive element of the performance, the conductor stimulates his mental power. After all, only vital and vibrant musical images may evoke equally adequate expressive gestures. In turn, a persistent and energetic quest for these gestures—which express the content of the musical image, its energy and emotional meaning—develops the conductor’s thoughts toward the musical performance. Genuinely expressive conducting can arise only on the basis of such an interaction.
The problems traced in this introduction demonstrate what type of challenges one can face as a conductor’s teacher. For the pupil’s thorough development of the technical tools, the tutor should first of all develop his own musical thinking, imagination, brightness of musically expressive ideas, and ability to express the creative content of the performed music by rigid and elastic approaches.
The principles introduced above are the cornerstone of this book. The first part is devoted to a review of the techniques of conducting; the second part analyzes its artistically expressive elements.
… First of all, I think I would never have become a conductor if fate had not brought me to a great teacher by the name of Musin. The fact is that the violin was played before Paganini, but the modern style of violin performance was created after Paganini. Similarly, the piano was played before Chopin, but the modern style of piano performance was set after Chopin. I think that, in spite of the many names of teachers, professors, mentors, and overall, just great conductors that we know around the world, Ilia Musin is an outstanding teacher and person who created the school of conducting. Not just because he wrote books about conducting, many did so, but no one brought the quality of conducting method as did Musin…
First of all, I think I was incredibly lucky in my life that I ... met such an outstanding person, expert, musician, and teacher.
We owe what we can do in conducting to Ilya Alexandrovich. He is, of course, a unique figure in the history of the art of conducting, because, as we know, conducting is one of the youngest types of performing activities, and Musin was the first who could formulate conducting as a form of the performing art. Being a great teacher, he was able to produce a huge number of students.
… It took Professor Musin more than sixty years (from his first thoughts about his teaching method in the late 1920’s to the last edition of the Technique in 1995) to complete the book:
Since 1928, when I began teaching ... at the Conservatory, I started to think about my own way of conducting, that is, by what means I influence musicians. I have no right to teach others the art of conducting if certain aspects of it are not clear to me. As a result, a complex mechanism of the conductor's action was revealed to me in its difficulty. Thereby, I advanced my own conducting technique and, most importantly, developed my conducting methods.
Orchestral conducting has always been accompanied by practical uncertainties and artistic controversies. ... Currently, from a general perspective, the orchestral industry is in a state of deep crisis: the number of orchestras is shrinking due to the lack of funds, aging audiences, and increasing competition from popular media. Therefore, in addition to all of the aforementioned aspects, the developmental stagnation of conducting methodology is a principal factor contributing to the erosion of the orchestral business. While the instrumental performance methods have been supported and sustained by successful practice, the predominant methodology of conducting, centered on the mechanical principles and fragmented thoughts that prevailed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, is currently in an unsatisfactory stance, largely due to long-standing systematic predicaments fueled by incomprehension of the intangible mechanisms of conducting.
It is necessary to add … that most of the contemporary textbooks and methodologies of conducting mainly discuss and depict the exterior aspects of conducting. Numerous methodological books on conducting have been published since it became an independent profession; some of those publications could include numerous diagrams with descriptions of the external, or decorative, aspect of the conducting practice and many more such graphics of various metrical schemes and glossaries of symbols, which, according to their authors, could serve as a model for any ‘inner’ content of music (i.e., premeditated fixed metrical patterns, schemes, various outlines of schematic gesture, graphics; depiction of more or less enforced “strikes,” “beats,” “ictuses,” “clicks,” “flicks;” techniques of the “tip of the baton” and “pitch registration,” etc.), without disclosure of the innate (psychological) mechanisms of conducting.
In another instance (one might say overwhelmingly) the conductor considers the technical means, and consequently the conducting itself, as a set of special moves, each of which should cause a certain reaction from performers and a precise sound. Practice proves the fallacy of such a guideline. In various orchestras, even at different stages of a piece’s development the same technical approach can be interpreted and executed differently by the orchestra.
The negative outcomes of such a guideline are revealed in the teaching of the art of orchestral conducting as well. The student masters the “technical method” as a certain motion, which must be followed by a certain reaction of players, rather than a purposeful action applied by the conductor in order to encourage musicians to fulfill the conductor’s intentions. The novice conductor believes that the more masterly he/she executes the motion, the better the result will be in leadership of the orchestra. Therefore, the conductor tries to improve the motion as such, without investing the aspiration to comprehend the specific purpose of the certain performing task. By this attitude the student does not develop strong-willed qualities of the technical means. Thus, only this method converts the movement of the hands into a purposeful action, which acquires prominent strength.
To a large extent most of the conducting methods are out-of-date due to their inflexible and forceful (‘overcoming’ physics) external mannerisms:
The beat-strike in and of itself can by no means be called a proper musical action. It is a ‘smudge’ on the living body of the music. It is artistically introduced into the process of performance in the form of recurrence of the sadly famous “battuta-stick.” Besides this, according to the law of dominant, the implementation of the beat-strike as an active, precisely psychical action . . . to a greater or lesser degree “muffles” the actual sounding of music for the conductor and suppresses his intellectual functions.
Professor Musin expressed the idea that “emphasized” beating eliminates the possibility of demonstrating a logically bonded musical structure (phrase):
Instead of depicting of logically associated constructions the conductor, by beating time mechanically, dismembers the musical texture. The marking of each beat with the emphasized strike of the upbeat isolates the beat, like the indication of each beat at different points of the metrical pattern.
The relationship between the motion of the conductor, the precision of an ensemble, and the character of the orchestral sound (as a result of the conductor's action) has to be viewed as a transmission of the conductor’s inner creative impulses. … The difficulties developing an advanced conducting method are rooted in the differences between the visible, evident, physical actions and the invisible subconscious processes behind the actions. …
The conducting motions are not complicated and techniques of time-beating can be learned in a short time. Nevertheless, the technique of conducting, especially the expressive means of leadership and active influence of players, is in need of fully developed physical sensations. The conductor must be able, through expressive motions, to project his/her emotional state evoked by the content of music. Motor sensation is a link between musical concept of the conductor and his/her expressive gestures, and then through them with the thinking of the musicians. Without masterly developed motor sensations, the conductor cannot advertently respond to the need of the music as well as to the leadership of the performance…
Then, for sure, the conductor's gesture is charged with a particular semantic meaning, and emotional expressiveness of gesture reveals the connotation of music, significance of nuances, author remarks, etc. Therefore, the gesture becomes a substitute for speech during the performance.
In this reference, I would like to caution the reader of Professor Musin’s book that despite the wide usage of schemes, graphics and other ‘external’ aspects of conducting (i.e., broad application of the term “strike”), their proper conception cannot be complete without the comprehension of one of the essential aspect of Professor Musin’s conducting method such as the practical utilization of the phenomenon of the “quantity (texture) of sound” and its sensation (or “touché”).
Moreover, one can understand such concepts as “complete upbeat” and “incomplete upbeat,” “intermediary upbeat,” “converted upbeat” (rounded [curved] motion), “suspended upbeat” and “rhythmically contingent rebound” only in direct reference to the aforementioned “line of sound.” …
As a conductor’s gestures would be able to actively manage the performance, the conductor has to sense the ‘texture’ of sound and musical content as directly as an instrumentalist.
The contour (or line) of sound is a vital segment of advanced expressive conducting syntax. The practical development of profound comprehension and sensation of the phenomenon of the vicinity (contour) of sound is essential for a successful and expressive conducting practice. … Its apprehension (and, eventually, sensation) should become a cornerstone of the conductor’s inner technique.
In direct connection to the phenomenon of contour of sound, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of the methodological description of the converted upbeat’s technique made by Professor Musin. The concept of converted upbeat is an essential part of intercommunicative tool of a progressive conducting method. For example, it is exceptionally useful for coordination of the various entrances of sound (coordination and management of various orchestral time-lags) and interactive conjunction of the metrical points.
The orchestra as a rule acts “on return,” withholding [its] reaction-response to the conductor’s motivating influence. This is not the special exception but a reality of modern orchestral play confirmed everywhere. . . . Such an initiative on [the] orchestra’s part required from the leaders a certain reconstruction of the structure of their managing activities.…
Consequently, the appropriate implementation of converted upbeat’s dominant feature such as rounded motion (with reference to the contour of sound and, consequently, its effect on the musician’s perception) will unify all instrumental attacks and serve as a point of outstripping manifestation of expressive features of conducting. In this regard, it is necessary to mention Professor Musin’s extensive depiction of the anticipatory, multifunctional, and interactive nature of the various preparatory upbeats; as well as, technical descriptions and the practical importance of the perpetual application of the intermediate upbeat (specific continuous preparatory motion before each beat of the conducting pattern). Both features serve as a tool of advanced visualization of a conductor’s creative intentions.
The implementation of the aforementioned progressive techniques, such as various modes of the converted upbeats (and their modifications: elliptical, circled, varied eights, etc.) and rhythmically contingent rebounds, with their obligatory reference and connection to the contour of sound, are useful practical substitution of the archaic and artificial method in performance of striking stroke, click, or other forms of traditional ictus.
It is important to emphasize that Professor Musin continued the development of the Leningrad/St. Petersburg’s tradition of orchestral conducting, which was begun by his teacher Nicolai Malko. This tradition continues to progress toward a revelation of the innate and expressive functions of musical leadership. In this context, it is important to emphasize that Professor Musin made distinction between a gesture as a formal operational physical motion and a meaningful “expressive (figurative) gesture” as a conceptual action ignited by the most important aspect of the conductor’s mental technique – creative inner will:
Dynamic conducting is unthinkable without the presence of the conductor’s willpower.…
There is a need to distinguish motion from action. The action is a motion which is applied to achieve a certain task. There are a limited number of arm motions: up – down, left – right, through the circle… The number of actions performed by the motions is unlimited.
Therefore, in contrast with terms describing the predominant forcible and overcoming method of conducting such as “ictus,” “click,” “strike,” “beat,” etc., the “expressive” one describes the motions whose performance reveals the non-physical and communicative nature of conducting, and which are simply a visual (physical) extension of the conductor’s innate creative impulse.
The strong-willed character of the gesture is not tied to any physical tension, big amplitude, harshness or other traces of volitional exertions.
The necessity of mastering of creative will, as a vital part of a conductor’s inner apparatus, reshapes the whole methodological concept of modern conducting. This concept leads to a recognition that the impediments lie not only in the physical misuse of conducting techniques, but, more importantly, in the misuse of psychological motivations.
The principles of group leadership (either social or musical) suggest that a mental action always precedes its visual (outer) manifestation. Every conductor’s gesture should be ignited and motivated by an uncompromised strength of the inner creative impulse. The conductor manifests an artistically valuable inner upbeat-impulse before receiving the orchestral sound in response. The quality of the orchestra’s response depends largely on the quality (the strength and artistic determination) of such conductor’s inner impulse. This impulse prompts the actions, once the conductor has formed an appropriate model of how a work should both sound and proceed through this concept in an actual performance. …
Ultimately, the concept of the hidden prevalence of inner impulses over gestures suggests that patterns of motions, even the most ‘correct’ ones, which are not ignited by the appropriate inner impulses, are just collections of formal clichés. However, none of the most creative inner intentions will be expressed if their outer manifestations are not organized properly. The achievement of a flexible, agile, and organic physical apparatus is challenging and Musin’s The Technique of Conducting presents a comprehensive analysis of the conductor’s external apparatus.
Finally, it is imperative to bring an important educational and socio-cultural advancement of Professor Musin’s method and its positive impact over the orchestral industry. Even though it was largely customary throughout the last two centuries, the predominantly forceful method in our time emasculates the essence of conducting itself. Moreover, due to rapid social and cultural changes (especially in post-industrial societies), it deteriorates the entire business of live public orchestral performance. This leads to exhausting orchestral auditions in which musicians must perform a great deal of orchestral excerpts in certain premeditated unified styles, sacrificing individuality for metronomic rhythms and specific non-selective tones. What is it, if not an attempt to protect orchestral performance from a conductor’s apparent shortcomings in establishing productive communication? …
Consequently, it became common that the performance level of the orchestra was above the performance level of the conductor. (These become particularly evident towards the end of the twentieth century with the increasing quality of symphony orchestras, which was facilitated by the musicians’ early acquaintance with the orchestral repertoire since youth. This was made possible through professional academic training in ensemble and orchestral performing techniques - in contrast with sporadic or even nonexistent specific practical orchestral training in previous centuries.) …
The deep comprehension of advanced conducting techniques, such as a proper manifestation of the conducting apparatus, a sense of the contour of sound, active muscular relaxation, mental anticipation, possession of vivid musical images transforming into spirited creative impulses, auditory attentiveness, etc., requires time and practice (not to mention score analyses, as well as musicological and theoretical training).
It would be appropriate to affirm that The Technique of Conducting is a significant step towards the modernization of the conducting methodology due to an urgent call for re-designed characteristics of the conductor’s apparatus which will eliminate non-communicative dynamic approaches once and for all: “The link between different sciences and musical practice has been up to now insufficiently established and developed,” Herbert Karajan states, “It is necessary, therefore, to stimulate creation of works in the fields of physiology, psychology, and other disciplines, connected with musical themes.” …
Musin’s books are not easy for every musician to read, as they are written. They are for conductors only. And, I believe, that it is absolutely critical that every conducting student study them… Of course, one can conduct without reading Musin; but, only if one wished to conduct incorrectly.
… The most challenging part of the translation was to find an appropriate match for a specific terminology which Professor Musin used for description of his method. Because denotation of certain techniques described in the book does not have an existing or appropriate match in the vocabulary of the predominant conducting methodological literature at the end of the book one can find a vocabulary of terms which were created by Professor Musin. …
Dr. Oleg Proskurnya
Inda Ioanisian, interview with Yuri Temirkanov from: Besedy s I. A. Musinym. Vospominaniya o Jizni i Uchenikah [Conversations with I. A. Musin. Remembrances of Life and Pupils] (Yerevan: Anait, 1993), 149. (Translated by Oleg Proskurnya)
Ioanisian, interview with Valery Gergiev from: Conversations with I. A. Musin, 151. (Translated by O. Proskurnya)
Ioanisian, interview with Semyon Bychkov from: Conversations with I. A. Musin, 154. (Translated by O. Proskurnya)
Ilia Musin. Uroki Jizni [The Lessons of Life] (Saint-Petersburg: DEAN, 1995), 220. (Translated by O. Proskurnya)
The traditional conducting method suggests that the spot of conductor’s communication with the orchestra should be located at the “tip of the baton,” as if this method assumes that the orchestra’s musicians are trained to constantly follow its movements. The analysis of innate intercommunicative mechanisms between the conductor and orchestra reveals that this approach is just another ‘traditional’ notional method (for example, what if the conductor conducts without baton – the “tip” of which finger should the musicians follow?). (See: George L. Erzhemsky, Psychological Paradoxes of Conducting, Theory and Practice of the Profession, trans. Jeffrey Skinner (St.Petersburg: Publishing House Dean+Adia-M, 1998).
Erzhemsky, Psychological Paradoxes of Conducting, 212. (Emphasis added)
P. 446. (Emphasis added)
Ioanisian, 96-98. (Emphasis added)
For example, the striking motions will have a productive communicative impact if performed in one of its transformed modes suggested by Professor Musin (i.e., suspended upbeat, converted suspended upbeat or along with implementation of rounded motion [i.e., with the use of wrist]).
During the class teaching Professor Musin also called this phenomenon as a “line of sound” [звуковая линия].
“The sensation of sound in the hand” - Musin. The Upbringing of the Conductor, 50.
Pp. 28, 31, 38, 150-2, 155, 181, 184, 188, 190, 192, 277, 547, 666-9.
Musin, Vade Mecum, The Abstract of the Conducting Lectures, 16.
However, the contour of sound includes the innate (semantic) features of conducting, as well.
Pp. 124, 382-3, 600-1. The understanding of existence of an orchestra’s various time-lags is important for comprehension of the concept of the “converted upbeat.” … It is necessary to mention that the presence of the temporal interval suggests the necessity of adjusting the conducting methodology and reveals conducting as a specific conceptual quasi-linguistic (G. Erzhemsky) action, rather than as a predominantly physical act.
Erzhemsky, The Psychology of Conducting, 123.
It is necessary to emphasize that some conductors who are vaguely familiar with the practical methods of Ilia Musin often mistakenly substitute the concept of rounded motion with the simple “Musin’s circles.” Apparently the term ‘rounded’ expresses the concept of curved motion (and its endless variations) more appropriately.
Pp. 124-5, 186-189.
The outstripping mannerism is a direct consequence of the presence of time-lag and becomes an important part of the method. It is appropriate to mention words which Professor Musin’s repeatedly said in class: “All intentions manifested in conducting should occur before the beat! Their manifestation on-the-beat is always unsuitably late.”
For example, the preparatory upbeat for a single triplet metrical figure “should be based on the principle of rounded motion,” since, as the rounded motion (in contrast with the commonly used reinforced vertical down-up gesture), it can be divided in three parts. Such a simple fact is frequently ignored by the predominant conducting methods. (See Chapter “Upbeat,” sub-chapter “One-pattern Triplet Upbeat,” pp. 130-132). …
The important difference between the preparatory and the intermediary upbeats is that inner upbeat not only affects the preceding beat (in accordance with the methodological principles of anticipation) but also influences presently sounding music (pp. 183-5). As a result, with the effective use of the intermediary upbeat, a conductor could create the quality of an upcoming sound and, at the same time, continuously manage the present sound, as well.
Pp. 190-5, 295-346.
This connection brings a sense of firm control of the orchestra’s sound (instead of bouncing off the sound each time after the strike), allowing a conductor to control the intermediate beat within the metrical pattern and sense the fulfillment of the metrical unit (beat or measure), especially in scores with ‘thick’ orchestration.
See an inclusive description of various gestures, which reflects certain commonly comprehensible socio-cultural associations (e.g., “inviting,” “calling,” “directing,” “distancing,” “patting,” “pointing,” “rejecting,” “removing,” “repelling,” “begging,” “tossing,” etc.), pp. 563-583.
Musin. The Upbringing of the Conductor, 54.
Musin, Vade Mecum, 16.
Modern conducting methodologies have to realize the informative quasi-linguistic nature of conducting as a non-verbal (intercommunicative) process. This supports the notion that conducting is, foremost, a process of forming certain concepts, during which the utilization of the conductor’s physical sensations and technical skills are ignited by, and fused to, his/her conscious and, more importantly, subconscious activities, similar to how the vocal apparatus (i.e., vibration of the vocal cords and movement of the lips, tongue and larynx) during speech is activated by an individual’s consciousness, and, as a result, serves as a complex ‘decoder’ of thoughts.
Musin, Vade Mecum, 16.
It is also necessary to mention such aspects as development of artistic will-power and breathing techniques.
Interview with Yuri Temirkanov from: Ilya Alexandrovich Musin: Pedagogue, Conductor, Author, and Contributor to Music Education, Scott E. Woodard, DMA Dissertation Manuscript, Boston University, 2014.
It is necessary to mention that during the translation of the book I encountered the deficiency in the terminological narrative of the specific techniques described by Professor Musin. In my opinion there is an urgent need in a mutually accepted updated vocabulary for the description of the conducting techniques in accordance with the conditionally new methodological paradigms such as: a time-lag, various modes of the upbeat, the constant mental anticipation of the action, the instant relaxation and breathing techniques, inner vocalization (auditory differentiation), and other advanced techniques.
Dr. Oleg Proskurnya
The Inner-Impulses and Gestures of Orchestral Conducting:
The Psycho-Physical Function of Musical Leadership
Table of Contents
Foreword I by Heather Buchman
I was first drawn to explore the St. Petersburg style of conducting in 2007 by the suggestions of three emerging conductors I met whose technique and musicianship I admired. Remarkably, all of them had taken conducting workshops with Dr. Proskurnya and his colleagues, former students of IlyaMusin. I was frustrated by the difficulty of finding the same level of musicality and mastery in conducting that had come relatively easily to me as an instrumentalist.From the start of this new chapter in my conducting studies it was clear that this approach had much to offer – a more subtle and refined approach to being expressive and clear in my conducting.It also posed a choice to me, as it does to everyone who encounters it having previously learned a different conducting style, whether I was willing to reconsider some basic ideas about how orchestral conducting is done, and to accept the implications of new ideas.
A conductor’s basic understanding of the dynamics behind conducting, of how conductors and orchestral players communicate, will influence every gesture that you make on the podium. It is at this level that Dr. Proskurnya’s analysis of the task of conducting begins. From a sophisticated understanding of these dynamics an entire technical approach emerges organically and logically.
With respect to Russian traditions of musical training in general, one thing that strikes a musician not raised in this tradition is that the Russian approach to musical training (whether in conducting, violin playing, or even for that matter ballet) is intensely rigorous and demanding, both physically and mentally. It draws on a highly sophisticated understanding of muscular anatomy and demands an extremely highly developed level of body awareness. It’s also grounded in the understanding that musical sound originates in the mind, and that the gestural vocabulary and grammar of conducting flow directly from one’s mental conception of the sound.
What distinguishes Dr. Proskurnya’s description of conducting methodology is his immersion in the principles of physiology and psychology as they pertain to conducting, as well as his skill in bridging the gap between simply telling the student what to do and being able to explain exactly how to go about doing it, which is much harder. Addressing muscular structure and function and describing how these work in conducting technique is for many conductors a most direct and effective path to take one’s conducting to a new musical level.
As reflected in this book, Dr. Proskurnya’s teaching is especially resourceful in helping students experience certain physical sensations which are essential to this approach to conducting: “touching the sound,” “taking the sound from below,” and controlling the rebound motion which causes problems for so many conductors. He describes a wide range of gestural vocabulary to evoke or pull sound from the musicians – leading them, rather than playing the orchestra like a huge impersonal instrument.And it is vital to understand the psychological-physical theoretical framework in which Dr. Proskurnya positions the technique. This way of leading (being ahead of) the orchestra is like continually swimming upstream; to stay in front you must apply a continuous effort of proactive musical will against the current, so to speak.
This approach expands the physical space in which we conduct to three dimensions, rather than a flat two-dimensional plane. In this space the conductor can make contact with and “sculpt” the sound, initially with just hands and eventually adding the stick. This has greatly helped me, a wind player, to connect more effectively and expressively with the horizontal bowing of the string sections. It has also added greatly to my understanding of how to be simultaneously clear and expressive in initiating the sound for wind players by guiding the dynamic flow of their breath. Another revelation (particularly for someone coming from a wind instrument background) is that breathing in conducting is not literal, but energetic. It does take some time for orchestral musicians unaccustomed to playing behind the beat to adapt to this technique. But once they do adjust, the leading relationship between conductor and musicians becomes infinitely more comfortable.
Fundamentally this approach to conducting traces a path around and beyond certain technical barriers to the free expression of musical ideas. In outlining an approach which evokes sound and dynamic energy in a natural, unforced manner, Dr. Proskurnya points toward a higher level of gestural communication and of continuous feedback and adjustment which, together with refining one’s musical concept to the highest degree, constitute great musical leadership.
Heather R. Buchman
Director of Hamilton College Orchestra
My personal experiences as an orchestral musician and conductor stimulated my interest in advanced conducting techniques. While analyzing observations being made during my own teaching and performing, I noticed that current instrumental methods are mainly reliable practical guides to performing techniques. However, there are a limited number of acceptable methods available for conducting students. While the instrumental performance methods have been supported and sustained by successful practice, the most widespread conducting methods only illustrate schematically the external (visual) tools of conducting without exploring the inner psycho-physical functions of musical leadership (this imbalance was also mentioned by Nikolai Malko in OsnoviTechnikiDirijirovaniya [The Fundamental Techniques ofConducting], 12, and George Erzhemsky in Psychological Paradoxes of Conducting, Theory and Practice of the Profession, 9-17).
The idea for the title of this manuscript came after an emotional discussion with an older colleague (a professor of conducting at a major university) who wondered why I was trying to “destroy the whole well-established system.” He suggested that in modern times “everything is known about conducting.”
This book is not for those who seek another set of numerous graphics and schemes or detailed instruction of score study and analysis. Nor is it for those who are in favor of a pictorial (to impress the audience) or “traffic-control” style of conducting. The principal goal of this book is to trace the history of the conductor’s professional communicative tool - explicit (gestures) and implicit (inner impulses) - through major transformations as shaped by discoveries in psychology, psychophysiology, neuroscience, psycholinguistics, and biomechanics.
The book does not intend to outline or resolve all methodological or ideological conflicts present in modern conducting. Rather it will strive to acknowledge the principal existing predicaments through the recognition of the inner (mental) aspects of conducting as a specific form of non-verbal intercommunication (the terminology is suggested by Professor George Erzhemsky) and the intrusion of primary reflexes into conducting as a professional practice. This book seeks to oppose the artificial approaches in modern conducting methodologies: “against this inhuman use of human beings” (Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, 16).
In this book one can find a method for obtaining a reliable and flexible conducting technique (in the Methodology part, which includes exercises on inner and external features of the conducting apparatus). This apparatus incorporates techniques that are based upon the principals of communication and have a firmly established sense of connection with the orchestral sound.
The many quotes in this book come from the methodological texts of Professor Ilia Musin and Professor George Erzhemsky. Access to these texts is limited, especially in English-speaking countries; therefore I am presenting some of them here, for the first time.
On-line resources - Ilya Musin
Progressive conducting method - Dr. Oleg Proskurnya