We’ve all seen a conductor waving frantically in front of a group of well-trained musicians, but what are they actually doing up there and how does it include all of us?
Turns out, conductors are using a fascinating visual language to tell each musician how their role in a piece of music should sound, moment to moment. And amazingly, we all may know some of that language instinctively!
Even if you are not a “classical music person”, have a look at the fun and insightful videos in this article, then dive into the one we recommend before we sign off all about the famous Ben Zander. You’ll understand both yourself and an important slice of the world a little better!
A recent study shows that there is a sort of dialogue of motion between conductor and ensemble 1, where the actions of the musicians are directly related to the leading gestures of a good conductor.
This not only allows one unified interpretation to be transmitted to a diverse group of players but also to the audience. The visual performance from the conductor helps the audience better interpret the feel of the piece!
A Familiar Gesture
If you’re anything like the people in the video below, you have an idea of what a conductor looks like when they direct an orchestra or a choir.
It all comes down to body language. Their poised silence suddenly changes with movements of the hands, arms, and even their face, somehow eliciting music that ranges from triumphant to playful to delicate and through everything in between. It’s a sight to behold, and we intuitively understand the subtle cues ourselves, so it sticks with us!
To start us off with a little fun, the New York City-based “Prank Collective” Improv Everywhere, gave people on the street the opportunity to try conducting out for themselves. Before we find out the meaning behind the motions, check out these folks like you and me, having a turn behind the podium:
But why do ensembles, made up of well-trained musicians, need someone to tell them what to do?
They know quite a bit about music already, so shouldn’t they be able to get along just fine without someone in front of them? Well according to James Gaffigan, the conductor in our next video, the primary role of a conductor is to bring life to a piece of music.
Think about how complex that might be: through careful study, a conductor must grow to understand what a long-dead composer was trying to communicate and then established their own rendering of a composer’s vision. How do they pass on this interpretation to an ensemble? Check out this video from Vox that explains why conductors do what they do…
Like with so many other scenarios in life, the more we know, the more we can appreciate and connect with everything around us.
I find it hard to keep myself from tapping my foot or bobbing my head when I hear music I love, so it makes sense that the natural human inclination to move to music can be used as a tool to lead, shape, and organize the beautiful sounds produced by orchestras and choirs.
Body language is universal. We all use it every day to convey our emotions, and it’s only fitting that we use it in our musical expressions as well.
Why should we care?
If you consider yourself a “music person” then I’m sure this article brought a little delight and wonder, but if you have secretly never really understood the passion people have for classical and orchestral music, man do we have an article for you to have a look at next!
In fact, Dr. Lynda, the founder of EWC, tells me that the following article contains one of the most inspiring videos she has ever seen (and that’s saying something), and the insights in it continue to be “game changers” in her business, personal and yes, musical worldview.
Grab a favorite beverage and curl up with the antics and profound wisdom of Ben Zander, if you want to understand yourself and a lot of other things better! (There’s a little bit about classical music there, but it’s mostly about you and I.) Check out the video in this article:
Thanks for dropping by EWC for your antidote to the daily news.
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- D’Ausilio, Alessandro, et al. “Leadership in Orchestra Emerges from the Causal Relationships of Movement Kinematics.” PLOS ONE, Public Library of Science, 9 May 2012, journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0035757. Accessed 2 Oct. 2018. ↩
- “Conduct Us.” YouTube. Improv Everywhere, 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=5_cbnBak8RI>. ↩
- “What a Conductor Actually Does on Stage.” YouTube, Vox, 20 July 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=z_yIn8V3UcU. Accessed 2 Oct. 2018. ↩