How Do the Greats Approach the Science of Choral Conducting?

I recently wrote on the subjects of beauty and wonder and their integral relationship to the art of great conducting. At the same time, I stressed how important the mechanics of conducting were, albeit in the role of the humble servant, because even the greatest of artists is dependent to a large degree upon his tools and training. Michelangelo, without training and in wont of the best paints and plaster, would have struggled to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (although he most certainly would have succeeded to a greater degree than many others in possession of both). Of course this leaves the musician asking the question how much of the science of conducting do I need to possess, or is it helpful to possess, in order to grow and develop into a consummate choral artist/conductor? Where can I learn this science?

While searching the internet I discovered a DMA document that I believe many of you will find helpful because it follows the work of six great choral conductors, focusing on the techniques each one uses in their choirs to build a lasting foundation upon which a beautiful and moving musical edifice might be constructed. Christopher Smith’s A Comparative Study of Select Choral Conductors’ Approaches to Unification of Choral Sound, Rehearsal, Conducting, and Leadership follows the methods and tactics of Frieder Bernius (Germany), Tõnu Kaljuste (Estonia), Stephen Cleobury, John Eliot Gardiner (United Kingdom), Weston Noble, and Robert Shaw (United States) in order to discover how they approach the science (and sometimes even the art) of choral conducting, giving special consideration to the musical groundwork each one believes necessary to lay in his choir before the choral arts can flourish. We properly call this choir training, and while choir training in itself will never assure a beautiful and moving performance, the lack thereof will most certainly hinder it. Don’t be hampered by the lack of knowledge of the science of conducting, so that when the time is ripe and the wonder and beauty of great music wound your soul, such seed will fall upon good ground.

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