Conducting functions of an early and a late career choral director: A mixed-methods analysis

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The purpose of the present study was to compare two university-level choral conductors, one in early career and one in late career, through a mix of quantitative and qualitative measures of a six-function theory of conducting. A previous line of research factored conducting gestures into (1) mechanical precision, (2) expressive, (3) motivational, (4) psychosocial, (5) physical technique, and (6) unrestrained tone functions, and, in list order, identified the first two as music- oriented, the latter four as musician-oriented, odd numbered functions as control-oriented, and even numbered functions as release-oriented. A previous mixed-measures comparison of one university’s conductors demonstrated distinct priorities logical to the nature of the ensemble, especially the relatively higher priority toward precision in orchestra and greater gesture adaptations to physical technique in band and choir. Replicating this mixed-measures design, the present study used descriptive, correlation, and discriminant analysis statistics to compare consenting ensemble member (N=51) and conductor Conducting Priorities Survey ratings, ensemble member (N=6) and conductor video-recall interview content analysis, researcher video observation function analysis, and Psysound3 computer analysis of concurrent ensemble sound. Mixed measures corroborated both conductors’ musical priority toward expression over mechanical precision and musician priorities toward physical and mental engagement, with musician-related functions explaining ensemble sound more substantively. Both conductors were also found to develop a unique gesture vocabulary in relation with musicians, the early-career conductor more unconsciously, reactively, persistently controlling, and varying in function, and the late-career conductor more consciously and proactively releasing of control across a rehearsal and integrative of multiple functions. In interviews, the early-career conductor and respective singers remained relatively unconscious of gestures linked to singing technique compared to the conscious awareness of gestures linked to lifted soft palate, placement of tone, and tension by the other choir’s participants; despite initial differences, all participants grew more conscious and descriptive when prompted to examine specific functions. The present study adds to previous corroborations of the discriminant, concurrent, and predictive validity of the six-function theory, the validity and reliability of the Conducting Priorities Survey as a quick measure for research and educational use, and the comparable validity and value of measuring conducting functions from multiple perspectives. Broad implications are that a strict tradition of music-related conducting needs to be updated and expanded to include controlling and releasing musician- related functions, and that the definition of acceptable conducting practices needs to adapt to specific vocal or instrumental techniques and ensemble types.
Original languageEnglish
StatePublished - Sep 2018
EventSymposium on Research in Choral Singing - Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Duration: Sep 1 2018Sep 30 2018


ConferenceSymposium on Research in Choral Singing


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