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More Midwest Thoughts

January 18, 2010

Back from the 2009 annual Midwest Band and Orchestra Conference in Chicago and still pondering some of the stimulating words of wisdom from Craig Kirchhoff.

During his presentation at Midwest, Maestro Kirchhoff had a few primary points to make about what conducting is:

  1. Expressive conducting is listening and reacting
  2. Non-verbal conducting must reinforce verbal instructions
  3. Find gestures to create the right sound
  4. While talking to the ensemble, use hands always.
  5. Everyone has a “membrane” which keeps us from freely communicating.

In point number one, Kirchhoff was alluding to the predilection conductors have to “choreography.”  It is hard to listen and react and change one’s gesture if one has already determined a singular way to elict a sound from an ensemble.  I think this is a good point; the conductor must have a repertoire of gestures from which to draw in order to change the sound they hear from the ensemble.

Point number two seems a bit obvious, but to clarify:  It is illogical to ask the ensemble to play legato then proceed to conduct with a staccato beat.

Kirchhoff’s third point relates to his first: Find a gesture. Conductors become too inflexible and not intuitive enough at times with their gestures. It is important to have any kind of expression at your disposal.

The fourth point is an interesting one. Kirchhoff believes it is important to use your hands while giving verbal instructions to the ensemble. He maintains this will continually draw attention to your hands and their musical inflection. Plus, this process continually integrates the conductor’s mind and body. The concept winds up being beneficial for both conductor and ensemble.

In his final point, I believe Kirchhoff is using the word “membrane” as I would use the word “filter.”  But, in this case he is not talking about propriety in rehearsal discussion. He is encouraging the conductor to be free and accessible enough to their own consciousness to articulate what they hear inside that the music should be. 

I find these five points interesting and compelling. Any reactions out there?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ben permalink
    January 18, 2010 4:58 pm

    Well Brian,

    I think they all have their merits, but there’s a difference between being flexible with the motions and doing something completely brand new in performance that might freak out the players. I know that even in performances, I’m not just buried in my music or what the others in the group are doing. There’s something to be said for spontaneity, but “Surprise, I just decided to change the entire feel of this section!” may be a little drastic.

    And about always using gestures, it makes sense to gesticulate while talking. I do it all the time without thinking about it. But I don’t know if it’s a necessity, especially in a professional or pre-professional atmosphere.


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