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Conducting Gestures and Dynamics

A good general principle is this: the softer the dynamic, the smaller the gesture. I also find it effective to lower my hands slightly, and bring them closer to my body, To me, the danger of a too-large piano gesture is, to borrow a phrase from Hulk Hogan, "Whatareyagonna DEW when the fortissmo runs wahld on YEW?" In other words, you've got to leave yourself room for bigger gestures.

Now we need to have a chat about crescendos and decrescendos. From my perspective, these gradual dynamic changes require separate gestures for each hand (particularly on decrescendos). I usually keep my right hand in a loose pattern, but decreasing its size, height and distance from my body. Even if I drop the pattern, I'm still using that hand to keep the choir's breath moving (more on this in a subsequent post). Simultaneously, I still my left hand and slowly draw it back over the course of the decrescendo. This is an effective visual for the choir — kind of like pulling back on a stereo's volume slider.

The reverse approach is effective for a crescendo, although from my perspective it's not as essential here. More than half the time, I get good results by simply increasing the size of my gesture. It's all about finding a method that you're comfortable with, and that the choir responds to.

One more thing: it's important to remember that dynamics and tempi are different things. It's obvious on a cognitive level, but inexperienced directors often struggle with a tendency to slow down as they conduct through a decrescendo, and vice versa. Some singers also have this tendency, but I think it's a more prevalent problem for directors. A little private practice (preferably using a metronome to keep the beat steady) helps a lot.

Next up: the effect of conducting gestures on choral breathing.

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