The Connoisseurship of Conducting: A Qualitative Study of Exemplary Wind Band Conductors

By Barry, Nancy; Henry, Daniel | Contributions to Music Education, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Connoisseurship of Conducting: A Qualitative Study of Exemplary Wind Band Conductors


Barry, Nancy, Henry, Daniel, Contributions to Music Education


Introduction

Conducting is surely the most demanding, musically all-embracing, and complex of the various disciplines that constitute the field of music performance. Yet, ironically, it is considered by most people - including, alas, most orchestral musicians - to be either an easy-to-acquire skill (musicians) or the result of some magical, unfathomable, inexplicable God-given gifts (audiences). (Schuller, 1997, p. 3)

Conducting is an essential skill for music educators. The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) lists "Conducting and Musical Leadership" as one of the basic competencies required for the preparation of music teachers:

The prospective music teacher must be a competent conductor, able to create accurate and musically expressive performances with various types of performing groups and in general music situations. Instruction in conducting includes score reading and the integration of analysis, style, performance practices, instrumentation, and conducting techniques. (NASM Handbook, 2010, pp. 98-99)

Given the importance placed upon conducting within the music education curriculum, the large number of published studies about conducting is not surprising. Studies related to the amount of time ensemble directors spend in rehearsal either giving verbal instruction or conducting the ensemble, as well as instructional sequencing during rehearsals are typical of the majority of the research literature (Blocher, Greenwood, & Shellahamer, 1997; Duke & Madsen, 1991; Goolsby, 1996; Goolsby, 1997; Madsen, 2003; Mory, 1992; Price, 1992; Yarbrough & Hendel, 1992; Yarbrough, Price, & Hendel, 1994).

Conducting, like many other terms, is operationalized in myriad ways. Definitions of conducting range from specific techniques of gesture and conducting patterns to complex psychological and philosophical processes (e.g., Demaree & Moses, 1995; Green, 1997; Gumm, Battersby, Simon, & Shankles, 2011; Schuller, 1997). Berz (1983) defined aspects of conducting according to how they function: neutral, personal, musical, technical, entertaining, motivational, or nonfunctional. This study operationalizes conducting as including all elements of the rehearsal process (both cognitive and physical) from preparation through post-rehearsal reflection.

While we may know a great deal about certain patterns of conducting behavior (what successful conductors tend to do), we know relatively little about the complex cognitive processes related to conducting (why successful conductors do what they do). Studies quantifying specific conducting behaviors abound, but there is relatively little research literature exploring the cognitive processes informing those behaviors. These quantitative studies can provide useful generalizations that have contributed to the scientific understanding of effective conducting, but serious gaps in the literature remain-many important questions have not yet been addressed. Additional studies are needed to provide deeper insight into the complex ways that expert conductors translate their pedagogical philosophy into practice. This study is designed to address that gap in the literature. Qualitative methodology will be employed to provide an in-depth perspective on this important topic in music education.

Review of Related Literature

A literature review revealed numerous research studies of conducting - most of these used a quantitative approach. Several studies have counted certain nonverbal and/or verbal "behaviors," generally concluding that more expert conductors tend to talk less during rehearsal, offer more focused information when talking to their ensembles, are more efficient in non-verbal communication, and focus upon deeper levels of musical expression in comparison to less experienced conductors (e.g., Bergee, 2005; Blocher, Greenwood, & Shellahammer, 1997; Duke & Madsen, 1991; Goolsby, 1996, 1997; Madsen, 2003; Mory, 1992). Other related studies that quantified sequential instructional patterns revealed similar results, concluding that more experienced conductors are generally more efficient and more effective than less experienced conductors (Price, 1992; Yarbrough & Hendel, 1993; Yarbrough, Price, & Hendel, 1994). …

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