May 9, 2016 at 3:39 pm #515203
I am currently directing a choir of about 35-40 people (on a good Sunday). I have talked to a couple of music pastors and have gotten varying opinions on the topic of how big should a choir be to use a baton versus using just the hands. I enjoy using a baton because I feel certain elements are communicated better, but I have also been told that if it is just choir you shouldn’t use a baton. Are there any “rules” that govern the practice of using a baton in certain circumstances?May 11, 2016 at 11:06 am #515419
Marie Grass AmentaModerator
I use a baton. I was trained to use a baton. I feel comfortable using a baton. Sometimes, I don’t use a baton but it is ME who decides to use it or not use it, depending on the repertoire and the group I am conducting.
The main choral ensemble I conduct is a chamber choir consisting of 12 to 15 adults, most having music degrees. They have no problem with me using a baton (or not). In fact, they would complain if I didn’t use one.
It is the conductor (YOU) who decides to use a baton or not. Everyone has their own personal preferences and, music pastors aside, it isn’t for them to decide for YOU. There are no hard and fast rules for using a baton.
As far as *just choir*……..there are many FAMOUS orchestral conductors who do NOT use a baton. Are they wrong? No, they do what they feel is best for them and their ensemble. You do the same.
MarieJune 29, 2016 at 2:46 pm #517794
The general principle is that using a baton helps larger groups to see you and helps musicians who are using music (and therefore not always looking at you directly). If the ensemble you’re directing has memorized their music, they have the capacity to watch you more closely.
Of course, a good conductor who is not comfortable with a baton will struggle when asked to use one for sight reasons. If you’re not comfortable with a baton, trying standing on an elevated podium to be better seen by a larger group.June 30, 2016 at 9:20 am #517828
I totally agree with the comments saying it is the choice of the conductor. So follow your instinct and whatever you are comfortable with.
That said, I think it is interesting that, in my experience, most choral conductors do not use a baton and most orchestral conductors do. Is this only training / habit / tradition, or might there be some reason more inherent to the ensembles? The jury is probably out on this one, but I would not write off the possibility that choral singing is an experience quite different to orchestral playing and might benefit from different gestures. If this is true, these gestures might be easier to achieve without a baton (I certainly feel so, but that might just be what I am used to). And there is one really important difference: the text. Might it be that our hands can reflect the text (both the technical side of the language, such as the length or placing of the consonants, as well as the poetic sense of the words) more readily without the baton?
I am sure everyone reading this will understand that I am only groping for an explanation of a phenomenon, not judging anyone else’s methods. I am completely sure you can conduct a choir wonderfully both with and without a baton – and you will probably do it best in the way that you are comfortable with.June 30, 2016 at 9:21 am #517833
Michael J. SeredickParticipant
There are no “Baton Police” in choral or instrumental music. Neither are there rules regarding baton length. However, there are abundant opinions. If you use a 36″ ‘Lawrence Welk” baton and your group performs with perfection, you’ve made a good decision. As a member of The Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, I’ve performed with many major choral and instrumental directors, including Robert Shaw, and observed every variation from no baton, tiny baton, wow-that’s a big baton, to only using expressive hands/fingers. The phrase “the end justifies the means” applies on this topic.July 1, 2016 at 2:48 pm #517915
Very good comments all around. I certainly agree with Marie that nobody else has a vote about your decision. I’ve generally used a baton when there are instruments as well as singers — Messiah etc. The instrumentalists are there generally for only one rehearsal, and since they are used to a baton, it makes for efficient communication with the orchestra. I also train the choir to understand standard conducting patterns and gestures (hand or baton) as part of building up their overall musicianship. Doing that also makes me pay attention to what I do, such as avoiding mirroring my right hand with my left hand.
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