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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

GUEST BLOG: “The 'Why' Question (Part 3): Symbols & Gestures” by Jameson Marvin

       For conductors, acquiring this “inspired revelation” is a complex process. In other words, realizing the symbolic notation, in sound, requires the mind’s ear, the conceptualization of all the information that the symbols reveal, and of all that they imply. Bringing this composite picture to aural life requires imagination. Score study is the catalyst that fires the imagination. Score study spawns our mental-aural image, and this insight acts as a powerful energizer in rehearsal for us to motivate singers towards achieving our conception of the composer’s intentions.
       It is important to keep in mind that the composer starts with a blank page; thus, we may assume that the kernel of inspiration for the composer is drawn from the text. Our job is to analyze how the composition illuminates the text by what the composer writes, from the total design to the details that order its architecture: the harmony, melody, rhythm, and texture, and instrumentation in concerted works. This study reinforces and clarifies our mind’s ear of the composer’s expressive vocabulary: tempo and tempo change, linear direction, dynamics, phrasing, articulation, and rubato - written down, or implied by the emotions expressed represented by the notational symbols.
       We bring all of these insights to rehearsal. In rehearsal our goal is to develop ensemble – a unified sound continuum that project our mental-aural image of the composer’s intentions. Achieving ensemble is challenging. It is made possible through unifying pitch, duration, timbre, and intensity – get it in tune, match the vowels, get it together, and get it in balance. This achievement creates a unified sound continuum that can project the full arsenal of expression signaled (explicitly or implicitly) by the composer. Once ensemble is achieved we are able to expressively and communicatively project the meaning of the music we sing. In this context, the core of the choral art: rehearsing can be a profoundly inspiring experience, both in rehearsal and in performance, for our students, our listeners, and for ourselves.
       To summarize: all these structural, stylistic, and expressive elements relate in some way to text meaning and affect, or emotion. Does the composition reflect the text broadly or in detail? Does the composer try to illuminate the meaning of a word, or the mood of a verse, or a single line of text, or by reflecting a change in mood -- a passing emotion, or simply by providing a general mood for the entire composition.
       Mood - what could be more human than mood, and especially our sensitivity to changes of mood? Mood sensitivity may be the most important window through which we gain score-insight, which creates aural meaning: informed music making. The humanity in music boils down to our ability to understand the composer’s intended communication of emotion, and our capacity to bring it to meaningful life, in sound.
       Throughout history there can be little doubt about music’s profound capacity to inspire, to uplift, to rejuvenate spirits. Moments, past and present, of mourning and rejoicing have elicited group-song, joining the collective cathartic spirits and experiences of the participants. In this context the real answer to the “Why question” is dependent upon how we experience an emotional connection to the composer’s conception. It is the emotion that we feel about a piece of music that motivates us to perform it, and especially to teach it. That is our ultimate energizer – the connection that motivates us to teach our conception of a composition so that we can share it with our students. Our insights are the catalyst for drawing our students closer to experiencing meaning through music making. The resulting inspiration is the catalyst for experiencing the transcendent power of music.
(This is the third installment of a three part series.  READ Part 1 and Part 2.)