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The Art of Musical Gesturing

gesture (

-a movement or position of the hand, arm, body, head, or face that is expres- sive of an idea, opinion, emotion, etc. -the use of such movements to express thought, emotion, etc. -any action, courtesy, communication, etc., intended for effect or as a formality; considered expression

Musical performances are full of complimen- tary gestures. These gestures create the added dimension to a successful performance. It is pleasurable to watch. It conveys emotion, communication and artistry. It is the difference between listening to recorded music at home, and going to a concert and enjoying the ambi- ence of a grand concert hall with the impact of the added visual. Sharing this moment among others in the audience is bliss. Without the musical gestures to watch, the joy of a perfor- mance would be lessened.

Gestures are not theatrics, but integral motions that musicians master beginning with how they approach the stage, to departing after- wards. They include walking, bowing, and all those movements in between. They are what keeps the audience glued to the performer, and enhance the total performance. Wise teachers introduce these important gestures and manner- isms to their students early so they will become natural in time. They are the icing of a perfor- mance.

I have watched and marveled whenever a young musician actually bows during the final applause. Unfortunately, most have not been taught this basic gesture, thus leaving them with an awkward moment afterwards, look- ing self-conscious as they stare out at their audience. My advice: start early. Think of it as teaching manners. This visual of communicat- ing to an audience produces an air of profes- sionalism and finality to a performance, plus ingratiates a performer to an audience.

Standing up quickly after a small ensemble 19

Dorothy McDonald

performance with a synchronized well-re- hearsed bow with all the members can even make a difference in applause level. In addition to the actual performance, acknowledging the audience says a lot about performers. Simply taught, when someone says, “thank you” (ap- plause), reply with, “you’re welcome” (a bow). Unfortunately, sometimes a student will show disappointment in their performance with facial expressions. These are uncalled for gestures, which audiences find uncomfortable having to witness. Regardless of the outcome, best to save those visible frowns for backstage, and concentrate on thanking your audience for their attention. Students should be reminded to be gracious and consider the comfort of their audi- ence. Chances are the audience wasn’t even aware of any mishaps. Also, audiences can be very forgiving!

Students do not usually come by these gestures naturally. Teaching a proper performing stance with feet positioned to secure good balance, walking onto the stage with good posture, standing straight after an orchestra performance without fidgeting, responding to a conductor’s handshake as a concertmaster, and walking off stage in a timely manner, are important steps in developing a student’s awareness of concert protocol. The art of the bow should be from the waist and looking at your feet, counting one, two. I have observed students staring outward at their audience, rather than downward dur- ing their bow. By all means, one should stress looking downward to avoid this eerie-looking audience gaze.

At some point down the road, hopefully these carefully taught mannerisms take on a life of their own and they become routine, like writ- ing thank you notes to grandparents for those yearly birthday gifts. These gestures don’t just happen. They are taught, hopefully early.

Concert gestures may appear manufactured at first, but in time they become routine. When one becomes more aware of their surroundings, they become more analytical with less time to


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