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The conductor sets this gesture into motion, which is then mimicked by section leaders. The difference being section leaders are responsible to their sections; conductors are responsible for the entire ensemble. Conductors are noted by their personalized gestures. Some conductors are more energetic, others conservative. Personalized hand gestures define one conductor from another. A conductor’s facial expressions, noticeable only to the musicians on stage, convey much in communicating musical directives during a performance. Mood changes are ever present with facial clues. Talented musicians have learned to spot these subtle changes for style, tempo, dynamics and expression. All this is performed with the conductor’s back to the audi- ence. Only those expressive hand gestures are visible to the audience behind as they try to interpret the wishes of the conductor.


Ensemble performers use body language to enhance phrases, communicate with each other for precision and changing styles. Each individual has his/her own degree of body gesturing as they perform. Professionals do not play robot fashion. It’s impossible. The interpretation dictates subtle body movements as when speaking. Successful speakers master these body gestures, which involves use of the hands or facial muscles enhancing communication and giving nuance to the spoken word. The same applies when a musician performs. A natural movement takes place involving shoulders, head, arms, shifting of body, etc. It becomes a musical choreography.


Young students tend to perform without this natural body gesturing. Occasionally, a young student exhibits it from the beginning and we take notice and refer to that student as a “natural”. To develop this choreography, first check a student’s stance (or seating position). The body normally wants to shift weight for comfort. This freedom allows the rest of the body to follow. Avoiding a frozen state is pri-


mary. Natural freedom in movement is essential to both a successful audio and visual part of performing. Students do not usually come by this naturally. It must be brought to their attention and taught just as any technique.


To initiate these early gestures, start with the basic bow after a performance. Later, build on acknowledging one’s accompanist. Emphasize a warm smile upon entering the performing area. Keep a balanced stance when perform- ing, allowing freedom to shift body weight. Teaching youngsters to watch their band or orchestra conductor can be taught by insisting they look up at each letter or num- ber marking. Taking their eyes off the music and finding their way back can be daunting. With the anchored mark- ing present, it makes it easier to find their place. With these early basics emphasized, the ground work is ready for building more later. The young students learn by small steps followed later by leaps. It happens!


Dorothy McDonald studied violin in Detroit, Michigan with Esther Wyman Miquelle and Mischa Mis- chakoff, renowned past concert- master of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She attended Cass Technical High School and Wayne State University where she majored in instrumental string music. After graduating, she taught music and conducted orchestras in Detroit, Livonia, Oak Park and East Lansing Public Schools for a total of forty


years. In addition, she has taught at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp for sixteen years, and remains active as an adjudica- tor and clinician for MSBOA music festivals throughout Michigan.


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