The March 2015 issue of Choral Journal contains an article from Jeffery Wall titled “Intentional and Expressive Conducting: It’s All in the Rebound.” An excerpt of the article follows. You can read the rest in the March 2015 issue of Choral Journal here! Click the yellow “Search the Archives” button and choose March 2015 from the dropdown menu.
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Conducting is a fairly young discipline in historical context. There are, therefore, few resources and texts that accurately describe the physical act of desirable conducting for the emerging choral conductor. Naturally, many of the existing resources focus strongly on the point of arrival or departure: the ictus. Upon closer examination, however, it is clear that the majority of useful communicative information lies in the rebound. Instrumentalists are often critical of choral conductors for their lack of clarity. Likewise, choral conductors are often critical of instrumental conductors for their lack of expression. This is a gross stereotype, but by closer study of the rebound in conducting gesture, choral conductors may increase clarity while maintaining an expressive quality in their conducting.
Before dissecting the rebound for its communicative qualities, it is important to clarify the term for the scope of this discussion. For this author, the rebound refers to any motion away from or toward the stationary ictus point. Many pedagogues further segment this movement as rebound and preparatory gesture, dependent on when the motion changes direction to return to the ictus. Teaching emerging conductors is a challenge since all conducting students have different anatomical structures and different ideas of conducting concepts. Simplifying terminology will aid in the mastery of these very tactile concepts. If one looks at the entire movement of the rebound as a single concept, it is easier to understand the gesture as a method for communicating meter, tempo, dynamic, and articulation.
Conducting texts are peppered with all kinds of conducting diagrams containing dots, solid curvy lines, exacting straight lines, and dashed lines to demonstrate the different patterns, ictus placement, and articulations. It is often difficult for emerging conductors to see these diagrams and ascertain natural conducting movement. Student conductors commonly end up tracing with a baton or some point of the open hand, which is likely not the intent of the diagrams.
Likewise, there has been a fundamental pedagogical disagreement among conductors for years in regards to the placement of the ictus on the horizontal conducting plane. Some conductors prefer a single focal point for placement of all icti.1 Others prefer the ictus placement of each beat at varying axes on the conducting plane. As the focus of conducting study moves away from the importance of ictus and toward the study of rebound, the argument becomes moot.
In David DeVenney’s book Conducting Choirs, Vol. 1: The Promising Conductor, he does place emphasis on the ictus as a teaching element but also says something very revealing about the rebound.
An ictus is defined by the rebound, by the change of direction in the pattern at the exact moment of the beat. Singers live from ictus to ictus—this is where their activity takes place. Their response to your gesture begins on one ictus point and ends on the next… The conductor, on the other hand, lives in the rebound of each beat. It is in the rebound of the beat preceding each ictus where the conductor has the sole opportunity to convey performance information: not only tempo (indicated by the speed of the rebound), but also dynamic, style, articulation, and other crucial performance indications.2
The information needed to discern a particular ictus point has less to do with the placement of the ictus on the conducting plane and more to do with the direction from whence it came. The same can be said about the direction of the rebound following the ictus. The ictus alone is a stationary moment in time. It has no movement and therefore contains little musical information.
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Read the rest of this article in the March 2015 issue of Choral Journal here! (Go to “Search Archives” and choose March 2015 from the dropdown menu)
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1 Atherton, Leonard, Vertical Plane Focal Point Conducting (Muncie, IN: Ball State University, 1989).
2 DeVenney, David P., Conducting Choirs, vol. 1: The Promising Conductor (Dayton, OH: Roger Dean, 2010): 3.