NOTES FROM ERIC ERICSON'S CONDUCTING SESSIONS AT HAYSTACK , 1986
These notes are from several sessions (hence I've abbreviated in some places) that Eric Ericson did on basic conducting technique. This took place at the Haystack Workshop in Astoria, Oregon. I was singing in the 16-voice chamber choir that did a concert as well as providing the workshop choir. These are exercises to practice, or which are useful in teaching conducting (I've used them regularly). I'll spread this over two posts, corresponding to the two days Eric did this. (Sorry for any formatting "oddities" -- I had to scan and old typed version to pdf and then convert to MS Word, which made for some challenges) It's difficult, of course, to write about something that is physical and visual, but I've done my best!
1) Posture - find a balanced posture - now rotate your body side to side—relax your arms and let them follow your body - note that the arms follow in a circular way - "you need to find a natural way for your body to conduct"
2) Put your thumb and forefinger together and press intensely, so intensely that your fingertips become white - but localize the tension so that it's only in your fingers, not your arm - move your arms freely, tension only in the fingers - "too much muscle can kill the music"
3) Now bring your hand up to a 'normal' position - feel attachments that lift your arm
- lift , then relax - just let your arm drop - now close your eyes, lift and relax - now move your arm out to the side, lift and relax
- have a partner lift your arm with no tension then let go - it should fall naturally
- now feel as if your arm is being lifted only by an attachment at the finger - then from the wrist , elbow, shoulder
4) Now clasp your hands together and press them together hard - feel the intensity, but no tension in your shoulder
- shake hands with your partner, very firmly - check with the other hand to see that there is no tension in the shoulder of your partner
5) To find the position of the hand while conducting, simply lift up from by your side - find a natural position - avoid the elbow out or in, just ''natural”
6) what the conductor does must help vocal production (E. doesn't want baton for this reason)
7) the focus of the beat is the entire hand (not the fingers—too tense/ not the wrist—too floppy)
- the hand is where the choir reads the main information - the whole body gives 'resonance' (supports, is in agreement with) with the hand
8) conduct in 1 (Eric plays the piano) - "feel the magnetic pull towards the rebound spot" (ictus)
- now try with both hands ("don't go too high - work in the center of the body")
- feel contact with the breath and the level of the hands
9) bounce the beat off of the left hand, held at belly level
- now bounce it off the left hand at the top, the hand at the top of the beat
- now move the hand with no destination (like painting a wall)
(Eric plays a waltz - "you want a clear one that provokes what follows"}
10) now conduct with the whole arm - now focus in the elbow - see how awkward and inefficient
11) now conduct in a four pattern - E. watches and says: "don't let your elbow go out for beat 2" "don't put beat 1 in front of the body - it makes for an unnatural position"
- "don't think beat as in "beating” (schlag), use the positive aspect of heartbeat"
12) (continue conducting in 4) - feel the hand leading the beat , the arm follows
(comments to class while conducting) "relax your shoulder" "concentrate the beat in the hand" "walk around a little bit" "smaller beat , very small"
13) E. has class alternate bars conducting 4 while counting 2 and vice-versa
- then beat 3, count 1 (E. says onnne, going immediately to the 'n') beat 1 , count "1-2-3
- then beat 6, count 2
- beat 2, count 6
- (exercises of the "least common denominator")
14} "The size of the beat is related to the tempo, not the dynamic”
- he does an exercise to help feel this: change tempo with the beats the same size - doesn't work
- (he also notes that generally he doesn't want beat going above the eye level)
- now he alternates randomly, playing the piano and calling out the changes one bar ahead
- then improvises freely - conductors now keep that pattern against his rhythms
15) Independence of hands: r.h./1.h.
- r.h. conducts four, l.h. goes up and down while you sing a scale:
- then, do the opposite (the 1.h. goes the opposite direction of the scale)
16) Articulation: alternate:
- make sure the articulation of the hand coincides with what the voice does
- marcato calls for a faster rebound , contraction of muscle (E: "In America I generally feel there is too fast a rebound. This loses the possibility of sonority between beats .")
- Eric uses 12/8 for developing a legato beat - plays the opening of the St. Matthew Passion while conductors conduct ("feel the pull of the beat" )
17) now conduct 12/8, but sing only the first 8th note of every beat on the syllable “pom”
- Now on the 2nd eighth note
- now on the 3rd eighth note
- (you must think all the of the eighths and show the consequences of each beat
- the class keeps up this pattern while E improvises jazz