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This "Essentials in Conducting" was written by Karl Wilson Gehrkens in English language.

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Project Gutenberg's Essentials in Conducting, by Karl Wilson Gehrkens
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Title: Essentials in Conducting
Author: Karl Wilson Gehrkens
Release Date: August 25, 2007 [EBook #22392]
Language: English
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK ESSENTIALS IN CONDUCTING ***
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ESSENTIALS
IN
CONDUCTING
BY
KARL WILSON GEHRKENS, A.M.
PROFESSOR OF SCHOOL MUSIC
OBERLIN CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC
AUTHOR OF “MUSIC NOTATION AND TERMINOLOGY”
$1.75

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BOSTON
OLIVER DITSON COMPANY
NEW YORK
CHICAGO
CHAS. H. DITSON &
CO.
LYON &
HEALY
LONDON
WINTHROP ROGERS, Ltd.
MADE IN U.S.A.
Copyright MCMXIX
By
OLIVER
D
ITSON
C
OMPANY
International Copyright Secured
To the Memory of
ROBERT C. BEDFORD
for many years
SECRETARY
OF
THE
B
OARD
OF
T
RUSTEES
of
TUSKEGEE INSTITUTE
CONTENTS
Page
CHAPTER
I—Introduction
1
CHAPTER
II—Personal Traits Necessary in Conducting
8

Page 4

CHAPTER
III—The Technique of the Baton
20
CHAPTER
IV—Interpretation in Conducting—
Introductory
36
CHAPTER
V—Interpretation in Conducting—
Tempo
46
CHAPTER
VI—Interpretation in Conducting—
Dynamics
57
CHAPTER
VII—Interpretation in Conducting—
Timbre, Phrasing, etc.
64
CHAPTER
VIII—The Supervisor of Music as Conductor
76
CHAPTER
IX—The Community Chorus Conductor
85
CHAPTER
X—The Orchestral Conductor
93
CHAPTER
XI—Directing the Church Choir
108
CHAPTER
XII—The Boy Choir and its Problems
118
CHAPTER
XIII—The Conductor as Voice Trainer
131
CHAPTER
XIV—The Art of Program Making
140
CHAPTER
XV—Conductor and Accompanist
147
CHAPTER
XVI—Efficiency in the Rehearsal
152
APPENDIX
A—Reference List
164
APPENDIX
B—Score of second movement of Haydn's Symphony,
No.
3166
INDEX
181
PREFACE
IN putting out this little book, the author is well aware of the fact that many
musicians feel that conductors, like poets and teachers, are "born and not
made"; but his experience in training supervisors of music has led him to feel
that, although only the elementary phases of
conducting
can be taught, such
instruction is nevertheless quite worth while, and is often surprisingly effective in
its results. He has also come to believe that even the musical genius may profit
by the experience of others and may thus be enabled to do effective work as a
conductor more quickly than if he relied wholly upon his native ability.
The book is of course planned especially with the amateur in view, and the
author, in writing it, has had in mind his own fruitless search for information
upon the subject of conducting when he was just beginning his career as a
teacher; and he has tried to say to the amateur of today those things that he
himself so sorely needed to know at that time, and had to find out by blundering
experience.
It should perhaps be stated that although the writer has himself had
considerable experience in conducting, the material here presented is rather
the result of observing and analyzing the work of others than an account of his
own methods. In preparation for his task, the author has observed many of the
better-known conductors in this country, both in rehearsal and in public
performance, during a period of some twelve years, and the book represents an
attempt to put into simple language and practical form the ideas gathered from
this observation. It is hoped that as a result of reading these pages the amateur
may not only have become more fully informed concerning those practical
phases of conducting about which he has probably been seeking light, but may
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DEFINITION
be inspired to further reading and additional music study in preparation for the
larger aspects of the work.
The writer wishes to acknowledge the material assistance rendered him by
Professor John Ross Frampton, of the Iowa State Teachers College, and
Professor Osbourne McConathy, of Northwestern University, both of whom
have read the book in manuscript and have given invaluable suggestions. He
wishes also to acknowledge his very large debt to Professor George Dickinson,
of Vassar College, who has read the material both in manuscript and in proof,
and to whose pointed comments and criticisms many improvements both in
material and in arrangement are due.
K.W.G.
OBERLIN
, O
HIO
June, 1918
Essentials in Conducting
CHAPTER I
INTRODUCTION
The word "conducting" as used in a musical sense now
ordinarily refers to the activities of an orchestra or chorus
leader who stands before a group of performers and gives his entire time and
effort to directing their playing or singing, to the end that a musically effective
ensemble performance may result.
This is accomplished by means of certain conventional movements of a slender
stick called a
baton
(usually held in the right hand), as well as through such
changes of facial expression, bodily posture,
et cetera
, as will convey to the
singers or players the conductor's wishes concerning the rendition of the music.
Conducting in this sense involves the responsibility of having the music
performed at the correct tempo, with appropriate dynamic effects, with precise
attacks and releases, and in a fitting spirit. This in turn implies that many details
have been worked out in rehearsal, these including such items as making
certain that all performers sing or play the correct tones in the correct rhythm;
insisting upon accurate pronunciation and skilful enunciation of the words in
vocal music; indicating logical and musical phrasing; correcting mistakes in
breathing or bowing; and, in general, stimulating orchestra or chorus to produce
a tasteful rendition
of the music as well as an absolutely perfect
ensemble
with
all parts in correct proportion and perfect balance.
In order to have his directing at the public performance function properly, it thus
becomes the conductor's task to plan and to administer the rehearsals in such
a way that the performers may become thoroughly familiar with the music, both
in technique and in spirit. In other words, the conductor must play the part of
musical manager as well as that of artistic inspirer, and if he does not perform
his task in such fashion as to be looked up to by the members of his chorus or
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Page 6

SUMMARY OF
THE HISTORY
OF
CONDUCTING
THE
PSYCHOLOGICAL
BASIS OF
CONDUCTING
orchestra as the real leader, and if he himself does not feel confident of being
able to do his work better than any one else upon the ground, he cannot
possibly be successful in any very high degree. A conductor must first of all be
a strong leader, and failing in this, no amount of musical ability or anything else
will enable him to conduct well. We shall have more to say upon this point in a
later chapter
.
Conducting of one kind or another has undoubtedly been
practised for many centuries, but directing by gestures of
the hand has not been traced farther back than the
fourteenth century, at which time Heinrich von Meissen, a
Minnesinger, is represented in an old manuscript directing a
group of musicians with stick in hand. In the fifteenth century the leader of the
Sistine Choir at Rome directed the singers with a roll of paper (called a "sol-fa"),
held in his hand. By the latter part of the seventeenth century it had become
customary for the conductor to sit at the harpsichord or organ, filling in the
harmonies from a "figured bass," and giving any needed signals with one hand
or the head as best he could. Conducting during this period signified merely
keeping the performers together; that is, the chief function of the conductor was
that of
"time beater." With the advent of the conductor in the rôle of interpreter,
such directing became obsolete, and from the early nineteenth century, and
particularly as the result of the impetus given the art by the conducting of
Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner, the conductor has become an
exceedingly important functionary, in these modern days even ranking with the
prima donna
in operatic performances! It is now the conductor's aim not merely
to see that a composition is played correctly and with good ensemble; more
than that, the leader of today gives his own version or
reading
of the
composition just as the pianist or violinist does. Instead of being a mere "time
beater" he has become an interpreter, and (except in the case of the organist-
director of a choir) he attempts to do nothing except so to manipulate his
musical forces as to secure an effective performance.
The conductor works largely through the instrumentality of
instinctive imitation
; that is, his methods are founded upon
the fact that human beings have an innate tendency to copy
the actions of others, often without being conscious that
they are doing so. Thus, if one person yawns or coughs, a
second person observing him has an instinctive tendency to do likewise. One
member of a group is radiant with happiness, and very soon the others catch
the infection and are smiling also; a singer at a public performance strains to
get a high tone, and instinctively our faces pucker up and our throat muscles
become tense, in sympathetic but entirely unconscious imitation. In very much
the same way in conducting, the leader sets the tempo,—and is imitated by the
musicians under him; he feels a certain emotional thrill in response to the
composer's message,—and arouses a similar thrill in the performers; lifts his
shoulders as though taking breath,—and causes
the singers to phrase properly,
often without either the conductor or the singers being aware of how the
direction was conveyed. It is at least partly because we instinctively imitate the
mental state or the emotional attitude of the pianist or the vocalist that we are
capable of being thrilled or calmed by musical performances, and it is largely
for this reason that an audience always insists upon
seeing
the artist as well as
hearing him. In the same way the musicians in a chorus or orchestra must see
the conductor and catch from him by instinctive imitation his attitude toward the
music being performed. This point will be more fully discussed in a
later
chapter
, when we take up interpretation in conducting.
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Page 7

CONDUCTING
A
COMBINATION
OF SCIENCE
AND ART
IMPORTANCE
OF MUSICAL
SCHOLARSHIP
In setting out to become a conductor it will be well for the young musician to
recognize at the outset that by far the larger part of the
conductor's work rests upon an art basis, and that only a
comparatively small portion of it is science; hence he must
not expect to find complete information concerning his
future work in any treatise upon the subject. It is one thing to state that there
are three primary colors, or that orange is the result of mixing red and yellow,
but it is a very different matter to give directions for painting an effective
landscape, or a true-to-life portrait. One thing involves
science
only, but the
other is concerned primarily with
art
, and it is always dangerous to dogmatize
concerning matters artistic. To carry the illustration one step farther, we may
say that it is comparatively easy to teach a pupil to strike certain piano keys in
such a way as to produce the correct melody, harmony, and rhythm of a certain
composition; but who would venture, even in these days of frenzied advertising,
to promise that in so many lessons he could teach a pupil to play it as a
Hofmann or a Paderewski would? Here again we see clearly the contrast
between science and art, matters of
science being always susceptible of
organization into a body of principles and laws
which will work in every case
,
while art is intangible, subtle, and ever-varying.
The application of our illustration to conducting should now be clear. We may
teach a beginner how to wield a baton according to conventional practice, how
to secure firm attacks and prompt releases, and possibly a few other definitely
established facts about conducting; but unless our would-be leader has musical
feeling within him and musicianship back of him, it will be utterly futile for him to
peruse these pages further, or to make any other kind of an attempt to learn to
conduct; for, as stated above, only a very small part of conducting can be
codified into rules, directions, and formulæ, by far the larger part of our task
being based upon each individual's own innate musical feeling, and upon the
general musical training that he has undergone. All this may be discouraging,
but on the other hand, granting a fair degree of native musical ability, coupled
with a large amount of solid music study, any one possessing a sense of
leadership can, after a reasonable amount of intelligent practice, learn to handle
a chorus or even an orchestra in a fairly satisfactory manner. It is our purpose in
general to treat the scientific rather than the artistic side of conducting, and we
are taking for granted, therefore, that the reader is endowed with musical
feeling at least in a fair degree, and has acquired the rudiments of musical
scholarship as the result of an extensive study of piano, organ, singing, ear-
training, music history, harmony,
et cetera
, and especially by attentive listening
to a very large amount of good music with score in hand. As a result of
combining such musical ability with a careful reading of these pages and with a
large amount of practice in actually wielding the baton, it is hoped that the
beginner will arrive at his goal somewhat earlier than he would if he depended
entirely upon what the psychologist calls the "trial-and-error" method of
learning.
The musical amateur who is ambitious to conduct should
therefore study music in all its phases, and if in doubt as to
his talent, he should submit to a vocational test in order to
determine whether his native musical endowment is
sufficient to make it worth his while to study the art seriously. If the result of the
test is encouraging, showing a good ear, a strong rhythmic reaction, and a
considerable amount of what might be termed native musical taste, let him
practise his piano energetically and intelligently, and especially let him learn to
read three and four voices on separate staffs (as in a vocal score) in order to
prepare himself for future reading of full scores. Let him study harmony,
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Page 8

IMPORTANCE
OF
PERSONALITY
counterpoint, form, and, if possible, composition and orchestration. Let him
work indefatigably at ear-training, and particularly at harmonic ear training, so
that notes and tones may become closely associated in his mind, the printed
page then giving him auditory rather than merely visual imagery; in other words,
let him school himself to make the printed page convey to his mind the actual
sounds of the music. Let him study the history of music, not only as a record of
the work of individual composers, but as an account of what has transpired in
the various periods or epochs of musical art, so that he may become intelligent
concerning the ideals, the styles, and the forms of these various periods. And
finally, let him hear all the good music he possibly can, listening to it from the
threefold standpoint of sense, emotion, and intellect, and noting particularly
those matters connected with expression and interpretation in these renditions.
In as many cases as possible let him study the scores of the compositions
beforehand, comparing then his own ideas of interpretation with those of the
performer or conductor, and formulating reasons for any differences of opinion
that may become manifest.
Let the young musician also form the habit of reading
widely, not only along all
musical lines (history, biography, theory, esthetics,
et cetera
), but upon a wide
variety of topics, such as painting and the other arts, history, literature,
sociology, pedagogy,
et cetera
. As the result of such study and such reading, a
type of musical scholarship will be attained which will give the conductor an
authority in his interpretations and criticisms that cannot possibly be achieved in
any other way. Let us hasten to admit at once that the acquiring of this sort of
scholarship will take a long time, and that it cannot all be done before beginning
to conduct. But in the course of several years of broad and intelligent study a
beginning at least can be made, and later on, as the result of continuous growth
while at work, a fine, solid, comprehensive scholarship may finally eventuate.
CHAPTER II
PERSONAL
T
RAITS
N
ECESSARY
IN
C
ONDUCTING
In the
introductory chapter
it was noted that the conductor
must build upon a foundation of musical scholarship if he is
to be really successful; that he must possess musical
feeling; and that he must go through extensive musical
training, if he is to conduct with taste and authority. But in addition to these
purely
musical
requirements, experience and observation have demonstrated
that the would-be conductor must be possessed of certain definitely established
personal characteristics, and that many a musician who has been amply able to
pass muster from a musical standpoint, has failed as a conductor because he
lacked these other traits.
It is not my purpose to give at this point an exhaustive list of qualities that must
form the personal equipment of the conductor. In general it will be sufficient to
state that he must possess in a fair degree those personal traits that are
advantageous in any profession. But of these desirable qualities three or four
seem to be so indispensable that it has been thought best to devote a brief
chapter to a discussion of them. These qualities are:
1. A sense of humor.
2. A creative imagination.
3. A sense of leadership combined with organizing ability.
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Page 9

A SENSE OF
HUMOR
ILLUSTRATIONS
OF HUMOR IN
THE
REHEARSAL
THE VALUE OF
A CHEERFUL
ATTITUDE
The first of these traits, a sense of humor, may perhaps upon first thought seem
a peculiar quality to include in a category of virtues for the
professional man of any type, and especially for the
musician. But upon reflection it will be admitted
that the
ability to see things in a humorous light (which very frequently means merely
seeing them in true perspective) has helped many a man to avoid wasting
nervous energy upon insignificant occurrences, while the lack of this ability has
caused more trouble among all sorts of people (and particularly, it seems to me,
among musicians) than any other single thing.
Some player or singer is either over-arduous or a bit sleepy
during the first stages of rehearsing a new composition, and
makes a wrong entrance, perhaps during a pause just
before the climacteric point. The occurrence is really funny
and the other performers are inclined to smile or snicker,
but our serious conductor quells the outbreak with a scowl. The humorous
leader, on the other hand, sees the occurrence as the performers do, joins in
the laugh that is raised at the expense of the offender, and the rehearsal goes
on with renewed spirit.
An instrumental performer makes a bad tone, and the conductor laughs at him,
saying it sounds like a wolf howling or an ass braying. If the remark is
accompanied by a smile, the performer straightens up and tries to overcome
the fault; but if the comment is made with a snarl there is a tightening up of
muscles, an increased tension of the nerves, and the performer is more than
likely to do worse the next time.
There is a difference of opinion between the conductor and some performer
about fingering or bowing, phrasing or interpretation, and a quarrel seems
imminent; but the conductor refuses to take the matter too seriously, and,
having ample authority for his own viewpoint, proceeds as he has begun, later
on talking it over with the performer, and perhaps giving him a reason for his
opinion.
Humor is thus seen to have the same effect upon a body of musicians as oil
applied to machinery, and
musical machinery seems to need more of this kind
of lubrication than almost any other variety.
But the conductor must distinguish carefully between sarcastic wit, which
laughs
at
, and humor, which laughs
with
. In a book bearing the copyright date of
1849, the writer distinguishes between the two, in the following words:
Humor originally meant moisture, a signification it
metaphorically retains, for it is the very juice of the mind,
enriching and fertilizing where it falls. Wit laughs at; humor
laughs with. Wit lashes external appearances, or cunningly
exchanges single foibles into character; humor glides into the
heart of its object, looks lovingly upon the infirmities it attacks,
and represents the whole man. Wit is abrupt, scornful ...; humor
is slow and shy, insinuating its fun into your heart.
The conductor with a sense of humor will ordinarily have
the advantage also of being cheerful in his attitude toward
the performers, and this is an asset of no mean significance.
It is a well-known psychophysical fact that the human body
does much better work when the mind is free from care, and that in any
profession or vocation, other things being equal, the worker who is cheerful and
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THE VALUE OF
IMAGINATION
IN
CONDUCTING
optimistic will perform his labor much more efficiently at the expense of
considerably less mental and bodily energy than he who is ill-humored, worried,
fretful, and unable to take a joke. But the
foreman
who possesses this quality of
cheerfulness and humor is doubly fortunate, for he not only secures the
beneficial results in his own case, but by his attitude frequently arouses the
same desirable state of mind and body in those who are working under him. It
is particularly because of this latter fact that the conductor needs to cultivate a
cheerful, even a humorous outlook, especially in the rehearsal. As the result of
forming this habit, he will be enabled to give directions
in such a way that they
will be obeyed cheerfully (and consequently more effectively); he will find it
possible to rehearse longer with less fatigue both to himself and to his musical
forces; and he will be able to digest his food and to sleep soundly after the
rehearsal because he is not worrying over trivial annoyances that, after all,
should have been dismissed with a laugh as soon as they appeared. There
must not of course be so much levity that the effectiveness of the rehearsal will
be endangered, but there is not much likelihood that this will happen; whereas
there seems to be considerable danger that our rehearsals will become too cold
and formal. A writer on the psychology of laughter states that "laughter is man's
best friend";
and in another place (p. 342) says that the smile always brings to
the mind "relaxation from strain."
Creative imagination is an inborn quality—"a gift of the
gods"—and if the individual does not possess it, very little
can be done for him in the artistic realm. Constructive or
creative imagination implies the ability to combine known
elements in new ways—
to use the mind forwards
, as it
were. The possession of this trait makes it possible to picture to oneself how
things are going to look or sound or feel before any actual sense experience
has taken place; to see into people's minds and often find out in advance how
they are going to react to a projected situation; to combine chemical elements
in new ways and thus create new substances; to plan details of organization in
a manufacturing establishment or in an educational institution, and to be able to
forecast how these things are going to work out.
It is this quality of creative imagination that enables the inventor to project his
mind into the future and see a continent spanned by railways and telephones,
and the barrier of an ocean broken down by means of wireless and aeroplane;
and in every case the inventor works with old and well-known materials, being
merely enabled by the power of his creative faculties (as they are erroneously
called) to combine these known materials in new ways.
In the case of the musician, such creative imagination has always been
recognized as a
sine qua non
of original composition, but its necessity has not
always been so clearly felt in the case of the performer. Upon analyzing the
situation it becomes evident, however, that the performer cannot possibly get
from the composer his real message unless he can follow him in his
imagination, and thus re-create the work. As for adding anything original to what
the composer has given, this is plainly out of the question unless the interpreter
is endowed somewhat extensively with creative imagination; and the
possession of this quality will enable him to introduce such subtle variations
from a cut-and-dried, merely
accurate
rendition as will make his performance
seem really spontaneous, and will inevitably arouse a more enthusiastic
emotional response in the listeners.
Weingartner sums up the value of imagination in the final paragraph of one of
the few really valuable books on conducting at our disposal.
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