What is it about a conducting gesture that produces results? And not just any result, but the preferred result, the one that matches a conductor’s musical idea?
The short answer was addressed originally in my earlier series on the Hierarchy of Music Making, that one’s audiation informs the nature of a gesture through a series of somatic sensory impulses. A conducting gesture is, in fact, a response to one’s imagination.
The simple image of a conducting motion is first an ictus, followed next by a rebound, and then another cycle of motion. This sequence was earlier described historically in chant chironomy as the arsis and thesis, or the rise and fall gesture. In fact, if you combine the rise with the fall of arsis and thesis you construct the sign of infinity, an ongoing ebb and flow, a yen and yang symbol. What makes the artistic significance in this gestural pattern is subtle control of speed and weight, the essence of style.
In my last article I wrote about ictus, the touch point. These structural articulators of time and meter are essential, but also limited as to the ultimate representation of music. The rebound gestures are senior events to the more junior ictus, and more clearly carry the interpretive information that is needed by musicians to respond to a conductor. These rebound qualities are: anacrusis; suspension; crusis; metacrusis; and syncopation.
Anacrusis and Crusis
The anacrusis is the rebound motion that most conducting texts call the “prep beat,” but I prefer to assign a vernacular of inflection to this function as “ready,” raising the pitch of voice as in asking a question. In essence the anacrusis motion gathers energy for the subsequent and inevitable release of energy to the crusis. As the anacrusis is a basic “from” gesture, the crusis is a basic “to” gesture, with its release of energy.
Suspension lives in the space between anacrusis and crusis. This minute gestural space has also been written about in the vocal process, between the breath and the onset. In no way is the suspension an interference with the flow of process. It is simply a transitional moment where quietness and coordination precedes the next physical event.
Crusis and Metacrusis
An effective visual representation of this physical sequence of gestures is the swing of a baseball bat. As the bat is pulled back in preparation we have the anacrusis, with a small adjustment to suspension. The contact of the ball is then the crusis, ball meets bat. However, there is still residual energy in the bat, a differential between gathering the energy and releasing of energy in striking the ball. This residual energy manifests in a “follow through,” the metacrusis. This is where all residual energy is dissipated and we return to a zero stasis, ready once again for anacrusis. What is important to a conductor is that each quality needs to look like the quality. To rush toward an ictus, neglecting the visual contents of the subsequent rebound quality, is a bit like pitching to your own team with a fastball.
There is not enough that can be said about the importance of metacrusis. It is in this small space of time that quietness in music making lives. It is in this dissipation of energy that time has its repose, where “audiation” resides. It is in metacrusis that the principal difference between ictus and rebound best distinguish themselves. The ictus is a point of arrival (mainly rhythmic information), while rebound carries the information of gathering energy, weight of tone, speed of subdivision, and general coordination of physical ensemble skills.
Syncopation shifts a musical event from the ictus to a rhythmic point in opposition to the ictus. This rhythmic event is controlled within metacrusis, for within the rebound one must have the discipline to control this particular rebound, the syncopation, and not to engage a new crusis too early. The quality of ictus is a “from” gesture, and the speed of rebound in the metacrusis gesture is particular to show syncopation.
For a conductor the most significant gestural information resides between touch points. For dancers this interpretive information is between the points where feet meet ground. For a singer the music is created from one onset to the next release of breath. Composers build this musical information into their notation, with style and nuance that must be re-created with a performer’s (soloist’s or conductor’s) keen sense of gestural craft.
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