Audiation Before Gesture
In the first article in this series I laid out a rationale for the value of understanding and building nested hierarchy. We are applying here a high-level and substantive organizational principle that serves as a central tool for effective work. We started with “music” as our most junior element of the hierarchy and we move next to the emerging levels of “study” and “audiation.” Last time we talked about the progression from music study to audiation. This time we turn our focus to gesture.
I recall in my early years of teaching that I would offer both my school and church choirs the opportunity to “tour,” to take our music on the road and to sing for whoever would listen. In planning the goals of the tour, I mistakenly placed the social aspects of the tour ahead of the musical aspects, wanting the choir members to “bond” with each other and to remember the travels. I scheduled musical presentations therefore more as an assumed ingredient of a “choir tour.” How wrong could I have been?
Within a couple of such tours I awakened to the realization that if the music was not at the center of the tour, and if the music was not something we were proud of, the choir didn’t care if they partied with each other. It was the successful music making that fed the care for each other, not the other way around. This truth from experience informed the basis for the hierarchy we are exploring in this series.
At the most junior position in our hierarchy is the music. From music grows the evolving senior levels of study, audiation, and our next level “gesture.”
Gestures are informed essentially by our audiation, and this progression is seriously phenomenal. As with many growth places for musicians here is another example where information outside of music is a benefit, in this case science.
As singers we have all at least heard the notion that a musical idea (vocal), a simple thought, will create subtle activation in the vocal folds. I was once told by my laryngologist that in vocal rest one should not even think musical ideas, the folds will still approximate and diminish the full benefit of vocal rest. It was only years later that any of that information transferred to my study of conducting gestures.
Audiation holds a powerful position in the hierarchy. It is the product of study and it yields information that manifests in gesture. How this happens, however, is a “wow” factor. A musical idea, an imagination of music yet to vibrate, is part of our stimulus modality, an internal perception that enhances the inevitable sound that follows.
When we imagine something, our neural system informs our body to move in subtle ways. In conducting there are two specific ways in which these senses can be leveraged into gesture.
Proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body, and the strength of effort being employed in movement. Closing one’s eyes and touching one’s nose with a finger is an example of this sense.
When we have a musical idea, and hold the intention to show this idea in a gesture, the brain integrates information from proprioception and from our vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement and acceleration. In other words when we think a musical idea our body goes into the act of creating a response to the thought, and one that is within our physical capability. Our brain moves an idea into an external physical movement.
Haptics is the science of applying touch, tactile sensation and control within hand-eye coordination. Here is the sense that converts our musical idea into sensations that are felt in the hand.
Can we not be amazed enough at the implication here to a keyboard artist? Success at the keyboard is all about touch. But so are the “touch points” in conducting. Our pedagogical word for conducting touch points is “ictus.” How we are perceived to approach and rebound from the “ictus” is essential to the conducting gesture. So, haptics is the sense that refines hand-eye coordination. In the end any musical intention to move, and the quality of our gesture follows our hierarchy.
By paying attention to how our body responds to musical audiation, albeit subtle, assists us to refine some conducting instructions from the past. Remember these: “Don’t over-conduct, and “Less is more?” Or to paraphrase a popular hymn, this could also become another meaningful instruction, “Move how the spirit says move.” Next month I shall conclude this series on hierarchy with a discussion of the next senior position, “expression.” Until then may your music be full of your self.
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