Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Finally -- a Little Help With Gesturing

Over the years I have wondered what to do with my hands and body while singing.  It is somewhat easy when I'm singing a solo in front of a choir, oratorio style, and can hold my book.  But when I'm just out there by myself, it is very difficult to know what is "right."

I actually have scoured books and the Internet looking for some kind of recommendations/guidelines regarding gesturing.  The best help I've been able to find thus far is to merely study singers -- watching them on youtube and live -- trying to figure out who is effective and who is distracting and why.

I have noticed some things that look nice and that I like both for the hands at rest, and for the hands while gesturing, and I have tried to mimic them -- but I have not been satisfied with mere copying, because it has always seemed that gesturing should be motivated from within, and I have not been able to access that part of the singing.

The trouble I've had with figuring out gesturing is where and when and how much to gesture exactly.  Whenever there are choices -- and with gesturing it seems like the choices are numerous -- it can be hard to decide, and many times I have wished someone else would just choreograph it for me and let me try to connect the choreography to some kind of meaning.

What I've settled on for now is to start with my hands in an attractive resting position and observing where I want to move naturally while singing.  Then I take the natural movements and make some deliberate choices and give them a little more shape, in a similar way to how one improvises little cadenzas, but then takes the improvisations and writes them down and has them "planned" and worked out and standardized for performance, trying to make the planned and prepared flourishes seem as spontaneous as possible, all while striving to re-create the moment when those movements had sprung forth more organically.

Well, at last I have found some helpful information on gesturing. On the blog Helping You Harmonize, in her post "Gesturing and Song," conductor Liza Garnett gives some philosophies and understanding of where gesturing should come from while singing.  The most helpful idea I gleaned from her article is that singers often gesture to emphasize small musical units rather than the gesture growing out of larger musical idea.  When singers gesture with the small musical units, they make those units seem like separate thoughts as opposed to being part of a whole musical idea.

Gestures can be thought of just like musical phrases themselves, beginning in a seed form, then having a growth point.  They are natural to us, and will make sense if we allow them to grow from an organic place that is connected to the larger musical ideas being expressed.

I am so excited to have found a little something that makes sense to me about gesturing at long last.  I guess it makes sense that a conductor would be thinking deeply about gesturing like this,  and I'm going to work with these ideas.  In fact, it might be a useful exercise to take a class in conducting, or even read up a little on conducting.  Ms. Garnett has published a book about conducting (Choral Conducting and the Construction of Meaning).  Perhaps I shall be able to check it out at some point, although while looking up a link for the book to post I see that it is a pretty expensive book  Maybe there will be a copy of it in a music library somewhere.

What are your thoughts on gesturing?  Have you had any "aha" moments where an approach to gesturing made sense all of a sudden?  How have you solved this?

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