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Understanding the Art of Gesture

When it comes to leading an orchestra, there is more to it than just up-and-down movements. A conductor is responsible for three crucial aspects: timing, interpretive decisions, as well as administrative aspects of the ensemble. Conductors play a vital role and stand at the forefront of orchestras. People often wonder, “How do the musicians know what to do?” It’s a great question, so let’s break it down.

Conducting 101

During the 16th century, musical coordination evolved with the introduction of vertical arm movements. This involved raising and lowering the arm to convey rhythm, tempo and occasionally pitch. In the 17th and 18th century, violinists used their bows to lead the group’s tempo. As orchestras grew bigger, it became more difficult for one individual to lead the group from their position within it. Eventually the baton was first used in a concert in London in 1820. 

This brings us to present-day orchestras, where the conductor stands on a podium, elevating them to a height all performers can see. Movements are centered around the hand and movement of the baton. The most important beat is called the “preparatory beat,” establishing the tempo, character, and shape of the music while also ensuring everyone starts together. 

When it comes to the actual movements of a conductor, they are indeed vertical and lateral. An important aspect of the conductor’s movement is where the beat lands, often known as the “ictus.” This particular point also indicates the cut-off points in the music. The baton is typically held in the right hand, while the left hand is used to express crescendos (slowly getting louder), diminuendo (slowly getting softer), staccato (clipped notes), or legato (smooth) segments of the music. 

Most importantly, the conductor is the artistic leader. The conductor is in charge of a vast array of instruments, all playing simultaneously. It is their responsibility to notice issues within the music, such as timing and tuning. They must ensure the violins play together, if the flutes come in too early or if the percussion is too loud. It is also their responsibility to fix these issues as soon as they occur. 

The La Porte County Symphony Orchestra is conducted by the amazingly talented Dr. Carolyn Watson. Watson is an Australian conductor who has been based in the United States since 2013. Over the years, she has led multiple orchestras all over the United States. In 2015, she won the 2015 American Price for Orchestral Performance as Director of the Interlochen Arts Academy Orchestra. With her vast array of experience and academic success, the La Porte County Symphony Orchestra is grateful to be led by such an amazing artist. 

Leading the Musical Legacy in LaPorte County

The La Porte County Symphony Orchestra has over half a century of experience honoring amazing musicians each performance. Do not miss out on amazing performances this season, purchase your tickets today!