Musical conducting from my dan tien

19 04 2011

Thanks for visiting again! I’ve been away from the studio a bit, doing some cool stuff. It’s never too late to learn something new!

As my Facebook friends already know, I went to a choral conductors workshop one weekend and a food forum with farmers and chefs the next.

Back in the studio I’m preparing for a visit from the Easter bunny, a group art show, a trip to Kohala to scout for a family reunion in 2012, and summer drawing classes for the neighborhood kids. Today’s story is …


A last-minute private plea to attend a choral conductors workshop appeared in my e-mailbox, saying only five conductors and four singers had signed up.

What a shame, because a delightful gentleman named Rodney Eichenberger was in Honolulu to show and teach how a choir director’s posture and hand movements produced a corresponding sound from a group of singers. A conductor’s conductor, the professor was now in his 80s; and who knows when he would come to the Islands again. Would I consider attending?

With 30 dollars I registered as a singer for two days (Conductors need singers!), with meals included. To me, this was a good deal, to learn from the best! I enjoy choral singing: school choirs, church choir, pit chorus, Honolulu Chorale, lunchtime choir, glee club, neighborhood Christmas carolers. If the opportunity presents itself and it feels right in my heart, I’m there.

Before teaching us his bag of tricks, Rod Eichenberger shared his rules for conductors:

No talking. Except to identify the title of the piece, line or measure. The time spent talking is put to better use singing.

No playing of individual voice parts. Just start right in and sing the piece start-to-finish two times. This encourages sight-reading, he said. For those singers who have personal issues with the music, they will resolve the issue by the end of the second time through. We had just one exception to this rule when the accompanist pointed out that the melody line was not being sung correctly.

Conduct from your energy power center, your dan tien, not any higher or lower. Dan tien is a Chinese tai chi term referring to the area of your body about the size of your fist, below your navel and toward the curve of your back. Described another way, when conducting keep your hand movements directly in front of you, about waist level and below while standing perfectly straight.

*Trust the singers. They are here to sing and will deliver.

Each conductor took a turn at conducting a new piece. Then Rod would explain and show how to make it better. A turn of the wrist here. A tiny pinch with the fingers there. He found something to improve in each conductor’s style. In a second rehearsal each conductor could review a challenging passage with the singers, and Professor Eichenberger would suggest further changes.

The workshop results were so remarkable, our teacher had all of us giggling! So easy, so much better, and so much fun! In the end, I recall, say, eight conductors each with just a few minutes of instruction, eight new pieces music, and three dozen singers learned remarkably simple and logical choral technique. With an amazing piano accompanist who was reading the music the first day for the first time herself, we performed a concert at 8 p.m. on the second day. We were good! I feel so lucky to be a part of this group experience.

Copyright 2011 Rebekah Luke



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20 04 2011
Rebekah's Studio

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