Expert or fraud? Opinions differ widely when it comes to the profession of the conductor. The powerful person in front of an orchestra or a choir attracts both hate and admiration, but which influence do a conductor’s actions actually have on the musician’s body and the sounding result?
Unlike any other musician, the conductor produces no sound himself, and though the profession of conducting, as we know it today, has existed for more than 150 years, it still lacks a systematic theoretical foundation.
However, given there is a connection between the conductor’s gesture and the musicians’ reaction, there must also be explorable mechanisms making this communication understandable across instrumental, cultural and language borders.
By means of two studies, conducted at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2015 and 2016, we could prove a consistent and direct correlation between the gestures and muscle-tension of the conductor on one side, and the physically measurable reactions of musicians, onset-precision, duration of sound and its quality on the other side.
Furthermore, the results of one experiment revealed a significant relationship between contrasting gesture-task-combinations and increased physiological stress as measured from heart rate variability.
Currently, we are undertaking a pilot study in cooperation with the Department of Sport and Sport Science at the University of Freiburg, exploring the influence of contrasting onset-gestures on the breathing behavior of singers.
The presented studies show an interdisciplinary approach aiming to identify and map the physical parameters in a subtle – even mythical – communication process. However, moving between disciplines such as musicology, music performance, sport science and psychology also involve methodological challenges, which we would be grateful and eager to discuss.
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