Often in the pursuit of becoming a conductor, one can wind up spending a great deal of time and energy focusing on developing the physical skill of body motion and movement as the definitive act of conducting. (Looking like the music) However, it has also been said that the true foundation of conducting in reality is, at the heart, a listening skill, in which the physical act of conducting derives its true inspiration. (Looking like the music through your inner ear) In fact, listening forms a major key to successful and effective conducting, and can be considered essential in at least two different ways: One, the act of hearing the score and it’s potential interpretation, while the notes still remain un-sounded on the page; and two, hearing the score while it is actually coming off the page. It is these two considerations, which I would like to examine in this article.
The first listening activity has been addressed many times, and from many different angles; and most would agree that it is important that we perfect this skill. To this end, we have to train ourselves to effectively hear the score while it remains printed, yet unsounded, on the page. However, achieving this skill often leaves one frustrated, especially if piano skills are of the limited kind. Maybe a helpful analogy here is to remember that hearing a score in silence is much like using the skill of reading books silently to oneself. How did we, as children move from reading aloud to the internalising our reading ability?
The explanation is not difficult. Obtaining effective reading and comprehension expertise in music reading requires mindful, or comparative repetition of basic reading skills, such as the mastery achieved in spelling, pronunciation and definition comprehension. However, it also requires consistent exposure to reading, including listening to someone read. It also includes aural modelling of pronunciations and the correction of definitions, pronunciations and spelling errors. It is important to understand that none of these learning activities were fast-tracked. In fact, these activities required a careful, repetitive ‘time-on-task’ framework for achieving the most effective mastery of silent reading.
Learning to hear a music score in silence also requires a systematic immersion in basic ear training, sight-singing and aural recognition skills. These skills are essential in assisting both the acquisition of both the vertical and horizontal notational elements of music. For it is proficiency in both the comprehension and the internalisation of rhythmic notation (gained through internal subdivision): the ability to identify intervallic relationships, recognising chord qualities and the structure of harmonic progression; understanding the importance of note group relationships in creating recognisable phrase structure, which enables one to actually hear the score.
At this point, I cannot stress strongly enough how incredibly important it is to regularly spend quality time, both to the listening and viewing of a wide genre of music performances; live and recorded. The exposure to consistent listening and viewing cannot be underestimated as essential towards developing one’s inner ear for the purpose of acquiring a wide range of expressive definitions, such as understanding the expressive relationships of tempi, dynamics, articulations, note grouping, melodic/harmonic contour, as well as for the acquisition of physical gestures and facial expression vocabularies. Truly effective musical communication requires empathy, understanding, emotional connection and deeply held convictions about music, which can only be obtained through exposure to great music making. Consistent exposure to significant music performance provides the vital inspiration necessary for truly expressive leadership in music making: More about this later.
This kind of listening is not about the need to hear several performances of music for which one is studying, or for preparing a performance. This is the actual need for consistent exposure to a wide range of significant music performances that will provide us with the essential framework for the developing, not only improvement in silent music reading, but will allow for a wide range of expressive and imaginative possibilities from which to draw both gestural and mental inspiration.
Another important way we can develop effective silent score reading skills is to be found in strengthening our visual and aural skills through sight singing and personal music performance experiences. In my next instalment, we will explore the use of, and need for singing/playing, towards improving our score listening and interpretative abilities.