Westminster Conducting Institute – Wrap up

Friday and Saturday were full days at the Conducting Institute.  After the usual morning warmup with Sabine, which involved a larger than usual dose of aerobic exercise, hitting your knees with your elbows,  running in place, dancing around in circles and clapping your hands under one raised leg and of course, lots of vocalizing, we heard a lecture on Laban Movement theory.  Laban was a choreographer who developed a system of categories and notation for different types of common movements, so that actors and dancers could communicate emotion by using the proper movement.  The same applies to conductors and singers.  Our movements should reflect the overall mood of whatever we’re conducting.  Applying the correct movement can have a marked effect on the choral sound.

After a short break, back to conducting class, then lunch, followed by a second conducting class to prepare for conducting at the Master Class.  Some of us, myself included, opted out of the Master Class.  I felt that I could learn a lot more by watching others than by getting comments on my own technique, so I donated my bit of class time to some of the younger conductors, which they appreciated.  In addition, I really enjoyed just being  a singer for once.

At 3:15, the master class began, with the format as follows:  Students taking the class for credit got a 14 minute time slot to conduct their piece.  Non credit conductors, which was most of us, got 7 minutes, so mostpeople only did sections of their piece to allow more time for comments. During and after the performance, the faculty recorded comments.  When the music stopped, one faculty member would work one on one with the student, repeating sections of the piece, assisting with technique, etc. also with recorded comments.  The rest of us served as the choir, often with spectacular musical results.  Singing great music with 50 experienced singers was a gift beyond measure for me.  There were some surprises when conductors chose pieces of repertoire that few of us had sung before.  Sight-reading 101…..We broke for dinner for 90 minutes, then started in again and continued the master class until 9 PM.

Saturday morning began 9:15 with a short 15 minute warmup, Sabine’s Swan Song.  At 9:30 we resumed the Master Class, which ran straight through until 1 PM with two short breaks, a lot of singing, but a wonderful experience.  The repertoire was first rate, from Mozart and Rachmaninoff to contemporary composers. You’ll love the Russian…..

I got to meet Jim Moore, who handles tour arrangements for the Westminster Choirs.  We’re trying to work out a performance at St. George’s by the Westminster Williamson Voices, Jim Jordan’s premier choir.  They would do  concert on Saturday night and sing at one of more of our Sunday morning services.  Details to follow…

All in all, this was a fantastic experience, unlike any other workshop that I’ve attended.  I learned more than I could have imagined about conducting and its effect on musical performance in a week.  The faculty is knowledgable, caring, approachable and constantly focussed on great music making.  The facilities and staff are first rate as well.  We will certainly return, and bring others along.

Two poems that spoke to me are reproduced below.  We sang these words every day several times, as the musical settings were popular with the conductors.  This week was an emotional and often heart-wrenching time for me.  Conducting, indeed any music making, can sometimes be a struggle, and performing this music provided great solace for me.  I plan to perform both of these this program year.  I hope we can enjoy them together.



Sure On This Shining Night

James Agee – Setting Morton Lauridsen

Sure on this shining night Of starmade shadows round,

Kindness must watch for me this side the ground.

The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health.

High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole.

Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder

Wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars.

Abendlied – Josef Rheinberger

Bleib bei uns, denn es will Abend werden, und der Tag hat sich geneiget.

Translation: Remain with us, because it will be evening, and the day is closing.


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