touchy feely

I posted last week about Singing Redefined, which asserts that intention and imagination, as the sources of expression, can and should be used as a vehicle for teaching singing.  I assert that maybe imagination can be the first step in teaching conducting, because intention is what guides motion. (Closely related to tai chi, you see?)

And yesterday I posted about Resonant Leadership, which explains that being a leader requires renewal though mindfulness, hope, and compassion in order to make up for their deficits of neurological wear and tear that are inherent in good leadership.  Mindfulness, hope, and compassion seem like hippy-dippy fruitcake ideas compared with the sciencey goodness of neurological evidence.  Nonetheless, they are connected.  And that brings me to the reason that I feel okay with being a little touchy feely.

One of my student evaluations from my conducting class said I was “sort of touchy feely.”  Which I am.  And I feel like I failed with that student, not because I didn’t address his or her technical needs, but I didn’t manage to make him or her understand that the touchy-feely stuff is the source, the foundation of good technique.

It’s a thing I have struggled with. I used to completely oblivious to the benefits of touchy feeliness, and have worked very hard to become touchy feelier.

I’ll go ahead and give a shout out to Paul Head here, who started at the University of Delaware while I was there, thirteen years ago.  In 1998, I asked him about getting my little church choir to look at me and follow my tempo.  He baffled and confused me when he asked, “are you giving them something to look at?  Are you showing them anything?”
And I thought, What do you mean, “showing them anything?”  Of course I’m showing them all kinds of stuff.  Louder/softer, faster/slower, longer/shorter…
Then he asked me if the Telemann piece we were looking at were a football game, who would win?
“What???  Football didn’t exist when Telemann was composing.”

I know, this was a thickity thick thick-head answer, but I totally didn’t get it.  How could I? No one had ever mentioned to me that conductors do more than direct traffic.   And, though I had certainly seen conductors do more, I had never… noticed?  Understood?  Internalized it?

Anyway, I was lucky to be told, as a twenty year old conductor-to-be, that there is more to it.  Since then, I have worked to become touchy-feelier because I have seen that it has technical merit.  Expressive conductors are better conductors.  Clear conductors are good, but saying something clearly only matters when you have something to say.  And “breathe, crescendo, cut off” is not so compelling a story as “get ready, moreMoreMORE, done!”  And I believe that students need to learn to tell compelling stories

And if we look at the big picture, we see leaders in fields other than the arts who are moving toward a touchy-feely-seeming sort of approach, like Christiane Northrup.  She advocates thinking about health from the inside out the way I think about conducting from intention to gesture, from feeling to display.  Hippy-dippy fruitcakey?  Seemingly.  A better way of doing it?  I think so.

So, anyone who has read a few of these blog posts can see that I am a big fan of science, of technique, of technical excellence.  This is the place I started my journey.  But I have also come to think that none of that matters unless it serves art, unless it opens us to truth and humanity.  I’m proud to say that that’s sort of touchy feely, and it’s totally my bag.

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2 Responses to touchy feely

  1. Pingback: athlete II | Thoughtful Gestures

  2. Pingback: touchy feely 2: this time it’s… ugh, so uncomfortable | Thoughtful Gestures

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