Vocab Lesson: “Embodied”

Embodied is the word that in-the-know types use to talk about mind-body stuff.

So the work I do is about embodied conducting: working with music and leadership and gesture in a way that acknowledges and embraces the singularity that is the mindbody.  Chungliang Al Huang’s other book (the one not referenced in my ACDA session handout) is called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind because ease in your body is inseparable from ease in your mind.  The central governor theory suggests the same idea: what you feel is a result of what you think.  And you–your consciousness, your ego–may not be the one thinking it.  Your awareness may be of tension, of pain, but deeper inside, the “part of you that is wise” is trying to preserve your well-being.

The physical presence of a conductor has powerful influence.  Smart choirs shut themselves off from a conductor whose physicality communicates tension and discomfort.  Smart conductors take care that their truest selves stand on the podium with ease and purposefulness so they communicate only ease and purposefulness to their singers.

I’ve said before that a conductor is an athlete because “we rely on bone, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and fascia to be healthy and comfortable so that we are free to use them in whatever way is expressive.”  The Radiolab story I linked to above is all about athletes reaching their physical limits, about how endurance can be paired with madness.  The seamless unity of our mindbodies has the same effect for conductors, only our goal is not endurance: it’s effective communication.  Our power to express a composer’s intention is our power to embody that intention, to allow it to fill our minds so it becomes expressed in our bodies, to get out from in between our intention and our movement.

Our ability to do our job, to embody a composer’s intention, is the ability to avoid interfering between our thought and our gesture.

And this is why the best conductors are embodied conductors.

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