Expanding the Choral Conductor's Horizon: The Application of Selected Literary Theories to the Process of Choral Score Study

Thumbnail Image
Publication or External Link
Seighman, Gary Bernard
Maclary, Edward
The main premise of this document is that the various movements associated with literary theory can provide unique interpretative insights for the modern choral conductor during score study. Traditionally, score study involves making performance decisions based upon formal analysis, study of performance practices, examination of historical and stylistic information, and practical ensemble considerations. By adopting a stance that also acknowledges elements offered by literary theory, the conductor can begin to uncover those elements in the music that maximize the potential for the singer to have a meaningful musical experience. Literary theory deals critically with the process of interpretation and focuses especially on the relationship between the literary text and the reader. On one end of the literary theory spectrum, formalist studies of interpretation place value only on the words and notes and their grammatical relationship with one another while ignoring historical information as a determinant source for meaning. On the other end, Reader-Response Criticism focuses on the attributes of the reader, understood as part of the culture he belongs to, and through his personal background and experiences. Many branches of theory are located in the middle and consider how the properties of a text fuse with a reader's expectations and guide him to a particular interpretation. The adaptation of these theories to music is not new, as shown by the sizeable corpus of books and articles devoted to musico-literary studies. Few if any of these studies focus exclusively on choral repertoire or address practical issues of score preparation and conducting gesture, however. This document surveys several literary theories, identifies their key concepts, and adapts them to the analysis of specific choral works. The result is a series of analyses that offer fresh perspectives for a variety of choral works. Topics include, but are not limited to the following: uncovering hidden dialogue, music as a system of signs (semiotics), tropes and hermeneutic windows, the vocality of text, and conducting gesture as metaphor. The goal of musico-literary studies as it relates to choral training should be to educate a new generation of conductors who understand the processes of how we as both performers and listeners perceive meaning from our vast repertory and to develop strategies that improve its accessibility.