Rituals of Leadership: The Pre-Performance Practices of Renowned Choral Conductors
By: Evelyn Troester DeGraf
Published: 5/18/2016
Uploaded: 06/06/2018
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2016 (May) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: choir, Conducting, Leadership, Performance, preparation, Ritual

Description/Abstract: This multiple case study was designed to examine the possible connection between pre-performance rituals and choral leadership. Seven renowned North American and British choral conductors were observed and interviewed in order to investigate how they characterize their role(s) as leaders, teachers, and artists, and to learn about the qualities and consistency of the rituals that they use to prepare themselves for performance.
Conductors were recruited based on one or more of the following criteria: having been nominated for music awards, having won esteemed choral competitions, and/or having contributed substantial publications to the choral field. The qualifying participants comprised renowned conductors Harry Christophers, Alice Parker, Sharon Paul, Doreen Rao, John Rutter, Kent Tritle, and Julian Wachner. Data collection involved extensive document review, a semi-structured, in-depth interview, and performance observations. The data were analyzed through manual coding methods based upon Grounded Theory. A final cross-case analysis of the seven cases illuminated different qualities of ritual and resulted in the emergence of themes that were then discussed in light of a pre-conceived conceptual framework of the choral conductor as leader, teacher, and artist.
The accounts of the seven participants showed that renowned conductors strive for mastery by insisting on excellence; go beyond in their preparatory efforts to conceive a vision of the music; facilitate discovery in music, singers, and self; bring out the best in the music and in the singers by the means of building connection and trust; inspire transformation through communication; create artistic 'We'- spaces through mindfulness; and use improvisation to make music happen. The art of conducting is therefore not just about effectiveness, social skill, and gesture. It is also defined by an intricate philosophy that each conductor holds, which in turn influences his/her role and pre-performance practices. The concept of ritual served as an invaluable lens through which the seven conductor-personas and their leadership philosophies could be examined. As actions of meaning, rituals were found to be either consciously performed, or integrated and hidden. Most importantly, the analysis revealed that ritual can function as transition, as tool, as catalyst, as reminder, and as a way of being.
This study brings renewed appreciation and insight to the notion of ritual, and expands the understanding of holistic leadership on the highest level of music performance. Furthermore, its implications are widely applicable and may be significant in various fields that involve leading, teaching, and artistry.