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Shaping musical performances. A social semiotic study of choir conductors' multimodal communication in choir

Research project
Inactive research
Project owner
Academy of Music and Drama

Short description

Dissertation by Ragnhild Sandberg Jurström, 2009.
The purpose of Ragnhild Sandberg Jurströms thesis is to identify and describe how musical interpretations and performances are semiotically designed and realised by choir conductors in their interaction with choir singers during rehearsals and concerts, and also to find methods for how these actions can be analysed and described.

The data consists of video-recorded rehearsals and concerts with six Swedish professional choir conductors and their choirs. The video films are transcribed in detail, with focus on how semiotic modes, such as gestures, gazes, body movements, singing, printed score and piano-playing, are used when choir conductors in their interaction with choir singers work with a musical composition.

The study uses a multimodal and social semiotic theory, which implies that communication and learning is seen as a social process of transformative sign-making. The concept design is central since it is a way for sign-makers to create different communicative conditions for meaning-making, based on their interests and choices of modes.
The analyses focus on how choir conductors in their use of different modes perform and illustrate the music, how they interact with the choir singers, and how their actions are realised in different designs. The analyses also focus on what cultural conventions surround the actions that occur.

The thesis brings light to the complexity and multiplicity of an audiovisual culture, where choir conductors in their use of different repertoires of action and designs constantly vary how they perform and illustrate the music. The results show how these actions afford various choices and conditions for the choir singers to learn and perform the music and how the results of the study can be designed into a multimodal and social semiotic model for musical communication.
Different dimensions of attitude that indicate opposing forces between different musical aspects and between modes of procedure can be sensed in the results. In this study, it is not with certainty that they should be regarded as each other’s opposites or as dichotomies, but rather that they can be seen as different aspects of the same phenomenon, in the way that they presuppose and require each other and are a part of each other or that these opposites quite simply annul each other. The outcome of the discussion around these contrasting pairs is that musical learning always can be seen as audiovisual learning, that choir leadership can be regarded as a productive musical leadership and that learning and the shaping of performance can be put on an equal footing, described in terms of an ongoing interpretation and performance. The discussion also comprises how the realisation of different repertoires of action result in a collective musical language with local variations.

Keywords: Choir singing, choir conductor, choir singer, musical interpretation and performance, learning, communication, interaction, video analysis, multimodality, social semiotics, metafunctions, design