Bruce Kotowich, Brett Scott UWindsor professor Bruce Kotowich and research partner Brett Scott discussed the differing effects conductors can have on choirs, last month at the World Choral Expo.

Researchers demonstrate how conductors have choirs singing a different tune

Singers and choral conductors will tell you that the same choir, singing the same music, will sound different depending on who is conducting.

That was the premise for a experiential presentation “Singing the Gesture” given by Bruce Kotowich, associate professor and acting director, School of Creative Arts, and his research partner L. Brett Scott, professor of music at University of Cincinnati, last month during the World Choral Expo in Lisbon, Portugal.

“With the interpretation remaining the same, the timbre of the sound changes drastically depending on who is conducting,” Dr. Kotowich says. “Our research is to find out why this occurs. So, everything from body shape, body size, engagement, personality, all sorts of factors, will be considered.”

A lot of this has to do with how singers react to a different conductor. How does their vocal technique change? How does their breath technique change? How does their attitude toward a piece of music change?

“One of the first exercises during our session was to have three different people conduct the exact same section of an Anton Bruckner motet,” Kotowich says. “The choir was made up of some of the attendees who volunteered to take part.”

After each conductor took a turn at the podium, the researchers led a discussion by the singers and audience on the differences.

“It made conductors think about their physicality, not just technique, while conducting,” says Kotowich.

The two received a lot of positive feedback from colleagues, noting their presentation could have been longer: “It’s given us more encouragement to continue with this line of research.”

The World Choral Expo attracted choral conductors and choirs from across North America, Europe, and Africa. Sessions and concerts were held at a variety of venues around Lisbon, Sept. 3 to 7.