“Vital Force – Using T’ai Chi Chih and Movement Techniques to Teach Conducting”
Early Morning Workshop Sessions to be presented daily on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, February 11-13, 2016 at the Eastern Division ACDA Conference, Boston, MA, by Stan Engebretson of Bethesda, MD
It’s February 11 and you’re in Boston for a very exciting ACDA Eastern Division Convention, ready to be inspired at every turn and surprise! It’s cold outside, with perhaps just a little bit of snow (hopefully not as much as last year). For any of the three mornings while we are there, I invite you to start your day with a moving, meditative session of T’ai Chi Chih and other movement styles. See for yourself how these simple techniques will center you and focus your breath while building your core and balance for strong conducting. Then, take these ideas home to teach your singers how to develop their own core support and enhance their mindfulness to create great music!
T’ai Chi Chih movements will be used to find the “Vital Force” with centering, balance, and core-strengthening techniques needed to become a strong conductor and singer. “Vital force” is a term that describes the central strength or creative force that is so apparent in master artists such as Robert Shaw or Eric Ericson – the gift of inspiration and strength balanced with focus, clear vision, and a will to achieve greatness. “T’ai Chi Chih” is a variant of T’ai Chi not based on martial arts per se, but rather on a more meditative, peaceful, slow and elegant style of movement, centering the concentration and breath of the participants while strengthening the core muscles of the torso and focusing the concentration of power in gesture. Adapted from T’ai Chi Chuan by Justin Stone in 1974, (a successful musician himself), these movements feature soft gestures that circulate and balance the Chi (intrinsic energy) which help the conductor or performer transmit expressivity in music.
There are 19 movements plus a pose in T’ai Chi Chih, and many of these (approximately 10) will be explored within the sessions to create an improved sense of balance and posture for conductors and artists. Additional exercises will show the performer how to concentrate the power of the Chi, or energy, that can transform the intensity of the musical line into gestures and increase musical communication to the performers. Expressions such as “feel the weight of the ocean in the elbows,” “find your center core (Tan-Tien) and move through the core (rather than through off-balance gestures),” “have a sense of floating within your posture of the upper body combined with a high carriage of the head that is aligned on top of the shoulders,” and “keep the legs/knees soft so that you always have perfect balance,” are all tenets of the movement style which serve performers in all disciplines.
The meditative aspect of the art is enhanced through playing background music that is very simple, enhancing the sense of peace, calm, and focused imagery that is so necessary to conducting and indeed, to all the arts and humanities. One of the purposes of T’ai Chi is to replace the ego with a sense of method, a discipline that focuses the energy of the individual into an acutely aware, almost transcendental state. When one arrives in this “zone,” one can see how the depth of the music will express itself, without the performer inserting egos over the music as a filter. The honesty of the art becomes apparent, and the conducting is enhanced by a music-centric approach to the work at hand. One can now clearly see both “the forest and the trees,” and can transmit the greater meaning that is perceived through this enhanced and focused look at the music and the composer. A performer’s depth of expression is developed through this quiet focus, and the ability to transmit this expression is presented through the new balance and focus yielded by the movements and the meditation. At the end of the session, participants will apply these techniques to conducting exercises and singing in basic movements that are drawn from T’ai Chi Chih principles.
While we will be learning 10 or more movements over three days, you can come to any single morning or all three, as you wish. The sequence will change each day and we will apply different aspects of T’ai Chi to conducting and singing, including showing how T’ai Chi movements have been used in choral works such as Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque to create a new form of “Music in Motion,” so popular now in European choral circles today.
Bring warm coats, big smiles, and great energy as you discover the Vital Force within yourself during the upcoming convention! The lineup of artists, ensembles, and workshops this year is fantastic and one of the best in the country of all of the regional conventions, so I know everyone will have an exciting time in Boston.
Safe travels – I hope to see you there!
Questions? Feel free to email me directly if you need any information:
* (Btw, I was raised in Fargo, ND, so a little cold weather and snow in February is “nothing” – it only encourages me! <smiles>)
Stan Engebretson is the Artistic Director of the National Philharmonic Chorale in Bethesda, MD, and Director of Music at the historic “Lincoln Church,” The New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, located two blocks east of the White House. He came to Washington in 1990 when he became the Director of Choral Studies at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA.
Originally from North Dakota, he holds degrees in Voice and Piano from UND and a DMA in Conducting from Stanford University. He has studied with great masters of the choral art, including Robert Shaw, Eric Ericson, Roger Wagner, Margaret Hillis, Richard Westenburg, Dale Warland, and Gregg Smith.
He has led choral clinics and workshops throughout the United States and in many countries including South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Lithuania, France, Iceland, and Italy. In undergraduate/graduate choral conducting courses he presents T’ai Chi, Pilates, and Alexander Techniques to young conductors. Additionally he offers T’ai Chi workshops widely for various organizations including major international humanities’ conferences and others.