2017 ACCET Conducting Summer School Course

By LJ Coleman

The 2017 ACCET Conducting Summer school course was one which provided many opportunities for the participants to expand and build upon their conducting skills. Each day was started by a talk by Faye Dumont and/or warm ups by renowned opera singer Suzanne Johnston. 

The course was held at Xavier College in the Melbourne suburb of Kew. The course was beautifully designed for any choral conductor ranging from beginners to the advanced. Over the course of the four days, the students were treated to many different talks and demonstrations from well-respected conductors Heather Buchanan and Rodney Eichenberger. 

Whilst their teaching methods were vastly different, the two conductors’ topics complemented each other well so the students learned not only how to conduct, but how to get the best sound from their choir whilst simultaneously looking after their own bodies to get the most out of their conducting techniques. 

Heather was wonderful in informing the students about how their skeletal and muscular systems worked and made suggestions about everything from how to comfortably align the body to knowing how one’s arm functions within a conducting context. Her presentations kept the students engaged through the use of her powerpoint presentations, but especially through her skeleton models. She left the students with many funny anecdotes (have you ever tried to convince someone at customs that a skeleton arm is fake?) as well as a new found appreciation for the physical abilities of their own bodies. These all combined to make her presentations interesting and informative. 

Rodney Eichenberger’s presentations focussed on the ability to change the sound of a choir via the use of mirror neurons in the brain. These sessions relied on the students singing either full songs or a single vowel whilst Rodney would slightly change his conducting technique and gestures. These would cause a change in sound from the “choir” and without having to explain anything, the students immediately understood the impact of slightly changing one’s gesture to affect the sound. This truely gave extra weight to the catch-phrase of the course: What They See is What You Get.*

These two conductors were brilliant in allowing students to learn how to trust their own abilities and techniques, and, in turn, trust whichever choir they were conducting. 

To offer more focussed learning, students were divided into seven smaller groups depending on their conducting abilities and practiced conducting specific chosen songs. Each tutor for the groups was an excellent teacher and offered practical advice for each student to build and develop their own conducting style. 

I would highly recommend this course to anyone who may be a beginner to choral conducting or even the most confident conductor. The wide range of topics and broad scope of knowledge offered by the tutors, as well as Heather Buchanan and Rodney Eichenberger, made for an informative and enlightening course.

* This phrase was coined by Rodney Eichenberger in a video by the same name released around 12 years ago
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