Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The conductor is one of the most recognizable figures in modern music performance. His or her gestures elicit numerous different responses from those in the orchestra. If the premise that music is a cultural practice is accepted, it would follow that the bodily movements of the conductor reflect, intentionally or not the ways in which the body has been culturally theorized. In my opinion, analysis of conducting bodies has not been done to an adequate degree. I argue that this is a product of the long-standing mind/body split. In this thesis, I explore the ways in which the conducting body operates in culture, as well as in musical performance. I make use of standards of the orchestral repertoire by the composers Beethoven, Wagner, Shostakovich, Orff, and Strauss conducted by such figures as Claudio Abbado, Georg Solti, Seiji Ozawa, and Herbert von Karajan. Observing that orchestral conductors are overwhelmingly male, I examine critical discourse on gender to account for the ways in which conducting has been framed as a masculine practice, with the intent of arguing that the conducting body frequently problematizes constructions of manhood. I also examine how conducting gestures enact cultural tropes around power from the angles of discipline, surveillance and cultural prestige. I then move on to discussions of Mikhail Bakhtin's discourse on carnival and grotesque bodies in order to observe how conductors may be interpreted as transgressing "acceptable" constructions of the body. Finally, I examine how the body enacts metaphors that assist in our understanding of existence. By arguing that the body possesses linguistic capabilities, I argue that conducting disavows the mind/body split by placing the body in the mind, and the mind in the body.
Sheridan, Daniel, "The Conducting Body: The Gestural Vocabulary of Masculinity, Power, Transgression, and Metaphor" (2005). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 6651.
McMaster University Library