Silent embodiment of sound: the conductor’s leadership dance

Embodiment is a term that is often associated with a deity taking on human form, not as a shell or mask, but as an incarnation – a metaphysical being projected into our world in a living, breathing, version that is fully human but is still fully god. Embodiment is also a term used in dance as a way to describe the dancer’s transformation into a human kinetic projection of music, culture, or other abstractions imagined by the dancer/choreographer. This embodiment goes far beyond mimesis or representation – every breath, thought, and movement of the dancer is the abstraction.

Conducting is a form of dance that is self-choreographed, although it uses a relatively standard set of conventions and movements. The purpose of this particular dance is leadership of the musical ensemble. However, the sense of embodiment is just as vital as it is in dance. The conductor’s role is to lead the musicians to create music – music that is audiated in the conductor’s mind, embodied in his/her dance, and realised as sound by the musicians. A successful performance is one where these three phases are symbiotically connected in a seamless dialogue.

Conducting is the silent embodiment of the conductor’s music in a dialogue with the sounding embodiment of the musicians’ music.  The musicians’ response to the conducting dance is certainly mimetic, but it also is self-expression.  This makes the performance a co-creation between the conductor and the other musicians in the ensemble. Key to conducting and to leadership is not only the conductor’s ability to embody his/her audiation (vision), but also his/her relationship with the organization – both as individuals and as “sections” that will determine the type and quality of the dialogue.

In leadership, we speak of vision – however, this is a term that refers to the sense of sight as perceived or imagined by the mind. Audiation is an analogous term that refers to the sense of sound as perceived/imagined by the mind. Both can exist entirely within the mind – vision can exist in darkness, audiation can exist in silence. Leaders can have an audiation for their organization just as they may have a vision.   Therefore, there is a powerful lesson and metaphor about leadership in learning about the conductor’s embodiment of his/her audiation in dialogue with the musicians’ embodiment of their responsive audiation.

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