Here are some comments on coordination in three areas: conducting of ensembles, PowerPoint slides in worship assemblies, and intersections/stop signs.
Student conductors sometimes have difficulty coordinating the cueing of entrances. Although precise, technical attention is sometimes required, fledgling conductors tend to over-technicalize cueing.
Breathing is an important component of the whole. I have encouraged students who are working on cueing simply to think as a singer or wind instrumentalist¹—breathing as if s/he were singing or playing the same passage. A student will often do better if s/he doesn’t overthink it, rather simply coordinating the gesture with a breath. One ought simply to breathe and move naturally, within the learned musical “habitat.” It seems to me that this more organic approach—mentally placing oneself in the position of the musician(s) being cued, and breathing as though one is making the sound on his/her instrument—helps immeasurably in the process of mastering and coordinating the gesture.
Changing PowerPoint slides
In church assemblies (commonly called “services”), coordination of slide changes with musical phrases is rarely executed well. In one recent church visit, the slide-changing effort was better than most, yet it was clear that no one was coordinating slides with actual singing. A later experience at a different church was more typical—with three or four egregious errors (not changing the slide at all until all the words on the next slide were nearly complete!), and a split-second to a full second late on many other slide changes. The timing does make a difference.
Again, I have found from personal experience that the natural approach works: the person who’s changing the slides should be actually singing or at least mouthing the words. Otherwise, the slide change will typically be too late, causing the singer to miss the first word or two. It can be difficult to sing without a feeling of mild gasping or hiccuping.
Poor driver coordination at stop signs hinders the flow of traffic. A driver who arrives first at a four-way stop-intersection might think he’s being nice by gesturing to another driver to go first. However, a clog can be the result. The second driver doesn’t see the gesture made by the first, so both of them end up waiting, and the hesitation takes everyone’s time. The system works best when everyone coordinates by following the established protocol.²
[If you have 4 more minutes for an earlier, lengthier (more entertaining?) post on driver issues at stop signs, go here. Or just thank me for not adding more anecdotes here, such as one about the driver just yesterday. Ignore the fact that I was dutifully stopped at a stop sign; he had no stop sign at all; and I couldn’t have begun to see any gesture on his part because of sun glare and tinted windows, anyway. Wait. I just added an anecdote, didn’t I?]
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In the Middle Ages, a musical composition technique came to be known as hoquet (later Anglicized as hocket), meaning “hiccup.”³ That hiccup effect—involving the stopping and starting of different voices—can be entertaining and musically interesting when conceived intentionally. On the other hand, hiccuping at stop signs and during congregational worship music is unintentional, uncoordinated, and largely avoidable.
B. Casey, 1/28 – 4/17/19
² Where I live, the stop sign issue is complicated at certain poorly graded and/or un-repaired intersections. My little sedan will bottom out unless I approach slowly, at an angle. In one case, I have to veer far to the left, using the lane reserved for oncoming traffic, which of course complicates everything further.
³ In that time, metric/rhythmic notation was relatively new, having been apparently absent for a millennium. The lack of focus on rhythm makes the Middle Ages the Dark Ages in my book!