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Shaping musical performances


Ragnhild Sandberg Jurström


Shaping musical performances. A social semiotic study of choir conductors ́ multimodal communication in choir

Dissertation in Music Education, 2009.


The purpose of this thesis is to identify and describe how musical interpretations and performances are semiotically designed and realised by choir conductors in their interaction with choir singers during rehearsals and concerts, and also to find methods for how these actions can be analysed and described.

The data consists of video-recorded rehearsals and concerts with six Swedish professional choir conductors and their choirs. The video films are transcribed in detail, with focus on how semiotic modes, such as gestures, gazes, body movements, singing, printed score and piano-playing, are used when choir conductors in their interaction with choir singers work with a musical composition.

The study uses a multimodal and social semiotic theory, which implies that communication and learning is seen as a social process of transformative sign-making. The concept design is central since it is a way for sign-makers to create different communicative conditions for meaning-making, based on their interests and choices of modes.

The analyses focus on how choir conductors in their use of different modes perform and illustrate the music, how they interact with the choir singers, and how their actions are realised in different designs. The analyses also focus on what cultural conventions surround the actions that occur.

The thesis brings light to the complexity and multiplicity of an audiovisual culture, where choir conductors in their use of different repertoires of action and designs constantly vary how they perform and illustrate the music. The results show how these actions afford various choices and conditions for the choir singers to learn and perform the music, how a collective and local musical language is constructed and how the dominant positionings of the conductors can be seen as productive leadership.

ISBN: 987-91-977757-9-3


This dissertation is published in Swedish with an English summary.

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The disseration is e-published

The dissertation is e-published in GUPEA (Göteborgs universitets publikationer - Elektroniskt Arkiv). Download the dissertation

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