In my previous blog, I mentioned how our intense concentration, or worrying about a problem, in rehearsals often causes us to forget about using what can be our most powerful means of communicating, our face. One need only watch the famed video of the legendary Leonard Bernstein conducting Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, where he uses his hands only to start the piece, to realize the most powerful means of communicating we have is unquestionably our face. There is no question about it. In fact, facial expressions are so powerful that it only takes two-hundred milliseconds for a person to interpret a facial expression they encounter. Isn’t that amazing? One-fifth of a second for us to realize what is being communicated by simply seeing a person’s facial expression! Yet, how many college classes did you have on using your face? I had none. Not a single solitary one. So, if you are like me, you had no formal instruction to help you communicate more effectively using your face, despite it being the most powerful communication tool we have.

So what can we do? Well, first we can realize the power of using our face in rehearsals. Second, we can practice – exercise if you will – our ability to make faces more effectively. My favorite way to do that is to get ahold of a “feelings chart.” I’m sure you’ve seen those posters with caricatures of different faces each labeled with the intended emotion, which are available online (or I would bet your guidance counselors would have them!). Stand in front of a mirror and make a face that expresses each of those feelings. Then go on and explore making faces of other feelings. Our hearts and minds have the ability to conjure up seemingly endless different emotions. We simply need to practice having our face vividly convey them, so we organically show them as we conduct. With practice, we can prove the power of communicating with our face just like Bernstein did so amazingly well. It’s mindboggling to realize what can be accomplished in just two-hundred milliseconds, isn’t it?

Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
KHS America

About the Author

Dr. Boonshaft, Director of Education for KHS America, is the author of the critically acclaimed best-selling books Teaching Music with Passion, Teaching Music with Purpose, and Teaching Music with Promise. He was honored by the National Association for Music Education and Music For All as the first recipient of the “George M. Parks Award for Leadership in Music Education.” Dr. Boonshaft was selected for the Center for Scholarly Research and Academic Excellence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, where he is Professor Emeritus of Music.