This work is aimed at outlining a repertoire of conductors’ gestures.
In this perspective, it presents two studies that investigate a specific subset of the body signals of orchestra and choir conductors, namely, the gestures for musical intensity. First, an observational qualitative study, based on a systematic coding of a corpus of fragments from orchestra concerts and rehearsals, singled out 21 gestures, in which either the gesture as a whole or some aspects of it conveyed indications for forte, piano, crescendo, or diminuendo; some are symbolic gestures, used either with the same meaning as in everyday interaction or with one specific of conductors; others are iconic gestures, both directly or indirectly iconic. Second, in a perception study, a questionnaire submitted to 77 participants tested if 8 gestures of intensity out of the 21 singled out by the coding study are in fact shared and understood, and whether they are better interpreted by music experts than by laypeople. Results showed that the tested gestures are fairly comprehensible, not only by experts but also by non-expert participants, probably due, for some gestures, to their high level of iconicity, and for others to their closeness to everyday gestures.