The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 39, Issue 1/4, 2023

Music Issue

Sally Ann Ness
Pages 71-105

Watching Musical Symbols Grow
The Semiotics of Practice in Choral Music Conducting

The changing forms of gestures used in choral conducting (both in rehearsal and performance) exemplify processes of symbol growth that challenge interpretations of Charles S. Peirce’s later hexadic semiotic as aligning with highly deterministic, (post-)structuralist theories of semiosis. The case in point discussed, a performance of Charles Ives’s A Christmas Carol, demonstrates that the Dynamic Object represented via the conductor’s changing gestures with each new instance of practice is at every turn subject to a host of unpredictable circumstances that limit its determinative powers. This predicament continuously factors into the sign’s immediate formations (Immediate Object and Interpretant) as well as its extramusical meaning-making capabilities (the formation of Dynamic and Final Interpretants). The conducting process, from first rehearsal through concert performance, illustrates how creativity in Representamen formation is an expansive force on which every form of Symbol growth depends.

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