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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Rehearsing well


How can you make your rehearsals more efficient and accomplish more? How can your rehearsals motivate and inspire your singers? That's the topic of my next series of blog posts.

This is an area that I strongly believe is both craft and art. But what do I mean by that?

There is a distinct element craft--"knowing one's craft"--in rehearsal. What are principles behind good sequencing in a rehearsal? Pacing? Techniques to solve problems? All of these are part of a craft that is learnable and can be refined and improved over time.

What do I mean by "art," however?

Mathematicians speak of certain proofs as being more "elegant" than another, equally correct proof. Just as we could all approach a particular rehearsal problem differently (and would!)--all of us getting to essentially the same place--some conductors might have a more "elegant" approach or solution. We can usually recognize the master teacher, the conductor whose rehearsals flow through the variety of works in a way that seems effortless, whose actions solve more than one problem at a time, and that speak to the expressive and musical elements in the music--we are often amazed by how quickly the ensemble improves. Those are elegant (and yes, artistic) rehearsals. Singers usually leave them inspired (not tired, although sometimes a "good" exhaustion from productive work) and wanting more.
Young conductors will mostly be concerned with the craft of rehearsal, learning how to efficiently get from A to B, to make sure that their rehearsals are well sequenced and paced, that little time is lost in unproductive activities, that they hear (and anticipate) problems and find ways to solve them quickly. As conductors gain experience, they can look to master teachers for ideas of how they can lift parts of their rehearsals from wonderful craft to (at least some of the time) art.

I love the process of rehearsing--it is, after all, where we spend most of our time, not in performance. So that's what this series will be about. I recently saw this picture, from the theatre world, which elegantly explains this:

I re-posted this on Facebook and someone asked about where the conductors preparation was--my colleague Clay Couturiaux responded, "that's the ocean." Oh how true!

Looking ahead to our national conference in Dallas (are you going?? you should!!), there are two sessions specifically about rehearsal technique: one by Pamela Elrod Huffman on the techniques of Robert Shaw and one by Graeme Langager on rehearsal techniques that come out of the music. Believe me, I'll be at both! And Dale Warland will have a session on his work which will certainly touch on important elements of rehearsal as well.

Hope to see you there!

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