Generally, the ensembles I have observed consist of musicians who genuinely enjoy playing with other musicians in an ensemble setting for either musical development, pleasure or personal enjoyment. The musical directors/conductors generally display confidence, knowledge and enthusiasm. They also believe in the importance of their ensemble’s educational validity in preparing their members for a rewarding, successful and enjoyable music experiences. And, there is general administrative acceptance, and support for their school or community ensemble programme. However, as I have looked closer at what in fact is happening in many of these ensemble rehearsals, I have also begun to wonder as to the actual quality of the musical experience and its effectiveness with regards to the intrinsic educational, rewarding and lasting value of the rehearsal methods.
As I have observed these rehearsals over time, I have become increasingly concerned with the overall rehearsal process. I have noted that incredible energies are often expended toward ‘note perfect’ performance-based outcomes, such as concerts, festivals, contests or other performance related targets. The most common rehearsal pattern seems to begin with a 10-minute ‘tune up’ time. The rehearsal then continues moving directly on to the performance repertoire, employing a regimen of stopping the ensemble to address each technical difficulty encountered (usually wrong notes, incorrect rhythms or inattention to dynamic levels). After pointing out a detailed list of errors, the passage is then often repeated several more times in an attempt to correct the problems. There too, appears to be little regard for the time expended on this ‘rote learning’ exercise, and little effort to offer corrective strategies. Yet, the few times when conductors redirect the ensemble’s attention away from the error detection and correction mode toward musical interpretation, there are often exciting results.
Nevertheless, during these successful rehearsal moments, conductors often fail to affirm the successful musical and technical performances of individual students, or of a specific section’s efforts and achievements. Missing too, are efforts to introduce, or reinforce specific, effective learning strategies, or to encourage personal ownership of a learning process through the introduction of self-evaluative skills. Generally members play through their parts, waiting for the conductor to identify and correct individual mistakes, in effect learning individual parts in rehearsal; not a particularly effective method in preparing individual parts when students often lack requisite performance skills to successfully meet the technical demands found in the music.
Considering the above observations, I have become increasingly interested in how one might redirect conductors’ use of ‘error detection and correction’ energies, and ‘conductor centred’ rehearsal management towards promoting individual ownership of self-assessment, imitative and self directed learning. To develop the effective nurturing of individual learning ownership, it is essential that rehearsals provide opportunities that include individual participation in identifying and addressing both achievement and failure with encouragement and accountability. Rehearsal methods should lead members towards developing personal assessment and accountability through reinforcing strengths and correct performance results along with recognising areas for specific personal improvement. If the constant stream of emails I receive from former students is any gauge, much of what participants gain from ensemble rehearsal training has multiple generic applications for lifelong learning.
Importantly, every rehearsal should contain opportunities for conductors to provide practical examples on how on how members can effectively prepare their individual parts outside rehearsal. Surprisingly, most technical problems encountered during rehearsals can be addressed before the rehearsal begins through the individual’s personal use of the effective practice strategies shared in earlier rehearsals. This is especially true when the learning strategies have been proven to be successful through practical demonstration during rehearsals, and where members perceive the intrinsic performance goals shared in rehearsals are worthy of the effort to be expended in personal practice. Members must then be strongly encouraged to come to rehearsals with individual parts prepared. Without the element of individual preparation, ownership and personal responsibility, ensemble performance is doomed to mediocrity. Therefore, building motivation for improving more effective personal practice habits is essential for successful learning and rewarding performance outcomes to take place.
In my next installment I wish to share how rehearsals can be structured so as to assist in developing and establishing ownership, personal responsibility and commitment toward excellence.