Effective rehearsal planning should aim to create an environment in which students grow in their present performance ability and musical understanding towards increased automated technique facility and more independently motivated musical expression. We as conductors will need to effectively assess our student’s current musical understanding, ‘skill level’ and ‘knowledge base’. We will need to improve our skill in interpreting the visual and aural cues that increases our ability assess their present understanding and performance ability. To this end we need to assist students in determining their present technical skills, musical comprehension and expressive abilities. Therefore, we will need to utilise strategies that enable students to both identify and address the technical and musical challenges contained in our performance repertoire.
To aid in increasing visual and aural recognition skills, conductors need to develop, employ and share with their students a clear set of evaluative visual and aural templates. A template can be defined as a correct skill, response, knowledge base or objective that is superimposed over a response which is observed as incorrect or out of alignment in order to identify and use the proper strategy necessary to improve the performance target. A reasonable use of ‘attention to detail’ provides opportunity for a systematic employment of rehearsal templates. Conductors will need to encourage and engage their ensemble’s ‘listening and observation skills’ towards specific targets throughout the rehearsal. This, in turn will assist students in acquiring their own set templates that they can apply towards their own individual performance. This will also aid in the students’ acquiring the ability to specifically identify and respond to both the technical and musical elements in music, assisting personal musical growth and development.
So, for what specific sorts of things should conductors and students be listening and looking? Here is a suggested list for your consideration:
• Are ensemble members, both mentally and physically engaged in the rehearsal? (Posture can often provide an effective visual gage of active engagement. And, is consistent rehearsal attendance and being on time an issue?)
• Is the ensemble/individual producing an acceptable characteristic sound i.e. tone quality, balance and intonation? How is this being addressed and achieved?
• Is the act of achieving good intonation a question of 'sharp or flat', or of matching and adjusting? What are the strategies/remedies for addressing and improving section, and individual intonation?
• How does the ensemble exit or enter silence? How effective are the conducting entrance and release gestures?
• Are accurate articulations a part of the interpretive process, or 'technically' inspired?
• Staccato, accento, marcato, tenuto, legato. Is there a clear aural image for each of these articulations as derived from the musical context? Remember: the performance of correct articulations is not optional, however this remains constantly variable as dictated by the musical context.
• Correct pitches; are they centred and well rounded?
• Is there consistent rhythmic vertical alignment within the phrase structure?
• Is there clear evidence of expressive phrase shaping as dictated by the musical line, harmonic context and contour achieved through energised long notes and imaginative accompaniment?
• Is the ensemble simply following the ‘notational instructions’ or responding to the musical intension itself?
Musical concepts are often difficult to convey. It is important therefore that we are able to clearly define and explain our intent with relevant applications to the musical context. One of the most important and effective teaching tools can be found in the use of metaphors, analogies and narrative (illustrations and stories) to assist students in making the appropriate connections. The conductor should strive to increase their store of these revelant, valuable teaching aids.
Conductors should be committed to continue personal growth as an informed, observant and passionate listener, both using and promoting visual and aural observation.
• Aim to become more aware of what is really happening within the ensemble through increasing the powers of visual and aural observation. First, be sure to get your head out of the score and your attention off your conducting. Secondly, be sure to always use a rehearsal plan, outlining your goals and specific points for attention for each and every rehearsal.
• Try sharing your rehearsal plans through weekly email communication, or at minimum on a whiteboard. Know your scores in relationship to the ensemble’s technical strengths and weaknesses and choose reading and performance repertoire accordingly.
• Conductors must become self-sufficient, developing their own teaching/learning pedagogical strategies. But it is also true that they should also observe and research rehearsal techniques for expanding their own strategies.
• It is the conductor’s responsibility to recognise and reinforce the ensemble’s strengths, which in turn will aid in addressing their weaknesses.
• Conductors need to visually project through their rehearsals what it is they wish to create, shape and instill in their individual ensemble members. Do we as conductors ‘look like the music’? Would we rather ‘show’, or ‘tell’ the ensemble what the music requires?
Rehearsal points for consideration ought to include:
• The use of strategies for reinforcing and improving tone quality, timbre and intonation.
• Strategies, training material and suitable repertoire the provide opportunities for acquiring and developing independent internal pulse, meter, and increasing rhythm vocabulary.
• Developing a passion for correct pitches, beautiful, centred intonation, harmonic sensitivity, aural/sight cognition and rhythmic accuracy.
• The desire to train our ensembles to hear, recognise and effectively perform what they see before them.
• Strategies for developing key/tonal relationship awareness, including the connection with practical application of scale, chord and arpeggio skills to the performance repertoire.
• Attention to finger patterns; automisation of manual skill dexterity acquired through utilising the skill of methodical, ‘mindful’ repetition.
• The development of musical intuition, nuance and agility towards superior expression.
• The need for creating phrase contour and shape in relation to the harmonic context.
• Conveying the importance of articulation and inflection and its impact on interpretation.
• Exploration of expression that is achieved through dynamic contrast.
• The need to create harmonic balance with tonal blend.
• The importance of personal musical intuition and sensitivity.
• Encouraging personal conviction and ownership of the music through the process of sharing leadership responsibilities.
I know that I had alluded to the fact that this installment was to be the final episode. However, I need to frame a fitting conclusion, so you will have to wait one more week!
Warm regards and best wishes for your final few weeks of term and great closing performances!