“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there” … John Lennon
“Professionals rehearse because they perform. Amateurs/students perform because they rehearse. The rehearsal is the main event” … Craig Kirchhoff
“My rehearsal is my most important performance” ... Monte Mumford
As much as we might agree that planning for every rehearsal is important, both the writing, and using of comprehensive rehearsal plans can be daunting. And, what about all those pesky considerations, such as;
“Where do I start? I have such limited time… I must prepare for the next concert… I must teach the pieces… My students never practice their parts at home… How will we ever be ready in time?” etc…
At this point it is essential to remember that rehearsal plans generally reflect our ‘core’ music philosophy and overall purpose for inspiring students through rewarding participation in mastering skill, knowledge and artistic expression through our rehearsal routine. Is the ‘next concert’ our true destination, or is it our ensemble’s overall musical development and advancement?
To this end it is imperative that we frequently revisit, re-examine and continually adjust our educational philosophy to ensure that it consistently supports and informs our purpose and direction for each and every rehearsal. After all, we should remember that as conductors, we are educators first. What do we wish for our ensemble members to gain through our rehearsals? Without meticulous planning it will not be possible to effectively lead and instruct our ensembles in the short rehearsal time allotted. If the lack of rehearsal time is a real concern, it is imperative that we work with a detailed plan of specific targets, strategies and goals with realistic timings to ensure steady progress.
Like many challenges, once you have the ‘learning curve’ down for creating and delivering a balanced rehearsal plan, it becomes much easier. After the first plan is written and delivered, it then serves as a template for the rest of our plans for the term.
Here are some guidelines I find helpful in my initial rehearsal planning routine.
1. I carefully consider the priorities of what my ensemble will need to know to meet generic performance requirements, such as:
- characteristic tone and intonation production
- basic key centres
- rhythmic vocabulary,
- articulations and context
- interpretative skills of balance, blend, dynamic contrast in context
- phrasing through harmonic connections
- stylistic considerations
3. I find it incredibly useful and most effective when I can share my plan via email with my ensemble three or more days before the next rehearsal. This provides the ensemble sufficient time to respond and employ the suggestions I have shared towards our next rehearsal.
The use of meticulous, systematic rehearsal plans leads to measurable, rewarding outcomes, and also ensures positive engagement and continued growth. However, it is important to also understand that these intensive, broad-based rehearsals are to be planned so that their content and activities are tailored to fit into whatever time frame you are working. "There is always to to do what you want to do." ,,, Benton Minor
Be both persistent and consistent, for the rewards of a well-trained ensemble are truly worth the effort. As an added benefit, well prepared plans can also establish our credibility to both colleagues and students alike.
My rehearsal plans generally consist of the following three major sections
1. Warm-up: physical preparation and mental focus, employing;
“Circle of 4ths” studies and related exercises as needed;
developing independence and aural awareness
2. Training: technical and interpretative exercises/studies **
rhythmic and pitch vocabulary materials – rhythms, scales, arpeggios, the use of relatively short, unison etudes phrase and harmonic development through the use of chorale material
3. Performance repertoire: sight-reading and performance works
all of repertoire choices are consistently matched to the level of the warm-up, training and chorale materials and overall abilities required by the repertoire.
This three-point rehearsal format is based upon the use of a series of annually adjusted ‘Student/member Learning Objectives’ (SLOs). These are broken down into term goals and addressed through weekly rehearsal plans. These SLOs can be further broken down into the introduction and use of ‘long term, mid-term and short-term’ practice strategies (more on these later). The end point of our use of ‘rehearsal plans’ is to ultimately demonstrate to our ensemble members how to successfully invest in planning their home practice routine for successful progression and measurable, positive returns on their ‘investment’!
1. Circle of 4ths – Alternative Rehearsal Techniques* - The purpose of the various exercises introduced through the Ed Lisk Circle of 4th routine is to “redirect” thought and attention away from written notation (visual skills) to the art of listening (auditory skills). It is also useful in building individual and group concentration skills and individual engagement with independence. The mental processes and visualisation techniques promote ensemble member participation and focusing attention. It also provides for activating and improving individual listening skills through internal pulse development and aural awareness in scale, arpeggio and interval work.
2. Technical development (I generally split this section into two parts)
- (Technical A) Systematic and sequential rhythmic studies** These provide excellent opportunities to acquire excellent rhythm vocabulary and reading skills through counting and sub-division strategies necessary to independently negotiate challenging rhythmic passages. I place a major importance on rhythmic vocabulary acquisition through the use of counting and sub-division measurement strategies. I also include scale and arpeggio work in this section as well.
- (Technical B) Technical Etudes and Chorale Studies Rehearsal plans should also provide for technique facility and expressive interpretation, gained through systematic, method book studies, which provide for logical ‘scope and sequence’ of systematic technical and musical progression. These texts work best when we follow the logical sequence from page to page. I also include the use of chorale material in which I introduce and reinforce balance, blend, phrasing and harmonic context in light of musical interpretation.
b. Chorale studies provide opportunities for developing perceptions of balance, blend and
vertical intonation, as well as for exposure to the all-important harmonic movement (departure and arrival), and harmonic context as the driving force in phrase sensitive expression/interpretation.
There are several method/etude/chorale ensemble texts# (see list below) that can be systematically employed for every level of ensemble expertise; the choices are many. However, ultimately, it is not the material you choose, but how you choose to use it that really matters. (A topic for another post, but they are designed to be used sequentially!)
The important point here is that we employ the training material systematically every rehearsal with special attention to applying the learning strategies to home practice routine. In fact, every amateur and professional sporting club both appreciates and practices the importance of daily training discipline in every turn-out. Every rehearsal provides a valuable lesson in how to practice at home: make an opportunity to introduce a learning strategy and then demonstrate its effectiveness, in every rehearsal! We, in fact become trusted investment counsellors.
3. Repertoire and the Rehearsal Proper:
It is at this point that we need to see that a major function of our repertoire choice should provide for opportunities to reinforce the technical and musical development of our ensemble. Our plan therefore will need to effectively connect the training material introduced in the first two sections of the rehearsal towards addressing the technical and musical challenges found in our repertoire choices. We must not lose sight of the fact that we are trying to build generic skills and musical knowledge to meet the musical and technical demands of our repertoire. That is why it is vitally important that the mastery of technique and musical interpretation are separately introduced and learned prior to exposure to the current repertoire in the folder. Be careful to choose repertoire that does not exceed the capacity of your ensemble to meet its technical and musical demands.
Therefore, when moving on to planning and preparing the performance repertoire section of your rehearsal, it is important to list the specific issues for consideration, such as how will your repertoire best serve achieving your music education philosophy. You will need consider what sections will need attention and how they should be approached and prepared with references and examples drawn specifically from the training materials.
The ability to balance your training and performance activities requires both vision and dogged commitment to meticulous planning, timing and above all, patience. We must remain committed to the ‘long game’.
Point to ponder… Good rehearsals always include connective analogies, metaphors and narrative (stories) to assist our ensemble in understanding musical concepts difficult to understand and promote the intrinsic value of excellence in music performance over short-term extrinsic rewards.
Additional notes and resource lists:
*Circle of 4ths Rational and use: Why I both promote and employ the Circle of 4ths strategies as a foundation of warm-up procedure across every rehearsal.
Through the use of the “Circle of 4ths” exercises and stratagems, I focus on developing rhythmic internal and external pulse awareness through the use of subdivision, and vertical pitch alignment through beat-less tuning, harmonic alignment and balance:
accurate rhythm and duration,
pitch, tone quality and intonation
harmonic and melodic ensemble balance and blend
key centre cognation
Employing the Circle of 4ths programme and related applications enables ensembles to increase their automised skills base through its application throughout the rehearsal. It is important to understand that all of the ‘Circle of 4th’ exercises are to be ’un-conducted’ and are solely dependent on each individual’s internal pulse. They are expected to listen to the ensemble for developing and matching tone quality, intonation, balance, blend and corporate time and internal pulse.
**On-line resources for ‘Rhythm Reading”
I believe that it is important to share online resources with our ensembles, which will assist in priming curiosity and individual engagement with technical and musical growth, as this promotes individual responsibility and ownership.
Here are three rhythm sites that can be of great assistance. All three appear to be free and interactive. The 3rd site includes a print option, so I share them with in hopes that they will assist in improving rhythm vocabulary. Mastering rhythm notation is key to ultimate success in sight-reading, so, happy rhythm reading! http://www.daniellaberge.com/music/rhythm/rhythm1.htm
#Texts and training materials
The Creative Director Alternative Rehearsal Techniques (Edward Lisk)
Rhythm Spectrum for Effective Rhythmic Development (Ed Sueta)
“Sound Innovations” books 1-2 (Robert Sheldon)
“Sound Innovations Ensemble Method” books 1-3 (Robert Sheldon)
“Accent on Achievement” - books 1-3 (John O’Reilly)
“Traditions of Excellence” – books 1-3 (Bruce Pearson)
“Essential Elements” - books 1-3 (Tom Rhodes)
“Symphonic Band Warm -ups“ (Claude Smith)