“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” George Harrison
In planning rehearsals it is important to focus on the specific desired ‘ideal’ outcomes. What should the ensemble understand in regards to the historical and analytical aspects of the works to be rehearsed; what should the ensemble sound like? What should the music sound like and finally, what proven rehearsal methods will assist our students in reaching the rehearsal goals? Above all, what will constitute an acceptable performance of the works being prepared? Do our students recognise the hallmarks of a fine performance, and are they in possession of the criteria we apply informing us of their achievement of an acceptable performance? To this end we should endeavor to ensure that we have prepared our students to be able to make critical, artistic assessments and decisions with regards to our performances.
What particular elements then should a rehearsal plan contain? The plan should begin with a timeline with the specific learning activities factored in. The plan should include an ensemble ‘warm up’ routine that goes beyond simply tuning individuals and sections. It ought to include vertical harmonic, chordal tuning/balance/blend and internal pulse development exercises such as found in Ed Lisk’s “Alternative Rehearsal Techniques”. The use of rhythmic exercises, such as Ed Sueta’s “Rhythm Vocabulary Charts” should assist in developing the process of counting and subdivision in obtaining an ever expanding rhythmic vocabulary. It should also include the systematic, fundamental studies found in our band method book. It should certainly include opportunities for exploring the importance of the vertical and horizontal harmonic narrative such as found in Erickson’s “66 Festive and Famous Chorales”.
The plan should then continue with the application of the specific learning strategies gained through the use of the training material toward perfecting sections of the performance repertoire. This will include the dissection and reassembly of difficult technical passages for either specific sections or large ensemble continuity. The plan will also provide opportunity for further expansion on interpretational issues and sight reading opportunities.
Nevertheless, it is easy for rehearsals to loose focus with attention to unnecessary detail. To keep the rehearsal pace moving forward one will need to know exactly what they are trying to achieve today with forethought for the next rehearsal’s goals. However, it is important to also recognise when an ensemble has been pushed beyond their ability to remain focused. Remember to be sensitive in reading ‘body’ language and learn to listen and watch for the visible and aural cues, which reveal ensemble disengagement, frustration and loss of focus. Human relationships and musical destinations are inextricably linked in ensemble music making. It is important that the conductor aims to be positive in their critical assessment, while remaining realistic and encouraging in their demands of the musical outcomes through maintaining respectful interpersonal relationships.
Still, one need not sacrifice their overall commitment to excellence and learning. Students in school and community ensembles also have their own set of learning expectations. To this end one must carefully consider their rehearsal plan, in light of today’s achievable targets, avoiding mindless repetition in rehearsing difficult passages. Instead, focus on applying or reinforcing personal practice strategies such as the use of sub-division in addressing rhythmic imprecision, or employing slow, careful repetition in the acquisition of precision of manual dexterity. It is best when the conductor can demonstrate successful problem-solving strategies through practical application in the rehearsal. Also, the use of generic rhythmic, melodic and harmonic exercises drawn from the repertoire can aid in developing ensemble listening skills leading to improved tone production and intonation, ensemble balance and balance, pitch clarity and rhythmic precision for ensemble unity.
Please stay tuned in for the final episode on Strengthening Student Learning Through Educationally Focused Rehearsals.