To continue along these lines, I believe that it is essential that conductors assist students in identifying the essential markers, targets or outcomes necessary for personal evaluation, thus affirming effective learning as well as enjoying the rewarding results achieved in mastering difficult passages. For example, on what 3 targets within a passage will a student identify and focus on? How will students measure their success in achieving those targets? And, are there other targets yet to be identified? Are there bowings, articulations, correct pitches, fingerings, rhythmic accuracy or expressive inflection that need special attention? What learning strategies will students then apply that will lead to skill acquisition and mastery? Once again, it is important that effective learning/practice strategies are both shared, promoted and proven in rehearsal.
A valuable component of the successful transfer of individual learning into students’ hands is accomplished through the nurturing of the intrinsic self-evaluation process. Effective self-evaluation should lead students towards understanding both the value and intrinsic rewards of practicing a specific exercise or passage in light of similar learning applications. When students become ultimately responsible for setting their own targets or goal criterion, they also begin to clearly articulate when and how they have met and achieved the technical and musical goals found in the specific exercise/passage in question. And, they will be encouraged to do it again!
Educationally based rehearsals that introduce and encourage improved learning habits will require and employ effective and proven teaching strategies, supported with quality repertoire and teaching materials matched to the appropriate skill level of the ensemble. Ensemble members should be encouraged to learn and master scales and arpeggios, rhythmic vocabulary, expressive etudes and solo repertoire so as to apply the learning process gained from mastering this material towards meeting the musical demands presented in the ensemble performance repertoire. An important point of rehearsal focus then is to use the essential applications of fundamental technique toward achieving musical outcomes through the rehearsal process. The study of mathematics provides a fitting analogy in that mathematicians do not learn equations, save for the purpose of their application and usefulness in future problem solving.
To this end the conductor should both model and communicate the value of ‘process learning’ throughout the rehearsal, thus inspiring students to apply this ‘process’ independently outside the rehearsal. For when students’ ability to recognise both when and how the desired result has been achieved, the successful transference of the learning process is confirmed. However, to be effective in transferring motivation for independent practice, it is also important that students need to remain committed to the continued investment in practicing training material over the long term. Conductors must assist students in resisting the temptation to neglect investing in the process of learning for the pursuit of short-term performance goals. Professional sporting teams know the value of continued engagement of practicing fundemental skills!
Conductors should then remain committed to providing opportunities for effective performance skills to be introduced, developed and perfected. It is generally accepted that 70% of rehearsal time should be spent on interpretation, with the other 30% being used for mastery of technical demands found in the repertoire under consideration. We must ensure that there is a correlation between our ensemble study material and the performance repertoire that can reinforce and assist in the mastery of fundemental skills! Composers of significant repertoire generally assume an ensemble’s command of a prior knowledge and skill base will be applied to their work, leading to effective, rewarding musical performance. Therefore, a majority of the technical skills needed to allow our ensemble to focus on interpretation must to be addressed separately from the repertoire.
Keeping the above in mind, conductors of performance ensembles should regularly consider the following questions:
· What do we want students to have gained from ensemble participation?
· Are our students passionate lovers of music?
· Are our students competent musicians, able produce acceptable characteristic tone, centred intonation and expressive, intelligent well-formed phrases?
· Can our students follow, as well as lead?
· Are our students curious, purpose driven and independent learners?
· Do our students possess sufficient reading skills?
· Are our students dependable and responsible?
It is easy to forget that rehearsals ought to also provide students with effective generic learning skills equally applicable to other subjects. Therefore rehearsals should not be overly concerned with the goal of producing the the ‘perfect performance’, but aid in developing a personal approach to study that can be applied indefinitely to many learning targets. To this end conductors need to enable their ensemble members to become thoughtful observers, excellent listeners and articulate participants. We should promote personal initiative and natural curiosity, but should resist the temptation to provide answers for them. Instead, students should be led toward developing critical self-assessment criterion through exposure to great musical models and substantial repertoire, being given opportunities to experiment with their emerging musical interpretation without fear of failure, or intimidation.
As a colleague recently pointed out “Professional ensembles rehearse because they give concerts, whereas educators give concerts because they rehearse.” Craig Kirchhoff, University of Minnesota
With this in mind, conductors must be willing to shrug off the temptation of solely practising for the concert, and trust in the advantages of spending some of the precious rehearsal time in the gaining automated ensemble skills such as the acquisition of internal pulse, the use of rhythmic subdivision, understanding the importance of the harmonic narrative, tuning through key centre, and developing sensitivity to melodic nuance and inflection. When ensembles are in possession of a well-developed rhythmic, harmonic and pitch vocabulary it is amazing how much more effective and enjoyable rehearsals become. The benefits of planning educationally based rehearsals are seemingly obvious, but patience is needed, along with a willingness to rediscover the importance of ‘delayed gratification’ in the process of learning.
Duke Ellington once observed, “When a man finds out what he wants to know, well that’s the beginning of education.” But, one would do well to consider Plato’s quote, “All learning under compulsion has no hold on the mind.” It is the conductor’s role to assist their ensembles in discovering what it is they wish to achieve beyond superimposing their personal will over an ensemble. After all, great music performances are generally collaborative in nature, effectively combining the musicianship of conductor and ensemble, as well as between individual ensemble members.
Next week I hope to examine and discuss further both the benifits and the attributes of educationally focused rehearsals.