If I am honest, the rehearsal in the hall didn't start out the way I had hoped. I thought that we would run the program, hit some spots, and run the program again. As it turned out, I think the ensemble was a bit overwhelmed by the room, the anxiety of the first performance, and 5 or 6 of their instructors out in the hall, watching the rehearsal, taking notes for me. All of those factors, put together with the general fatigue that they are starting to feel led to a sup-par start. The kids were missing entrances, phasing tempo, missing bowings, and generally freaking out. I have to admit, I was surprised and a bit upset. As a result, I scrapped the "run-through" and just rehearsed. This proved to be much more productive and we were able to "right the ship" and salvage the rehearsal.
For my string educator friends that read this, I want you to know what we are playing and the things that we are focusing on. This is a middle-school group with musicians whose experience and ability ranges from quite high (my concertmaster is working on the Lalo Concerto and many of the students are quite accomplished soloists) to students with very little experience in a serious ensemble with attention to watching, tempo changes, uniform bowing style, etc. I tried to program varied repertoire with lots of opportunities for expression and musicianship. We will start with the Latham Suite for String Orchestra, by Theron Kirk. In the March movement, we focus on "breathing" into beginning of phrases, short sixteenth notes on the hooked bowing, dynamic sustained notes, and energy in general. The Elegy 2nd movement is an opportunity to really emphasize the importance of watching the conductor and huge changes in style within a movement (ranging from very sustained and sad to "incalzando" or "with fire.") I really stretch and tug the tempo in this one. It takes a huge amount of maturity and patience from each player. The final movement, Finale, is a syncopated dance that requires attention to rhythm and articulation from start to finish. Our second piece is Vivaldi's Concerto in G Major, arranged by my friend, Tom LaJoie. The kids will perform this work without a conductor and the focus has been on terraced dynamics, intonation, and moving with the music, leading from any and every chair. Next, we will do Percy Fletcher's Folk Tune and Fiddle Dance. This old string orchestra standard is one of my favorites. The Folk Tune is an opportunity to teach tempo, key, and meter changes within a movement. We have worked on phrasing, dynamics, watching, and many other ensemble techniques in this one. The Fiddle Dance is reminiscent of Copland's Hoe Down and is simply a blast to perform. Dynamics and drive are paramount in this movement. We will finish with Nanigo, by my friend Tom Sharp. It is cool tune based on West African rhythms. We will be adding a 7-piece authentic African drum section for this one. I will also be joining the group on my 5-string NS Design CR violin, soloing over the last section of the piece. This work starts out "piano" and builds throughout, ending with a huge fortissimo. This is great for teaching a tricky 2 against 3 rhythmic pattern in the context of a really fun work.
We have a short rehearsal this afternoon and a warm-up on stage right before the performance. I am rally psyched for the entire day. I know that it will be great fun. I am so proud of this ensemble. I often say that an ensemble has to do the rigor first. But, when that is accomplished, they then can release any stress and simply play from the heart. This group has done the rigor. I hope that they can play today with joy and expression without losing their attention to detail. I believe that is the key for this group of young musicians today. I know that I will enjoy the ride today, with the knowledge that we have prepared well.
I'll let you know tomorrow how it went!