Today in Intermediate Concert Orchestra we welcomed our faculty section leaders for a second time. I decided that today would be a good day to have a group conversation about ensemble playing and the role of the individual within the ensemble. I asked my faculty colleagues to join in on the conversation. I have found over the years that sometimes faculty interaction with and in front of students is a wonderful learning vehicle. So, today, that was the beginning of our class conversation.
I started the class by asking the students to talk a little bit about what they love to see and hear when they go to a great orchestra performance. I received responses that included: bows moving in unison, physically invested performers, great repertoire, a look of purpose, and others. I was quite impressed with the student responses right out of the gate.
Next, I asked my colleagues to talk a little bit about what they need to do to create the performances that the students were discussing. What did they need to do to generate a performance that was exciting to watch and hear ? What is the role of the performer?
Size of Group
One faculty member expanded on the importance of listening and watching from the first rehearsal to the last. Listening for the style and intonation of the other people in their section and the sections around them. Watching for technique consistency, bow placement, and other subtleties as the repertoire developed from sight-read to performance. Another spoke of the importance of uniformity from throughout the rehearsal process until a performance. They mentioned the need for working for this uniformity from beginning to end. Still another mentioned the equal importance of knowing the role of each voice in the ensemble. They mentioned that in rehearsals, they are always trying to figure out the role of their voice and how it fits in with the others. Finally, another mentioned the importance of a passionate pursuit of musical excellence from the first rehearsal to the end of any performance.
We then discuss what they bring to the table musically in each of these goals. One mentioned that simply allowing his personality to be part of the rehearsal process enhanced the process a great deal for him. This could be as subtle as offering smiles or salutations to his colleagues as he arrived at rehearsal. Those friendly offerings lead to wonderful musical relationships. This is a great way to approach rehearsal and the rehearsal process. Another mentioned the concept of understanding their role in the orchestra at all times. Sometimes their voice is a melody. Sometimes their voice is harmony. Other times it is a rhythmic underpinning. Knowing the role is vital. Another mentioned that it is important to be prepared for active listening and reacting throughout a rehearsal process. One never really knows what is going to happen. The brain must be turned on and ready to act and react at a moment's notice. Still another mentioned that subtleties in rehearsal can be quite extemporaneous. Things can be different every single time a piece is played. There can be subtle changes in tempo, phrasing, dynamics , and musical interaction at any given moment. The performer must be in tune with them at all times. Also, a section player must be willing to challenge themselves on many of these issues. They are not always visible to the conductor, but are integral to the success of the ensemble. Finally, another colleague emphasized the importance of emulating those around them. Looking to the section leader or other sections for bow placement, style, articulation, and other technical aspects of her performance and emulating them in order to provide a uniform product.
This was a wonderful conversation and certainly timely today. As we are now three rehearsals into this concert cycle, I thought it was important that students had a good handle on their role in the orchestra. I wanted them to know that sometimes they had to be they have to be self-motivated in terms of what the next step is. There was mention of the fact that in any rehearsal process one must move from focusing on the technical - to the artistic - to process and, finally - to perspective. If you are interested in knowing more about my thoughts on this, please refer to my recent article, "What and How?"
Tomorrow we have sectional rehearsals! Onward.