Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Side by Side
It is a cold morning in Northern MI today, so I am inside the library at Interlochen, catching up on e-mails and on organizing my thoughts for this next set of concerts.
We have a new initiative here at Interlochen that I thought I would share with you today.
During the summer, we have an amazing faculty of artist/teachers that come to Interlochen to teach for the summer. Each 3 week session, I have 5 of these folks assigned to my orchestra to lead sectional rehearsals and help with the preparation for upcoming concerts. During our first 3 weeks of concerts, a decision was made to convert some of these sectional rehearsal meetings to "side-by-side" experiences within the context of the orchestra rehearsals. During a side-by-side, the instructors came to rehearsal and sat within the section, offering tips on bowing, style, fingerings, technique, etc.
I was pleased to hear of this opportunity for our students. I know that as an undergrad at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to sit beside my violin teacher, Mrs. Delight Malitsky, in almost every orchestra rehearsal for three years. She sat at the Concertmaster position in the university orchestra and I sat in the Assistant Concertmaster position. In every rehearsal, she would model all of the best of orchestral practice and give me and the other players tips throughout our time together. I can't begin to describe how very much I learned from her in that setting.
I was really pleased with the results of the side-by-sides during our first two concerts. During the first and second meeting, the faculty were able to sight-read the repertoire that I had selected for the upcoming concert, discuss the various sight-reading techniques, and offer an aural image to the students for their upcoming work. For these early rehearsals, they sat at the Principal positions in the section and were able to interact with each other both verbally and musically for the students in the section. In my opinion, it was magical. I did my best to make those meetings significantly less "conductor-centric" that my standard rehearsals and simply give them the framework in which to teach and lead.
Later in our concert preparation, the teachers sat in the middle and back of the sections, where they could look over the section for problem spots with bowing, technique, physical interaction, etc. and give thoughtful tips and tricks for cleaner, more expressive and unified performance. Sectional rehearsals were not completely abandoned and they were able to give more specific advice to their respective sections in those meetings. I also think that the ensemble meetings gave the faculty members a really good idea of the composers' vision and a better feel for the specific needs that could be addressed in the sectional rehearsals.
Those of you that know me, know that I am all about collaboration. I loved having the opportunity to collaborate with my colleagues in these "side-by-side" experiences and was thrilled with the results. I feel like I know them so much better at this point and really value their expertise and musicianship in new ways. Perhaps they feel the same after working with me in this way.
I do this think this requires balance. There is definitely a need for the sectional rehearsal in this environment. But there is so much that a young musician can learn by watching a true pro in the rehearsal environment. The real key is that the conductor stay out of the way. (Not one of our strong characteristics - by the way!)
Both concerts that were performed at the end of this experiment were outstanding and I think the students experienced a real benefit from the opportunity. We will see how it goes for the next two concerts with a new group of kids!
For now, stay warm.