Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Sectional Rehearsals

Sectional rehearsals are an integral component of any orchestral concert cycle.  Today was my first opportunity to hold sectionals with my new group of students at NCSSM.  Rather than to simply throw them into the sectional rehearsal experience, I thought that it would be beneficial to discuss the goals, important techniques, and values of the sectional rehearsal process.  We had a great discussion before they broke into sections and then we discussed the results at  the end of class.  Here are some of the thoughts and concepts that emerged in class today.

Goals of the Sectional Rehearsal:

  • Details
    • Fingerings
    • Bowings
    • Intonation
    • Rhythm
These are the nuts and bolts of the section's work.  Most everyone recognized that these are the primary goals of the sectional rehearsal and following today's rehearsal, it was clear that these were the primary topics of discussion.  
  • Tone/Sound
I would argue that this may be part of a sectional rehearsal later in a concert cycle.  Earlier sectionals with student musicians may never get to this point.
  • Phrasing/Expression
Much of this work will be done in the larger group rehearsal and it is even possible that work in this area in a sectional rehearsal may occasionally run contrary to the conductor's vision for a piece.
  • Ensemble
This is where the section may hear inconsistencies in style, articulation, and and rhythm; as well as see inconsistencies in bow placement, use, and distribution.
  • Communication
One student noted that this is a perfect opportunity for student leadership and for students articulate original thoughts regarding the repertoire at hand.
  • Corporate Gain
It is vital that every musician walk away with a sense that the time was well spent for the individual, the section, and the greater ensemble.

Vehicles that help reach the goals:

  • Collaborate
Everyone must be willing to work together.
  • Communicate
The sectional is more effective when folks communicate freely: ask questions, offer suggestions, and engage in the group goals.
  • Active Participation: Invest!
One can not simply "go through the motions" in a sectional rehearsal.  The activity requires active engagement from all parties involved.  This is really tough in today's academic setting.  If find it more difficult each year to elicit active mental rigor from every member of my ensembles.  I will not give up the fight!!
  • Listen
I feel that listening skills are not addressed enough in the orchestra rehearsal. We discuss what the player should "do."  Sectionals are a great vehicle for individuals to exercise listening skills.
  • Assess
This is another great opportunity for musicians in sectionals.  They are, by nature, less conductor-centric than rehearsal.  In a rehearsal, the conductor is constantly assessing and the musician is adapting to the conductor's instruction.  Sectionals provide the opportunity for the individual musician to assess their work and that of those around them.
  • Think like a scientist: Identify problems, develop a hypothesis, limit variables, address issues
At my school, this makes lots of sense!  I love to draw the comparison of a person practicing to that of a researcher.  It is an easy comparison to make.
  • Slow Down
No - really - slow down!  Like - half tempo.  Or less!  Zoom into the microscopic level of rhythm and intonation.  Take time to really hear intervals.  So often in rehearsal, some members of an ensemble are "left in the dust."  It is part of the process of rehearsal.  So, seize the opportunity in sectionals to slow things down and meaningfully listen to the inner levels of the parts assigned to the section. 

Don'ts  (Things that make for a bad sectional rehearsal):

  • Just run through passages
What a waste of time.  We can do that any time.
  • Clam up
We have to communicate.  Take a chance.  If you are thinking it, someone else is too!  We all must lead and that comes in a variety of communication packages.
  • Weak Leadership
Enough said.  Someone has to drive the train. My students all agree that a sectional where no one is willing to lead can be futile.


  • Citizen
  • Artist
  • Scholar
  • Teacher
Many of you have read my previous posts on this acronym.  I believe deeply that after each rehearsal, any student should be able to look at this acronym and identify the areas that have been addressed. Have they enhanced their citizenship of the ensemble? Has their artistry been engaged?  Have they expressed or enhanced their scholarship?  Have they taken advantage of opportunities to lead and help, as well as learn from, colleagues.

As a result of this work, I intend to create a template for a good sectional rehearsal to use with my students in coming months and years.  This would provide a model and outline for the anatomy of a productive sectional rehearsal for student reference.

How does all of this hit you?  What have we missed?  What did we get right?  I would love to hear from you as I continue to develop the template for a great sectional rehearsal.   I will share it here in coming days and weeks.

Until next time.


1 comment:

  1. Great stuff, as always, Scott! I'll be using this with my students!