Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What are rehearsals for exactly?

This is a revised version of a post which first appeared as Bad rehearsal = good concert? in December 2006.

There’s a strange thing that happens in choirs just as a concert is coming up. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong.


Benny Goodman at rehearsal by Fred Palumbo

Then the concert that follows is usually excellent! What’s going on here?

bad rehearsal = good concert?

Very often, in the session the week before, or even sometimes in the rehearsal on the day of the concert, it appears that everyone in the choir has forgotten what songs they know, which parts they sing, and what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s as if some group amnesia has spread like a virus, as well as knocking the energy out of everyone.

Directing the choir in these situations is like climbing uphill through mud and always makes me despair, even though I know it’s just part of the process and everything will (probably) be all right on the night.

But that doesn’t stop me from despairing and wishing that I was somewhere else and really worrying if we’re ever going to pull the concert off. In fact, I even worry if people are ever going to remember how to sing again at all!

Then the concert arrives and (usually) everything goes swimmingly and we all forget the awful rehearsal the week before.

Afterwards, on a high and like a dog with a short memory, we start looking forward to the next concert and hope that everything will go smoothly, until that is, we get to the dreaded rehearsal the week before and it all happens again.

Then we remember: “Ah, yes, this is what happened last time”. But there is nothing we can do, and we despair again and we plod on again and we pray that it will all turn out fine. And it usually does.

what are rehearsals for?

This reminded me of something that a theatre director once said to me (I wish I could remember who it was):

“Rehearsals are the place where we find all the ways of getting it wrong. Then we’re just left with the right way of doing things.”

This seems to be the opposite of how most people view rehearsals.

It is common for people to get stressed and give themselves a hard time when they get something wrong in rehearsal. Their aim (presumably) is to get everything perfectly right, anything less is unacceptable.

But surely it’s in the concert that we want to get everything right, not the rehearsal?

That’s why the occasionally brilliant rehearsal always disturbs me slightly. Have we peaked too early? Will the concert be as good? How can we get any better than this?

In rehearsal we can actively choose to pursue all the ways of getting it ‘wrong’. (I’ve mentioned this in an earlier post Getting the best out of your choir 4: preparing for performance PART 1.) We can sing a song as if we are the worst choir in the world; we can sing a gentle ballad as a raucous rock and roll song; we can quieten our big, loud finale song down and sing it as a lullaby.

Once we’ve explored and played with a song in this way, singers tend to not be so precious about doing it the ‘right’ way. It’s as if some light and air has been let in and given people permission to experience the song anew.

And if a song goes belly-up and pear-shaped of its own accord, you just have to laugh, realise that you can now reject this ‘wrong’ way of doing it, and move on to try and discover yet more ways of getting it ‘wrong’.

what rehearsals can’t do

One thing that a rehearsal can never prepare you for is being in front of an audience.

You can’t practice this at home or in the rehearsal room. You have to have a live audience in front of you, but by then it’s too late. I’ve written about this in my post Can you ever prepare yourself for being in front of a live audience?.

how do you approach rehearsals?

How do you view rehearsals? Are they nerve-wracking experiences or a bit of fun and a laugh? Do you feel really bad when something goes ‘wrong’? How might rehearsals be improved so that the concert goes better?

I wish you many good and enjoyable rehearsal where you playfully discard all the ‘wrong’ things and end up with a cracking concert.

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