Planning For a Good Start
For the next six months I intend to present a series of articles to identify some very small disciplines that translate into significant results for the rehearsal. Each one holds a special cause/effect relationship to the moment.
Over my many years of work, I have been provided with more opportunities than I wish count to observe the work of colleagues as well as podium icons both choral and instrumental. Early in these years I began to be fascinated by a single moment in a rehearsal: the first remark made.
The most effective first-remark has a purpose, a momentum forward. It can be a simple greeting, typically “Good afternoon,” “Good evening,” or such a phrase. Or there may be a more personal remark, setting the context, such as “I am looking forward to our rehearsal this evening; we are fortunate for this opportunity to make music together.” In contrast are first phrases that try to bring order to chaos, “Quiet everybody!,” “Can we begin now?!,” Alright, can we take our seats?!”
I know that this may only be my muse, but I have further observed that when a rehearsal begins in the first model there is greater chance of efficiency, musical prioritization and better results. The rehearsal that begins with “herding the cats” seems somehow to never transition into the organic rehearsal. I would propose that developing a rehearsal culture that allows us to make a first remark with higher purpose results in the impression of clear intention, of planning, of vision and of commitment to managing for results.
There have been situations in which no words were spoken, only a musical indication of starting the rehearsal. Examples of this model include a simple musical call and response, intoning a familiar vocalize by either singing or playing, but effective because of a familiar call to attention established by previous teaching and repetition. This immediacy of start offers too a point of departure that sets the tone of organization and centered purpose.
I might add that I have observed successful rhetoric that vary greatly in style, that mimic athletic coaches, poets, stand-up comedians, lovable and warm characters, as well as task-masters. But the uniqueness of these first moments is what has caught my attention. And the attention to such detail speaks to an awareness that overall details matter in our work.
Not every music director is equally verbal, with an ease of extemporaneous rhetoric. As conductors in particular, we are commonly instructed to make a special attempt to minimize verbal instruction and to call upon our gesture to inform. However, my experience has shown that when we speak it is helpful to be creative with words, to turn a verbal phrase and to be interesting.
Outside of the first remark of the rehearsal most verbal instruction evolves organically from the rehearsal itself, from what we observe and hear in real time. Scripting is not so welcome here. Our final verbal phrase to the choir is more likely to be a natural result of the time spent together. However, the first remark can have more preparation to it, can be more scripted and hold an intention of launching the rehearsal. For some this may require that someone other than the conductor prepare the choir to hear our remark, a designated person to call the choir to attention. It is simply too late to deliver an opening crafted remark if we have already been the one who herded up the choir.
Next time you are at another’s rehearsal take note of their opening remark, and especially the result of that moment. Is this target moment simply filling space or is it building a desired effect?
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