Small change in setup can improve rehearsal

Rehearsal time is precious, especially when preparing for performance evaluations. One small change can turn a poor rehearsal into a successful one.

We have all been there. Large Group Performance Evaluations are drawing nigh and rehearsal time is waning. Much of the time spent working on the music is (at least somewhat) successful. However, there are always a few rehearsals which are just terrible. Those can be extremely frustrating.

There is nothing wrong with having a bad rehearsal. Not every meeting can be amazing. But, each rehearsal can have productive moments. The trick is to find those successes and celebrate them.

So, how do you turn poor rehearsals around? While words of encouragement can help, the mental atmosphere must change. The mind is the most powerful element of all rehearsals. Clearer minds lead to improved focus from musicians. Of course, each and every person sitting in a chair or standing on a riser has outside concerns and issues they face. While we can’t keep them from thinking about what is for lunch or a relationship issue, we can change the focus in the room. And the solution is rather simple.

Michael Colgrass is a Pulitzer Prize Winning composer, who also graduated from the University of Illinois with a degree in performance. His first professional experiences were as a jazz drummer, performing in the original West Side Story production on Broadway. In terms of music for winds, his Winds of Nagual: A Musical Fable on the Writings of Carlos Castaneda (1985) is considered one of the top works in our repertoire.

In addition to his composition, Colgrass is an author and clinician on performance techniques and psychology. His book “My Lessons With Kumi,” provides exercises and prose to help musicians develop into better performers. It also has provided foundation for him to present clinics on the matter.

I met Mr. Colgrass in 2006 while studying at Georgia State University. He visited as Composer-in-Residence with the school and presented one of his workshops with the conducting studio and wind ensemble. It changed my thoughts on rehearsals since.

One of the exercises he led was called “Walk-Ons.” In this exercise, participant walked across the front of the class, head held high and eyes up, take a breath and confidently say their name. They also were asked to change one thing about the setup at the podium in order to take ownership of the space.

While this entire exercise is not 100% plausible in a concert band rehearsal, there are aspects that will help change the mental focus of an ensemble. Try these simple steps to improve your rehearsal:

  1. Have each musician adjust their physical space: move the stand, different angle of their chair, slide their case or pencil over. It does not need to be anything big.
  2. All musicians lower their heads and close their eyes. This includes the conductor.
  3. With heads lowered and eyes closed, each musician completely exhales.
  4. On the subsequent inhale, everyone raises their head high.
  5. Exhale, eyes open and lifted.

It is not a cure-all, but it has helped ensembles I have worked with change the trajectory of their rehearsal. This exercise does not take much time. The benefits can be enormous.

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