Rehearsal Techniques: Expressive words will create expressive playing

Rehearsal is always an interesting time. The goal is often the same: improve the musical performance of the ensemble. In order to accomplish this, conductors will sit and study their scores trying to analyze every aspect possible. Form. The rhythms. Chord progression. Melody, harmony, and balance concerns. All of these items come under scrutiny when studying scores.

Musicality is another important part of the rehearsal, yet we often spend less time on these concepts than notes and rhythms. Sure, we will mention dynamic changes and articulations, but precision is often primary. And, there is nothing wrong with that.

Part of the problem with expressive playing is the difficulty we have in communicating. It is hard to convince musicians to play a passage full of joy when our faces show no emotion. Most of us have “analytical director face,” which is caused by our constant critical listening.

Another part of the problem is our vocabulary. Our language during rehearsals is often limited to words associated with articulations or dynamics. “Get a bit louder,” or “lighter articulation, please, at measure 77.” While these do accurately state what we are looking for the ensemble to do, we could be more descriptive.

There are as many ways to study a score as there are conductors. Each person has their own ways which work for them. Whether we use colored pencils to highlight ideas or just scribe notes in the margins, our way works for us. But, there is one simple addition we can use to help us express the more emotional side of the music. That is adding adjectives to phrases.

When I am working on a score, I will often bracket where sections begin and end. This will include the length in measures and how that is divided. Next to this, I add two or three adjectives to describe the emotions I believe are expressed.

This is rather easy to do in a piece such a Gustav Holst’s First Suite in E-flat. In the first movement, the opening phrase is repeated and changed several times throughout. Each time, the emotional energy is different. Writing adjectives to notate this energy helps me conduct the ensemble in a manner that shows these ideas. Because of this, their performance is improved without me saying a word. I know what energy to pull out of the music and I can show it to the musicians in the ensemble. When the music is more joyful, I may smile more and my ictus will be lighter. Or, if the music is distant or depressive, my movements are more weighed.

Related: Higher elbow, better movement

There is no right or wrong. What the music expresses to you is what you write. Having those words in mind as you conduct will help you communicate the music in a more efficient manner.

And, I believe, your student enjoy their time more.

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