Ensemble Play = Teamwork
In a large ensemble such as the St. Augustine Orchestra, our reliance on “ear” alone will not help us synchronize to create a unified pulse and a “tight” performance.
Just as in sports, where there are a few stars but many more supporting positions, in ensemble music there are sometimes soloists, but most of the musicians are part of the team, executing their lines in the score, working to blend with the group so that individual parts create the entire listening experience. It’s important not just to hit your own notes, but to listen to the other parts, and make sure that you’re in tune and time with each other. In long passages with sustained phrasing it’s critical that the musicians work together. The result is a “tight” performance.
Reading the score requires each section to read its rhythm, pitch, form and expression markings at the same point in time and at the required speed. The ensemble is as good as the collective individual skills of its members at doing the fundamentals.
Ensemble rehearsal is the assembly point – where members’ preparation of the material, and their individual skill sets, form the basis of the work the conductor needs to do to bring it all together. We are all learning. That’s why we are hear. But what we learn in rehearsal is directly attributable to what we’ve already tasked ourselves to learn at home. The collective level of our our individual preparation, gives the conductor the base platform with which to grow our results as a group.
Truly, the Conductor motivates the trainable and accessible skills of the players. The players – our members, form the basic starting point and the range by which the Conductor can stretch us and challenge us.
Put another way, we can all get to work on a bicycle. But we can increase our speed and enjoyment if we can go by motorcycle or automobile. In between is the bus, which is probably the best metaphor for a large ensemble. The ensemble is taking everyone along for the ride so that we all arrive at the same time. To get on the bus, you present a ticket in the form of the skills and preparation you do before climbing on.
In the volunteer model of SAO, we are a long-standing group of musicians who have been trained in different methods, with different techniques from as recent as the past 10 years, to as far back as 5 decades or more. Members come with different and varied disciplines, if not varied understanding of fundamentals, and with varied opportunity to fit music into the rest of their personal lives.
How does the conductor bring this all together for a performance? Knowledge of our skills at an individual level through careful listening and occasional auditions of parts. Then careful planning. Thoughtful and deliberate rehearsal leadership. Supportive guidance and assistance in conveying how the ink is to be interpreted. Part of the baseline involves the selection of music in a level of difficulty which the ensemble can be lead to achieve, or stretched to achieve.
While the conductor may influence your passion to play, only you can influence your technical development. By learning, growing, scheduling time in the wood shed, and asking for assistance when help is needed, as well as critical listening and taking notes during rehearsal, we can all work together to make rehearsal time more effective. The following pages aim to help us all come onto the same page. Some of the material is old news to some players, while for others, its a refresher or even a new approach to try. Just remember that the higher the base point of where we execute, the higher the level of result the Conductor can achieve in a fixed amount of time.
Getting the most out of 8-10 Week Rehearsal Cycles
These pages form guidelines for effective preparation. Only you can choose to schedule the time around busy lifestyles, in order to grow. We know that. We ARE you!
- What if we all said to our families: “Could you give me 20 – 30 minutes each day of time to work on my music.” And we actually had a plan to follow to make that productive time. Not all of us have productive rehearsal skills. Do you warm up? Do you play slow scales? Do you practice intonation with a drone tone? Are you “mindful” and focused when you practice?
- Do you read rhythm or wait for it to be sung to you. Perhaps its a combination of both. WHAT IF everyone increased their competency in rhythm breakdown and reading to 50% better, this would yield back a huge chunk, if not half of the rehearsal cycle time, to other higher level tasks. Those benefits include LESS:
- Rehearsal time covering the same ground over multiple rehearsals on a phrase or section.
- Downtime for other sections during the repetitive reviews.
Dr. William McNeiland once said, “When the entire ensemble has a high competency in rhythm reading, rehearsal productivity can increase by as much as 60%”. Bill was an educator at the Univ. of Illinois, Jacksonville University, private instructor, professional musician with the Jacksonville Symphony and former Artistic Director of SAO.
When you depend on the conductor to sing the rhythm to you, you take time away from other sections who are sitting idle while repetitive reviews of your part are done.
We mention rhythm but there are many components to achieving increasing levels of musicianship. Intonation, bowing, armature for wind players, responsive instruments of better make or quality mechanics. There are many variables which influence our play. Even training the ear to listen intently, helps us emulate better players and fit better into the mix.
Our development guidance pages have been developed for your benefit, right here on the SAO web site. They are hear for you to consume, but we can’t make you consume them.
What we hope is that your curiosity, if not also your passion to excel, will rise and you will start taking small bites of information that will improve your capabilities and overall experience with SAO.
Musicianship is a journey. Welcome to the trip.
SAO Board of Directors; Artistic Development Committee