As a professional ensemble musician for most of my life, I’ve become quite well acquainted with the emotions connected to preparing for ensemble performance.
If the musician is worth his or her salt, said musician will begin by spending due diligence investigating the composer’s intent, by way of phrase and dynamic contrast, within the part assigned to the musician’s particular instrument. And, many will delve even more deeply – into the score itself, if accessible, to compare voicings and other relevant relationships. This is accomplished in solitude, either at home or in a designated available practice space.
But, once the musician’s part is ready to be combined with the rest of the orchestration, and the schedule indicates, the first rehearsal convenes.
Now, I can’t speak, of course, for every musician who ever held a Union card. But, I have certainly sat alongside scores of different players – both from within my cello section, and from within those nearby – such as the violists, bassists and, depending on my seat assignment, the occasional wind player. And so, I can safely say, each musician brings his or her own reality to the experience.
I speak, here, for myself.
Having been raised by those steeped in the Protestant work ethic, I arrive prepared. Every note that I am able to execute is ready. Every rhythm is analyzed and set. Every pitch is carefully placed. All of this I do, to the best of my given ability, with the fear of God and all its accompaniments: fear of the conductor’s glare; fear of the other musicians’ sniping; fear of error, exposed.
But, once each musician has had that first chance to put the pieces of the music together, a certain collective sigh ensues. The nervous chattiness of the extroverts, and the fixed repetition of passagework known as “woodshedding” from the introverts, which characterize the minutes just prior to the downbeat of the first run through, are replaced by a communal attitude of assurance; the group has become itself, the intended ensemble. The birthing process has begun.
And, so it is with this emotion carrying me that I anticipate the second rehearsal. Usually scheduled 48 hours from the first, in order to allow a period for reflection, review, and a conceptual gelling, it is the session I most enjoy. Perhaps others from among the collective agree with me; this is the phase during which we really revel in our mutual relationship with the music.
We still have time on our side. Time, the essential element in our art form, without which we could not organize any live musical expression, permits us two and a half solid hours to immerse ourselves totally. We, in effect, are making music for our own, mutual satisfaction. We are realizing our truest purpose.
The dress rehearsal is for buffing and polishing. It’s for refining our offering, to the nth possible degree, in preparation for our audience. I have, on many occasions, “peaked” at dress rehearsal; my performance is “ready” ahead of the show date.
The concert, itself, generates its own set of emotions. For many, there is a degree of anxiety. Residual beliefs about passing tests often creep into the mix. Many musicians have come by their seats in orchestras via the audition process, which pits one musician against another in the style of an Olympic gymnastics tournament. Realizing value becomes intimately connected to the memory of these experiences, and informs performance.
I am so grateful for the supportive warmth of the audience, knowing full well that orchestras cannot survive without those who make the time to arrive ready to share by respectfully listening. But, I thrive on the second rehearsal. I prefer the pure joy of making music, alone together with my fellows. I know that, unlike life, such rehearsal is a gift; rather, living itself offers no such luxury. For life, there are no rehearsals at all.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 11/17/15 All rights those of the author. Thank you for reading!