Going back to in person rehearsals? Congratulations! Here's what to expect when you drop the stick on that first rehearsal, and how to make it sound better
If you're going back to in-person rehearsals after the "joy" of online rehearsals you might be feeling a whole range of things. Excited. Anxious. Nervous. Concerned. Exhausted just at the thought of it.
I have felt all those things (and more) in the six times we've gone back to in person ensembles since our first lockdown in March 2020. (Yep, we've had a LOT of lockdowns and a LOT of online ensemble!).
In this series of four posts I'm going to unpack the musical, psychological, personal and planning consequences of going back to in person and what you can do to manage them.
Today we're diving into the musical...
The question on everybody's lips (especially the musicians) is: What will it sound like? Here's what I found.
Having lived in a world of headphones and isolation you and your musicians may be shocked and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of sound in the room. If you had any kind of hearing loss or tinnitus before online learning it may have died down. Now it may return.
The first thing I noticed back was the ensemble had great difficulty playing in time and holding a steady pulse. Drop the instruments and get them attuned to listening and moving together. Simple exercises that don't use instruments will help quickly reset internal pulse and listening. Keep it easy and stay away from notation at first. They won't be able to connect to each other (or you) if their heads are in their sheet music.
Exercises I used to great effect were:
Do these before adding the complication of operating instruments (or singing pitch). Once more stable, do them on a single pitch before adding more complexity like scales.
For many musicians it will be a long time since they had to match pitch with another living being! This will take time to redevelop, even if your group had killer intonation before the pandemic.
Some of my musicians' tone actually improved dramatically during online learning, because (maybe for the first time) they could really hear themselves when playing alone all the time. There was nowhere to hide. Those who didn't practice as much had lost a lot of their sound quality.
Coming back to ensemble my musicians had super low awareness of what was going on around them. It was head down, play like you're in a car race and just get to the finish line. There was no sense of musical layering, hierarchy or a melody to be found anywhere!
Enjoy going back to rehearsals - it is such a privilege to make music with others!
Read the other articles in the series of Tips for Returning to In-Person Rehearsals
A simple approach to instantly approach every piece with more musicianship, storytelling and emotion - for us, and our ensembles!
Being told to play louder or softer is okay. Being told why is better.
The path to musical nirvana starts with a single question. And the path to musical hell starts with telling the ensemble what to do.