Going back to in person rehearsals? Congratulations! Here's what to expect from your musicians and how you can help them get back in the groove.
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 psychological and behavioural...
When I went back into in person rehearsals, this is what I experienced:
We've all been stuck in our rooms in front of a screen. It's no substitute for real humans, and you're going to enjoy seeing real smiling faces and shining eyes. So will your ensemble.
They and you might also feel like a magnet - simultaneously attracted and repelled at the thought of connecting with others. That's normal.
The musicians will be excited to get back together, but likely also highly anxious about the experience.
Many may be worried about how they will personally sound and what others will think of them (multiply this by infinity if you're working with teenagers, or competitive college students). They fear being judged negatively by their peers and you.
Self-criticism and judgement also seem to be at an all time high (no doubt boosted by all the extra time spent on social media by many).
There may be significant stress around the ability to perform in front of others, whether within the ensemble or for an audience.
What can we do to help?
The musicians will have low mental and physical stamina (and so will you, more on that in the next post). It's likely they got into habit of multitasking during online learning. They were playing a game, watching TikTok, scrolling Instagram, making/eating lunch and chatting to their friends ALL while also in class!
Their ability to concentrate on one thing will likely be greatly diminished, and take a while to recover. It will take time to regain their past norms, so go with the flow. Trying to force more work/results when people are flagging will only make them cranky!
*See Ed Lisk's The Creative Director: Beginner and Intermediate Levels and The Creative Director: Alternative Rehearsal Techniques for more detail on these activities.
Many musicians may have forgotten how to 'be' in an ensemble. How to sit and listen attentively to what's happening. How to not talk or interrupt. How to control themselves and not fiddle incessantly with their instruments or make extraneous noises. How to stop playing as soon as you stop conducting (this was BIG for my MS students).
You will likely have to re-establish (and keep affirming) your ensemble norms and behaviours.
If you've got beginners who have NEVER been in ensemble in person before (but have had a year online), set up all the norms as if they had never been in ensemble before. Eg. How to walk in to the room, set up instruments, follow the conductor, when/not to talk etc. They might not be beginners on their instrument, but they are beginners to ensemble!
I've found that learning (and re-learning) has required a LOT more reinforcement than in the past. I think this has got to do with the multi-tasking mentioned earlier, compounded with poor mental health, anxiety and relearning old routines or learning new ones. It is A LOT of information for brains (of any age) to take in.
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
An edited extract from my new book Planning Effective Rehearsals: Tools to Boost Learning & Engagement
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.