I spent about six hours earlier today preparing for the rehearsal of the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra this evening. Why?
It’s not easy to explain, but it has to do with the variety of people who play in the MCO. At the one end of the spectrum are players who earn their living partly through music. At the other end are players for whom music is a hobby. As these two groups of players are confronted with hard music, one group has the capacity to raises the level of their playing relatively quickly, the other, relatively slowly.
At nine days before the concert and two rehearsals remaining, the disparity between the two groups is now about as wide as it gets, and this is a real challenge for a conductor. The better players have recognized the challenges posed by the music and for the most part have figured out how to play their parts. The weaker players can still get knocked off their parts by specific technical or musical challenges, or even by the anxiety of having to pay an exposed solo. How do you rehearse an ensemble with such divergent needs, especially when the weaker players are as smart as the stronger players, just not as musically accomplished or experienced? How do you keep the better players striving for subtlety, precision, and beauty when the weaker players are still wandering off the track, stepping on the musical flowers? How do you articulate a clear musical vision that both the stronger and weaker players can see equally well?
I go to ridiculous lengths to try and find those passages in the music that teach the answers to those questions – and, in truth, the music often does a pretty good of revealing what it needs. But where more clarification is necessary the challenge becomes figuring out how much I need to insinuate myself in the learning process and what kind of language I need to use that will communicate to the variety of players involved.
I spend hours upon hours agonizing over this stuff: six hours of preparation for a two hour rehearsal! Again, why? First, because The Muse is a demanding mistress and is never satisfied. Second, because the players are intelligent music lovers “looking for love in all the right places,” and their good will must be honored and nurtured. Third, because the music only reveals itself when certain musical and technical requirements are surmounted.
I think – I hope – it was a good rehearsal. The group still sounds ragged, but if my calculus is right, the time spent on key passages should pay dividends as the weaker players draw closer to the stronger players. Nine days and two more rehearsals to go. I want these good people to have the time of their life when we perform together, for it is in their happiness and satisfaction that the audience will take their cue as to whether they enjoy listening.
Sigh. There’s no amount of preparation that can guarantee all that I want guaranteed.