Rehearsals are Not Practice: 5 Steps to the Real Thing – Step 5

by vernsanders on August 20, 2010

We’re looking at all 5 steps over a couple of weeks. Step 1 was an overview, step 2 was about fundamentals, step 3 was about tactics, step 4 was about monthly plans, and step 5, today, is about a review cycle.

Here’s the premise: In any musical ensemble, the real work is done during rehearsal. How you approach rehearsal time, whether you are the director, or a member of the ensemble, will have a lot to do with how the eventual music making turns out. It’s not practice — practice is what you do to get ready to rehearse. Rehearsals should be specifically about getting ready do the music for real.

The best ensemble directors go into a rehearsal with a plan that results from and communicates their dedication to the ensemble getting it right. The director’s rehearsal task, then, is to have short and long term goals, and either work on the fundamentals necessary to achieve those goals, or motivate the ensemble members to do so on their own. We gave a few examples of goals here. Once the goals are in place, the director needs to have tactics to achieve those goals. But since tactics can be fluid, it is necessary to have a monthly plan, and update it after every rehearsal. For that update to be productive, it must rely on a systematic review cycle: what went right, and what went wrong.

The review cycle

The review cycle should be regular, and close enough to an actual rehearsal that things are not lost to memory. Every review should measure the rehearsal’s progress against the monthly (30 day), seasonal (60 day), and long term (90+day) goals. Since the goal setting process produced specific benchmarks, it should be easy to answer the obvious questions:

  • Did we meet the goal(s)?
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • What needs to be changed in order to make it work?
  • Given what has happened up to the point of the review, do the goal(s) need to be changed?
  • If the goal(s) need to be changed, what are the new goal(s)?

If you have been keeping track of everything in a spreadsheet, it should be easy to continually adjust goals, plans, and tactics every time there is new information from a rehearsal.

The review process also allows a director to plan quite far in advance in terms of repertoire, because as goal(s) are achieved, new repertoire will easily suggest itself.

Remember that reviews are only as good as they are honest. If the ensemble has multiple directors, or the director has one or more assistants, it is helpful to get their input into how the ensemble is progressing toward the goal(s). Even better — for both the director and the ensemble — is to make audio or video tapes of the rehearsal. As they say, “tape don’t lie.” It can be painful to do a review, but if the objective is to get to the best possible performance — the real thing — the review is critical to continuing the momentum of the 5 step process. The review will lead to new goals, which will lead to addressing the fundamentals of how to achieve those goals, which will lead to tactics and plans for the rehearsals.

I’d love to hear how you use the 5 step process. Please let me know by leaving a comment below.

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