I had a wonderful time rehearsing the Prokofiev Quintet for our last Musicians for Michiana concert, at the end of April. My colleagues were AMAZING, came with their A games, and were prepared and ready to work every time we got together.
I found that there was a big difference in rehearsal style between the wind players that I’m accustomed to working with and the string players in the group. Strings just plain play more in rehearsal. We’d run a movement, without stopping, and then talk about what we needed to do differently. Then, where wind players would have either played a few tiny spots to try out ideas or just marked their parts and moved on, this group played the whole movement again. And again, if necessary. It surprised me a bit each time, though I was perfectly happy to do it and it ABSOLUTELY helped us to learn this difficult and unfamiliar work as an ensemble.
I think I attribute this difference to a couple of factors.
One is physical – wind instruments are tiring to play. So much of what we do rides on a few tiny facial muscles, and those fatigue easily. I’m not saying that I had any trouble playing Prokofiev over and over – just that that might be one cause of the generalized difference.
One is habit – in the orchestra, strings are used to playing continuously. Winds are used to counting, and thinking, and analyzing. We talk to each other quietly during rehearsal to work out the small ensemble issues we’ve heard – “are you playing those short or long?” “we’re not quite in tune there, can we try it at break?” “Can we all balance to the flute in that place?” These issues are subtle, and usually involve a small number of players, because winds are used to playing as soloists. The conductor spends time getting the sea of strings to act as a unified mass, which DOES require time and attention. We try to take care of ourselves so as to not waste everyone else’s rehearsal time. We do not expect to play through all of our material over and over, and generally consider it time wasted if we’re not trying new tweaks with every pass through.
For whatever reason, we all PLAYED a lot in our Prokofiev rehearsals, and had a blast learning the piece, and performed it very well. Both systems seem to work, if differently – and it made me think about my teaching style. I’ve been known to exhaust a student’s embouchure within the first thirty minutes of a lesson playing and replaying long passages, but FAR more often I interrupt two lines in and talk for several minutes, after which we mark the parts and move on. I like the thought of employing more variety in lessons, and making sure that there’s plenty of playing interspersed with the philosophical musical discussions.
I love my job.