The Quick Fix

I have talked elsewhere about how you needed to fix some musical problems in an ensemble before they became chronic. One of my readers, who trains horses for rodeo events like barrel racing, wrote me to say that the same is true in training horses. If you let something go, the animal begins to believe that is the way it is supposed to be.

Here’s the other side of the coin… Because I don’t believe that you ever should stop learning, I attend conferences. And when I do, the most interesting thing for me is to observe rehearsals. Especially rehearsals run by “big names.” Several times in my career I have observed rehearsals run by those big names that were crushingly boring. Why? Because they never got anywhere.

I vividly remember a set of three rehearsals in which during the first one, only one piece of music was rehearsed. And because the first chord (let alone the first phrase) was never “right” the group never actually got to the end of the piece. Next rehearsal? Different piece, same result. Sure, the choir was learning how to be perfect, but slowly but surely the errors became a result of frustration and fear.

The third rehearsal was a 90 minute “dress.” There were 12 pieces on the program. Each of the other 10 were essentially read throughs, all in an environment of fear of failure. Concert time? Good music, but not great. And I could sense the choir tensing up each time they got to a place where they weren’t sure what to do (including the ends of the first two pieces, which they had never seen until the concert).

I know…you’re shaking your head, right? But the conductor’s background was almost solely with professional singers, who could make the transfer of the lessons learned in the slog, to the music they had never seen. This was an amateur group. How it wasn’t a disaster I’ll never know, but in many ways it was such a waste of time. Most importantly, I believe that the “expertise” that was transferred was “fear and loathing.” And I’ll never forget how, at the afterparty, the conductor complained about how the singers just weren’t responsive…

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