One of the people I learned the most from during my master’s degree was my orchestral conductor, Cliff Colnot. In Chicago and around the world, CC is well-known as a master of the art of rehearsal. He prepares all his ensembles to perform at an extremely high level of unity and detail. His scores are full of post-it notes, marking particular places that need rehearsal. After the DePaul Symphony had finished tuning, it would not be unusual for him to begin: “Tchaikovsky, fourth movement, measure four hundred and twenty-three. I’d like to hear the bassoons and the first trombone, please.” I would sit back in my chair and smile. It’s a wonderful, and unfortunately somewhat rare, experience to work with someone who is so prepared.
Now, imagine if, inspired by this example, I rolled up to Chicago Q Ensemble rehearsal with a score full of post-it notes and start rattling off all the problems I have and all the places I want to rehearse. “Let’s start with measure seventeen in the Haydn; I’d like to tune this passage, Liz and Aimee.” Yep — I’d deserve to be kicked out of the room! Of course, we all intuitively know this is ridiculous. All four members of the quartet are equally responsible for making a rehearsal plan. Often, we have different places we’d like to work on, different priorities. That’s because we have different brains and different sets of ears.
We work best when we balance our different priorities, respecting each other’s differences and keeping the best picture in mind. Say we’ve committed to working on unifying our bow strokes in a certain passage, and we’ve been working on it for a few minutes.
“Man,” Liz says, “we really need to tune those last three chords.”
“We do,” Aimee agrees. “Can we finish this issue first, before we start tuning?”
“Totally — let’s work on tuning when we’re done.”
This kind of balancing act happens between us all the time — the kind of dialogue that isn’t possible, or necessary, in an orchestra rehearsal. Professor Colnot once gave a seminar on chamber music rehearsal with the violinist Stefan Hersh. In the booklet they gave us, we read:
Effective chamber music rehearsal is a uniquely democratic group effort requiring a delicate balance of shared values … Striking an effective working balance in any group setting requires collective psycho-emotional sentience and well-honed interpersonal skills.
I am so grateful to work with people who have psycho-emotional sentience!