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Prepping for: Orchestra

I previously wrote about my Preparation Process for Rehearsals as part of of my "Prepping For:" Series to share my experiences of rehearsing, preparing and performing. 🎶While that process allows me to prepare for rehearsals in general, the specific things I do in preparation for a specific ensemble group or performance is rather different. I have different routines 🤸🏻‍♀️and processes as I prepare for the larger ensembles - meaning 🎻Orchestra, 🎺Wind Ensemble, 🎭Opera etc. I developed these over many many years and so today I will discuss specifically about how I prepare for an Orchestra Concert.


I am not an expert, 🙅🏻nor claiming that I know more than so many talented harpists out there. But I am hoping that sharing my own process as a harpist would help other harpists and musicians who might just be starting out or figuring things out! 🤗 This is the second of "Prepping For:" where I write about the steps I take in Prepping For: Orchestra.

I'm assuming that you are all ready for the rehearsals! You have practiced and prepped with many many cues written in ✍🏻and tempi way above necessary 💨. If you haven't or wish to know more about it, I encourage you to read Prepping For: Rehearsals in addition to this.


So we reach our very first rehearsal! 🎉 You have practiced so hard in preparation and all ready to jump right in. As for all gigs/rehearsals/performances, arrive early ⌚️ As a harpist, we need to set up, tune (which always takes a while) and warm up. If it is a venue which I'm familiar with, I usually arrive at the rehearsal location with the harp at least 30minutes before. However, if it is a new location which I have not been at before, 45minutes or even more feels safe for me. It also depends if I might have to 🚗park and unload, bring my own bench and music stand, go up some dreadeddddd steps ⛰or really just figure anything out! It pays to be early such that you are not last-minute-panicking-that-I-don't-have-time-to-tune 😱and in the right state of mind 🧘🏻‍♀️before we begin. Even if I am super early, I use that time to relax or even practice and be warmed up before the tuning A.


Now what do you do during rehearsals? 🤔

As a harpist, we usually have tons of bar rests and then crazy entrances before more rests. I take rehearsals to mark even more cues! (Cues for life!!) 😂We might hear certain parts during recordings 🎧, but I might hear a different instrument more prominently as I'm placed at a different spot 📍in the orchestra. Count all those bars and get ready such that you can enter accurately every. single. time. I also 🖍highlight the dynamics that should be played, 🗒when to turn pages quickly, where I MUST 👀look at the conductor and 🎻where I might need to practice. It is always different in each rehearsal, but ❗️mark everythinggggg. These simply allow me to have my part to fall in place better with the rest of the orchestra 🔗


After rehearsals, clarify any uncertain sections with the conductor or fellow musicians👨🏻‍🎤. Maybe I need to match the cellist's pizzicati articulation or even how the conductor is beating a certain bar (also because I can be rather blind sometimes). Clarify so that you know what is going on, and that you can be very sure of what you need to be doing! 💯💯💯


🚿Rinse and repeat for the multiple rehearsals

There will likely be several before the performance itself and depending on the group/situation, perhaps you might only have 2 before the actual performance. Ensure that with every rehearsal, your accuracy in playing increases 📈and you know your part better and better 🧠


1 week before

Now before we reach the performance day, there are several things to be confirmed before. I like to find out these as early as possible so that I don't go fretting around at the last minute 🤯However, sometimes these information is released only a day or two before the performance so don't go toooo crazy about it! With more experience after playing for different groups, you get used to what the standard norm would be and you could perhaps, 🎒prepare in advance.

Again, it always differs from group to group but a general checklist would be:

☑️Performance Venue

🏛Rehearsal and performance venues are often different as renting is rather 💸 ☑️ Times for the performance, soundcheck, call time

🕰when should you arrive? when should you be on stage? ☑️ Order of the programme

🗃Sort your scores and know when to be on stage! ☑️ Attire

🕴Often full black (or suit/tux for men) but sometimes, it differs)

☑️Transportation of instrument 🚚Are you using your own instrument? Yes all you winds and strings always use your own, but this is more for the harpists/percussionists! What instrument are you using? Is cartage provided? How will you get there? What time can you get there? 😱Since harpists and percussionists usually arrive wayyy earlier than the call time, check what time the venue is open for you to transport your instrument there 🚛

1 day before

🗂Organise your scores and make sure all your scores are there and in concert order. Check allllllll the pages if it's not a book 📑(just sayingg) and put it in a folder if you have to. Loose sheets are not great against 🌬windy conditions


👗Prepare your attire in advance. If you don't perform in the outfit on a regular basis, make sure you can fit. Are you changing into the clothes or wearing the clothes to the venue? 👔Take the time to iron them and pack it or extra clothes if necessary.


👜Prepare your bag! Yes to scores and clothes (they better be in.) But also, what else do you need just in case something might happen. For myself as a harpist, I always have a string bag that I take for all those 47 extra strings 😶- who knows what's gonna break! Additionally, I need my tuner and tuning key, and sometimes nail clippers/scissors/hand warmers depending on the situation.


🎭 Day of the performance


There is usually a soundcheck before the performance itself. ❗️Never go all out during the soundcheck ❗️Save your fingers/embouchure/breath/energy for the actual performance. Instead, get used to the new environment 🗺and space. Get used to the new sound, position, space and even your chair 🐒 Are there new acoustics? Is there less space to move around than before? Is the chair too low that you cannot play comfortably? 👁Stay focused and present while adjusting to these new conditions of the venue. It's very important to be alert in the soundcheck and adapt to those changes really quick.



❗️And finally, a last thing to be aware of before the performance! 🤔When does house open and can you be on stage? They usually 📣announce this right at the beginning or end of the soundcheck so that everyone is aware. However, as a harpist, this is something that I might miss if I'm not needed during those rehearsals and I should find out these to plan when I can or cannot tune my instrument! 🎼Sometimes I have to tune way before house opens - meaning that I can't warm up on my instrument before I go on stage either...And sometimes, it doesn't matter, and I can tune right up till the performance timing! 🙌🏻Whatever it is, I make sure to have these informations in my head as soon as I can so that I can plan my time properly to be back, tuned and warmed up 🔥


Wow prepping for orchestra seems almost excessive 🤯Prior to writing this, I didn't even think so much went into preparing for one orchestra performance. But yet, this amount of preparation on top of the rehearsal preparation is absolutely essential. 🌱I've created this process over years and years of trying (and failing) and doing it again. It is also by no means extensive and there are also other things to consider before the performances - like what do I eat?? 🍔🥗🌶However, I am hopeful that this gives you an idea of what actually goes into my head when I prepare for orchestra performances.


⚙️This system works very well for me but may not work for everyone, so I strongly encourage you to build your own! 🏰Perhaps it seems so demanding at this point but I assure you, it does get better with much more experience and time 🥋


Now with all that said and done, after prepping so much and so hard for ONE orchestral performance, the last and most important thing once you step on the stage, is to go out there and kill it 🔥


xx, lishan

©2019 by lishantheharpist

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