Prepping for: Rehearsals
As musicians, we are involved in countless performances throughout our lives. But before every great performance comes great rehearsing. I've been involved in so many performances throughout school, but also externally for event gigs and with amateur to professional groups. Suffice to say that I've been involved in much more rehearsals than performing 😕(oh the sad lives of musicians) Each different group always brings about a new experience, but my preparation for them has remained the same over the years.
I decided to start this "Prepping For:" Series to share my experiences of rehearsing, preparing and performing. 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 first of "Prepping For:" where I write about the steps I take in Prepping For: Rehearsals.
Rehearsals are not for you to learn your part, but everyone else's
I don't know who said that quote, but I do remember knowing it from a long long time ago. Preparing your part should always be done before rehearsals, on your own time, by yourself. When you show up to rehearsals, the focus shifts to so many other things - blending in, listening, watching the conductor 👀My own personal rule is to always be ready before the first rehearsal. Ready meaning performance ready and if the first rehearsal was actually a performance, I would be fine. These things I would do come from my own personal experiences developed over the years to make sure that I am ready ready 🤸♀️
⏰Get your part as early as you can! Anytime between 2-4 weeks is usually sufficient. More would definitely better of course! However, this also depends largely on the part, how many other things you are working on and how difficult the part might be! 🤬For something like a simpler orchestral part (for a harpist) or even an event gig, 1 week can totally be fine. However, for a full length Puccini or Britten opera, I would just like to get as much time as I can. Getting the part as early as you can just leaves you more leeway justttt in case things happen🌪
✍🏻Mark your scores with pedals, fingering, articulation, breath marks etc. Whatever you need to help you practice your part easier - do it! For harpists, we always have to mark our pedals in so that we know exactly when to change them. In orchestra parts especially, since we usually have a considerable amount of rests in between entrances, I need to ensure that I change it accurately and cleanly - no twangs and no bzzt! 🙉I also mark pedal points at important rehearsal points such that I can start wherever necessary during rehearsals. It's truly painful when your chamber group is watching you sort those pedals out. This just facilitates the efficiency during the rehearsals and avoid that panicked pedal stepping that I am sure you are very familiar with. 🤫
👂🏻Listen to recordings to familiarise yourself with the piece and your part! Recordings give you a better idea of how your part falls within the piece - am I accompanying? Embellishing? Or is this a solo? I always mark which other instruments I might be playing with, who I should listen to before or during entrances or even who I should look to for the next cue. Recordings also allow you to get a sense of the tempi for each sections - especially if it is not marked! Is there a common practice for this piece? An Allegro for one ensemble could be extremely different for another! Comparing recordings to get the right tempi (especially if it's a difficult section!) ensures that you are not surprised by whatever is done during the rehearsals.
🏋🏻♀️Practice. This is rather obvious but how much should you practice it? I mentioned earlier that I aim to be ready before the first rehearsal. This 1. reduces the stress during the rehearsals 💆🏻♀️(we all need to have less stress in general anyway so why not) It 2. allows me to listen to the rest of the group and adjust so much more easily, and finally 3. allows me time to work on sections which proved to be more difficult after the first rehearsal 😱 Also just saying, that after being so so prepared, rehearsals would turn out to be a breeze 💁🏻♀️
So how should you practice? After marking all the scores and getting the notes well under my fingers, I make sure I get the sections to tempo and even above the tempo 🏃🏻♀️💨 This is especially so for fast sections because a higher than required tempo allows me to play at the "correct" and now seemingly slower tempo with so much more ease ✨Additionally, even if the group chooses to take an entire section slower than practiced, it is much easier to slow down a passage than to speed it up.
🎧I also practice with recordings to anticipate accelerando or rubato or anything else that might occur. While chamber/gigs allow for more leeway in this area, different recordings simply allow me to be ready for anything!!! 🤺🤺🤺Listening while playing reiterates in my brain 🧠 whom I should be accompanying or listening to, and ensures that I can go through my parts smoothly and accurately because ain't nobody gonna stop for me to change those pedals 👣
😑Finally, practice without look at the score and your fingers. What and why?! I'm not saying you must memorise your parts and practice in the dark (but if you can, good for you! 👏🏼) Keep in mind that we almost always have to look at the conductor. Believe me when I say that I've stared at the faces of so many conductors that it has gotten awkward 😳Yet, it is absolutely necessary. So I practice while 👀looking straight ahead, on my ⬅️, ➡️, ⬆️, really anywhere in the air 🔀 I don't know where the conductor would be, but I know I need to be looking at him (not my hands or scores) when I play. We're much unlike the strings and winds who can just feel where their notes are so this is especially important for us harpists to practice because we have. too. many. strings 🤬It's definitely difficult, but this training really preps you for anything that might happen during the rehearsal and also gets easier with practice, 🤞🏻I promise!
Once everything is in your hands and you are all prepped up, I assure you that rehearsals are going to be a walk in the park 🌳Preparing just allows you to be ready for anything and everything that might occur during a rehearsal (and even performance). You never know when the singer might just decide to rubato more or if the flutist decides to fermata a little longer 🧐 It pays to be prepared so that you are not fumbling around during rehearsals. Additionally, this is also about respecting every musician in the rehearsal since you are all there to make music together 🎶