This is a bold and humbling statement coming from a woman who has spent the past fourteen years of her life studying the flute and teaching students, but when I think about why it took this long it really does make perfect sense.
When I was younger, music came as naturally to me as drinking water. I can't remember a time when I couldn't harmonize or pick up the rhythm of a song in a snap. I have my musical parents to thank and it made music study through most of high school a breeze. Rarely did I have a need to practice my flute or choir music--just going through it in rehearsal was enough for me--and even then I was often VERY bored.
Thankfully, I was blessed with parents who saw this and decided to take chunks out of their own time and budget to make sure I had a flute teacher (the nearest one was over two hours away...). I LOVED flute lessons. My teacher, Ms. Cowens, challenged me musically and encouraged me to move outside of my comfort zone. The one thing I never really got the hang of, however, was practicing.
Though I was able to slip through my high school years without practicing a whole lot, I was always disappointed when I didn't make the All-State Band or when I didn't receive a high enough rating on my solos and ensembles at contest. I always went in with the ability to play the music--but since I had only learned my own part (and even that was a bit shaky)--I never had a full awareness of the grand musical scheme of my piece. Thus, when it came time to perform before judges or an audience, my delivery was anything but convincing as I sheepishly waded through the notes on the page. I don't know WHAT I thought I was playing, but it was definitely not music.
In addition to performing way under my potential, looking back, I know I frustrated many people in my unprepared path. Stumbling through solos while patient pianists waited graciously on their bench, playing my supporting musical line as loudly as I could while another ensemble member actually had the melody line, coming in at the wrong time during band rehearsals because I didn't know how my part fit into the rest of the piece...I could go on and on.
It wasn't until I was in the middle of preparing orchestral auditions that it finally clicked. My professor, Alice Dade, asked me one day what the bassoon was doing while I was playing the flute solo from Beethoven's Leonore Overture.
I was baffled.
Why in the world would I know? I play the FLUTE.
It was then that she asked me to play the excerpt again while she sang the entire bassoon part along with me. All of a sudden I could feel the flow the music was supposed to have--I didn't come in late--and I knew exactly how to tune--all because I had part of the bigger musical picture right there in front of me.
I am a slooooow learner...
Since this fateful day in Professor Dade's studio, I have worked on learning ALL of the piece I am working on. If it's an orchestral excerpt, I learn the whole symphony to the point I can sing along with other parts while I'm listening--and at the very least I learn what is going on during the section I am preparing. If it's a solo with piano accompaniment, I learn what the pianist has in their score. If it's a small chamber ensemble, I learn everyone else's part. I listen to recordings. I look at scores. I record myself. I play with as many quality recordings I can find. I do as much as I can so that when I show up to rehearse with other musical professionals, I am as prepared as I can possibly be. Only then can we use the rehearsal to actually bring the MUSIC out--and not spend all of our time on rhythms, transitions, etc...
If you can relate as someone who struggles with preparedness before a rehearsal, here are some pointers. Even if you don't have time or the equipment to do everything listed, just doing one or two things will improve things drastically.
Collaborative Rehearsals: How To Prepare
1. Learn as Much of the Music as You Can
- study the score
- transpose and learn the other parts on your own instrument
- research the historical context
- read about the composer
2. Use Recordings
- record yourself playing chunks of other parts
- play your part with the recording
- find quality recordings on YouTube, SoundCloud, Naxos, or the composer's website
- study the recordings by following along with a score (IMSLP is a great resource) and/or actually playing along with the recording
3. Take Notes as You Prepare
- Write down any potential tuning or tempo issues you discover while using recordings.
- how does your part balance into the bigger picture?
- are there stylistic liberties you would like to emulate?
- are there any tricky spots to mark for rehearsing? Time changes, entrances, etc?
4. Go Forth and Rehearse!
- take your notes, ideas, and experience with you as you rehearse with your ensemble
- I hope everyone in your ensemble is as prepared as you are!!