Rehearsal Rollercoasters

Yesterday, I met with the three Lost Dog New Music Ensemble musicians who will premiere my trio for Flute, Cello, and Piano entitled Indirect Lines to Another and the Next. The players have had their parts for about three weeks now and already had one rehearsal last week. This was to be the last scheduled rehearsal before the run-through and sound check next week on the day of the performance–February 24, 2007.

At first, I was a bit disheartened, because the players still seemed to be struggling with their parts. Indirect Lines… is not easy by any definition, but it’s also not overly demanding, so I began to worry alot as I listened to Gordon Beeferman (Piano), Emily Brausa (Cello), and Christine Perea (Flute) wind their way through the different sections of the piece. I decided to keep a low profile and let the professionals do their job. Generally, I believe that I (and probably all composers) should only intervene at the beginning and middle of the rehearsal process to change or clarify things that I’ve gotten wrong in the writing. For example, in this piece, I had marked different kinds of bowings of a similar musical gesture for Emily. My idea was that I could create more musical interest for the listener by having the similar gestures sound as different as I could. But, as I listened, it became clear to me that this was a bad idea. Instead of adding interest, the different bowings just made the second articulation of the gesture sound, somehow, wrong. So, I stopped the rehearsal, and asked Emily to change the second passage to match the first. At another point, I had actually written a technique for the flute incorrectly. I stopped the rehearsal and told Christine that it was an error on my part and to change it. I think that these are the kinds of things that are acceptable to stop a rehearsal for in the early stages.

The philosophy behind this approach is to allow the performers to do their work and to find a comfort level with my music before I start trying to “correct” what is not really a mistake on their part. I want performers of my work to come to my music on their own terms; to explore the work in their own ways; to bring their own ideas to the process without concern for what it is that they think that I want. Invariably, I find that good musicians find new and interesting things in my work that I either didn’t realize I’d written or that had been buried in my subconscious until they disinterred the idea. And, oftentimes, performers make the music better through highly individual interpretations or through different technical realizations. For me, this exploration and collaboration is the most enjoyable part of making music with other people, and I hope that when I write a work, its performers appreciate and value my approach.

But, as the trio continued to struggle for the first 30 or 40 minutes of the rehearsal, I began to wonder if this approach was going to result in a trainwreck instead of a successful premiere next Saturday night. To make matters worse, I wasn’t really sure how to fix the problems that they seemed to be having fitting the parts together. As I sat there becoming depressed and feeling insecure about the music itself, Gordon stopped the rehearsal and began singing and pointing and tapping and gesturing to the other two about a particularly tricky rhythmic passage. He looked over at me for reassurance about his understanding, and I wanly smiled and nodded “yes, that’s the right idea…”

The three started the passage anew, and–as if some switch had been flipped–the music began to take shape. Gordon and Emily and Christine forged ahead with another section. They stopped and went through this same “stop and sing it” process. Then, to my surprise, there was my music! As the trio began to have a deeper grasp of my musical ideas, and as they began to master the physical acts of moving bow, pressing keys, and blowing air, the rate at which the piece as a whole took shape accelerated.

I will never cease to be amazed at how gifted and talented musicians like this trio can bring a work of art to life–and at how quickly it happens! In the space of about 20 minutes, my emotions went from gloom to hopefulness to awe. My music began to sound like I heard it in my mind.

There were still mistakes–to be sure. And there is still much in the piece that I think the players have not yet found. But, Gordon, Emily, and Christine have also seized the heart of Indirect Lines…. They not only get it, but they’re doing exactly what I always hope for: bringing as much to the creation of this artwork as I have. And, honestly, they’ve probably brought more than I have to the process. Their dedication, musicality, and artistry leave me wondering how I could have ever doubted in the first place.

I wish we had another hour or two of rehearsal before the premiere, of course (I always do!), but I’m excited and looking forward to next saturday. I hope you will join us and hear just how talented these three players are. My thanks to Christine, Emily, and Gordon.

Purchase tickets here.

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