Last spring I went to the Mid American Guitar Ensemble Festival in Fort Wayne, IN. The Festival had commissioned a guitar orchestra piece from Patrick Roux, a French-Canadian guitarist and composer with a long time association with the Canadian Guitar Quartet. The piece was to be performed by a guitar orchestra comprised of about 150 of the participants in the festival. The piece had its inherent challenges and was very much a contemporary classical piece, which I enjoyed participating in the world premier of. I must say that as much as I enjoyed the opportunity to work on the piece and perform it, I relished the opportunity to rehearse the piece under Roux’s directorship. All told we had close to five hours of concentrated rehearsal time under Roux’s baton and it was essentially a masterclass in how to run a solid rehearsal.
To be quite frank, most of the band rehearsals I’ve been involved with since graduating from music school have been poorly run, focused more on running tunes than actually focusing and working problem areas. We’re all supposed to do our homework, but more often than not it amounts to simply sketching out what our parts are and then coming to rehearsal to run tunes, with good enough as the predominant standard and if we went beyond notes into dynamics, it would be classified as an excellent rehearsal. While this type of rehearsing does keep the frontal lobes tuned into the gross aspects for memory purposes, it does nothing to actually make the performance of the pieces better by fine tuning them, and if this is the type of rehearsal one comes to expect from a band, you can be certain that the band members are going to practice less on their own because fine tuning isn’t expected.
Roux, on the other hand, focused more on timing, phrasing, dynamics and sections rather than consistently running the entire piece. Out of the time we spent, he maybe had us run the piece in its entirety four times, which accounted for about 40 minutes of the rehearsal. The rest of the time was very focused, with no breaks, nor time misspent by relating anecdotes or going off on tangents. We were gathered for one purpose and one purpose only, to work on the piece in front of us and present the best version of it possible in the limited time we had, and that is exactly what we did during the time allotted. One might think that this was all accomplished through a rigid approach and an iron hand at the wheel, but this was not the case. Roux was demanding, yes, but everything was couched in good natured terms and requests, even when he was essentially giving orders. He did what he needed to do, so did we, and we were all quite happy with the results.
This approach carried over to the performance master classes given under Roux and the current members of the Canadian Guitar Quartet. Once the performers finished their performance, the critiques began. All of them were good natured, and while their delivery varied due to their different personalities, the critiques were solid, focused with precision, and involved working on sections, phrasing, attack, dynamics, breathing (both physically and within the piece), matching tone and color, and numerous other aspects. None of it was running through the piece repeatedly, but instead was entirely focused on what needed attention. I was impressed with the sometimes even radical improvements that were made within the allotted 30 minute time slots. This, in total, seven hour window into their world gave a solid experience with what exactly a good rehearsal consists of and just how much can be accomplished through doing so.
Since my experience this spring, I’ve been back in rehearsal with the band I was with when I went to MAGEF. I wish I could say that my experience at MAGEF has wrought change in how the band I’m currently with rehearses, but that hasn’t been the case. I have seen changes in how my classical group rehearses, but it has yet crossed over into my other genre-oriented group despite attempting to instill some changes in how the rehearsals have been run. Old habits can be extremely difficult to change, particularly when everyone isn’t on the same page. It is frustrating to experience the way things could be and then come back to the way they are, but once you’ve done it the right way and seen the rewards, changes must be made.