When the Planning and Reflection Become More Important Than the Moment

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Disclaimer: Score study, rehearsal preparation, and post rehearsal reflection are incredibly vital parts of our conducting lives. We cannot be successful if we avoid any part of these three processes.

But when is it too much? When do we so over prepare or over analyze so much that we lose sight of what is really going on with our music and our work (and our life!)

Score Study is a personal process. I don’t think any two people should approach score study the same way. We all see things in different ways, and we all come to musical understanding through different life experiences. The notes on the page are nothing without us spending some time trying to understand them. Recently I sent out the internet call for help about how band directors learned how to conduct. One of my questions involved score study and the answers didn’t surprise me. Score study is not always introduced in the early days of our conducting training, and this needs to change. (Looking in the mirror, I am mildly guilty of this, okay, maybe not so mildly.) As we learn to conduct the music in front of us, shouldn’t we also be learning about the music we are conducting? But I wander off the topic I want to discuss.

Here is where score study and the purpose of this blog connect. We need to be careful in our score study not to dissect the music so much that we lose track of the overall flow of the music. There needs to be more attention paid to the bigger picture some times. My score study has evolved over time and not always for the better. But I am very conscious of looking at the big picture of the music more and more. A note is staccato and forte so we obsess over the volume and the duration of the note, but then we sometimes miss the main question we need to ask about that note. Where is it going?

Rehearsal Preparation is important, and it is blatantly obvious when we are ill prepared for a rehearsal, despite our inner satisfaction that nobody knew we weren’t prepared. Spoiler alert, they know. So, if you are wondering why I included too much preparation in this here is why! What are you preparing for? We like gimmicks. We like to change it up from time to time, which can be a good thing. But remember as you prepare your gimmick or “different” rehearsal that the music is the most important thing. And a gimmick rehearsal that you saw someone do, might not work for you. I use the example of the silent rehearsal. I have seen it work, and think it can be a good way to run a rehearsal, but it isn’t me and will never be part of my rehearsals. I tried once and spent so much time trying to figure out the logistics of the rehearsal that I realized I wasn’t focusing on the music. Focus on the music, and not on tricks and gimmicks. Explore new ways to teach the music, but at the end of the day make sure that you are still spending the bulk of your preparation on the music and not on tricks and flashy things. We have a limited amount of time to teach the music, so remember to focus on the music. (Did I use the word music enough?) Bottom line, if it takes more time to explain a concept to your students than to actual do it, it probably isn’t worth the time.

Post Rehearsal Reflection is also important and the one that we should spend a little more time on. But how often are we taught how to effectively do this? That will be my next attempt at a sane blog: “Basic” conducting courses. I have a few simple questions I ask myself as I watch the videos of rehearsals I conduct:

  1. How did it sound?
  2. How little did I talk?
  3. Did I show the ensemble what I meant to show them?
  4. Was there a flow to the music?
  5. Was it a better rehearsal than the one before it?

We can get very down on ourselves in post rehearsal or concert reflection, and that leads to two outcomes. We will either stop doing it, or we will over analyze ourselves into a mental lockdown. As you reflect on your rehearsal don’t get so obsessed with the minute details that you miss the big picture. Don’t dwell on the negative and completely miss those great moments that did happen.

Remember, like just about everything I write, this is my opinion, and I hope there are people our there that disagree! Life would be boring if everyone agreed. And I look forward to sitting down over a beverage and discussing anything!

I end this with my new favorite quote by Virgil Thomson, “This does not mean that I hold my opinions to be all true. I do not. Nor do I consider them to be permanent. I am both submissive to facts and amenable to argument…”

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