New APO players’ rehearsal and practice wiki

Today is the start of a great adventure, as we begin rehearsals for Mahler’s Third Symphony. I’m excited and a little bit scared. It’s huge, daunting score that I’ve tried to learn in amongst the conflicting demands of my day job and family life. My preparation has been greatly helped by Mel Le Breuilly, who’s stepping in for this concert to fill the void left by the departure of Neil MacLean, our much-loved leader for the last 15 years. Without having played a note (in rehearsal, at least!), she’s been brilliant and is probably better-informed and prepared than I am! The ideas outlined below are a product of our conversations about preparation and practice.

With a non-professional orchestra like APO, there are many reasons why players can’t make certain rehearsals. We all have busy lives and I know that everyone tries their best to make as many rehearsals as possible. But, inevitably (and especially with a big symphony like this) there will be gaps. That makes the rehearsal process harder and I beg the patience and trust of those of you at a rehearsal where there are significant gaps, to believe that it will all be worth it! Mel and I have been exploring ways of making the rehearsal process more productive, given these challenges, and we have a couple of ideas to try:

White sheets

Inspired by Benjamin Zander and his Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, you’ll find a blank piece of paper on your music stand at the start of each session, and a pile under Mel’s seat/my music stand. These are for you to leave us feedback about anything that you feel may help make our music-making more effective. That can be feedback on my conducting, requests for cues, suggestions for tempi, dynamics, articulation, balance – anything! They can just be observations about the music, or the way you’re feeling. You can write in prose (or poetry), or draw a picture. You can elect to sign the sheet or not. Just leave them inside the front cover of my score.

Rehearsal and practice wiki

One use for a white sheet might be to capture some information that players who couldn’t make that rehearsal might find useful, whether that be for your part, your section or the whole orchestra. We’re talking about stuff like, ‘Andrew decided that letter K in the first movement will be in 4’, or ‘Don’t forget the dynamics when the notes get hard in the fast section during the second movement’. I think something that might be especially useful this weekend is tips about what bits need practice or listening to (which in response to, I can post a link to a video starting at that section), or that are not as/more scary in the ensemble than in private practice!

Equally, you may make a more general observation about how the rehearsal process is progressing, to give anyone who wasn’t there an idea/expectation of where they need to be when they come next time, or where they can expect to find the orchestra.

These observations don’t just need to come via white sheets. They can be emailed, posted to the APO Players Facebook group, or posted as a comment on the place where they’ll end up: a special page on the APO website called the ‘APO players rehearsal and practice wiki’. It’s a wiki because the content is generated by anyone within the orchestra (though in practice it will be edited directly by me, pulling all the sources of information together).

Of course, simple enquiries: checking a note in the score, or some other detail in your part, can and should still be addressed with a verbal question to me or Mel, or whoever. It’s the answer to those questions that will be recorded on the new page.

We’ve tried something similar to this before, on the APO rehearsal resources site. There are two differences to this idea: the previous site was not integrated into the APO website and was a little bit complicated to navigate. This new page will be one link, with all the information on one page (hopefully organised coherently!). The second difference is that on the old site, almost all content was generated by me, not players. Of course I’ll still have some info to offer, but I’m really hoping this new idea will encourage interaction. It’s really important for me to know that players are fully-engaged in between rehearsals, and I hope that Mel and I can support everyone better than ever, so that we get the most enjoyment out of each project, leading to the best performance we can give.