Friday, November 27, 2009

Writing Music, Written Music 6

Last week at rehearsal, we had with us for the first time the flutist and percussionist to play through my new piece, Weavers of Light. It was a predictable jumble, as everyone was fumbling and sight-reading. Hearing it with the instrumental parts added to the choral parts, especially in the last section of the piece, gave me the feeling that it's all finally starting to come together, and the actual performance might be acceptable. The choral parts are getting rehearsed enough, now, that they're starting to smooth out, and are mostly choppy at the various section transition points. The flute and bells parted, added to the piano part, were very choppy and tentative this part rehearsal, however, hopefully they'll come along.

I learned many years ago that an excruciating dress rehearsal can lead to an exquisite performance. Having a bad dress rehearsal focuses the attention: it puts the fear of Whoever into the performers, and they Pay Attention much better during the performance itself. So I actually like it when a dress rehearsal is painful, bad, and sucks. We have dress rehearsal coming up soon, then the performances themselves the weekend after next.

Just to be clear: You should never try to make dress rehearsal. You always do the best you can, at every rehearsal. If it's going to be a bad or a good rehearsal, your job is to show up, do your very best, give it your full attention, and keep going. It's just that if dress rehearsal does happen to suck, you go with it, suffering in the surface, smiling secretly within.

Dress rehearsals are high-pressure moments. The remaining flaws and flubs and uncertainties about the performance tend to be exposed to the harsh light of reality. Since it's last full rehearsal before performance, it tends to raise the tension level, and if a mistake is made, people really do their best to not repeat that same mistake in performance. It's a last chance to screw up, to get all the mistakes out of your system before going onstage in front of the audience. It sharpens one's attention, and clarifies every remaining flaw in the weave.

When you turn in a piece of music to the group to be performed, it's no longer entirely yours. I have been consulted all through rehearsals about fine points, tempi, and other musical matters—it's very handy having the composer at hand to ask question of him—but in the end, I'm not conducting the piece, it's not my job to interpret it this time out, as I'm going to be only voice within the chorus. So, you have to give up some control, or desire for control. You have to trust that the outcome is going to be in good hands. You have to surrender to the inevitable, and have faith that everyone will do their best.

My piece has been placed in the middle of the program, where it will be part of the flow. I'm glad it's not programmed first on the menu—never a good place to put a premiere, as it's over too soon. You want to build up some excitement and anticipation in the audience before delivering the payoff. It's not at the end of the concert, when our voices and our bodies will be starting to get tired. At beginnings and ends you want to program show-stoppers, which sometimes means placing the pieces there that will make the audience laugh, or be raised to a climax of ecstasy. Bring them out of their seats, at the last, if you can.

My piece doesn't end on a showstopper moment, it ends by returning to silence; so it's good to place it in the midst of the flow, and have it be followed by a piece with similar rising and falling in its energies. People will remember it better that way, one hopes.

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