Rehearsing to perform
Updated: Feb 13, 2019
This week I've been working with a some friends of mine, Tal Gordon and Nicholas Bjorkman, preparing music for their upcoming final recitals at Wits. It's a daunting task playing music that they'll be assessed on and as the weeks have gone by, rehearsing the music has become more challenging for me (to my surprise - aren't things supposed to get easier?).
As a part time musician I've always had the luxury of seeing my relationship to music as one of pleasure - a break from routine and the 'real work' I have to do to survive. This was fostered at an early age. I remember how as a kid, I'd spend a lot of the school term deeply set in routine: school, homework, an hour of daily practice and some time outside. Jam sessions or visits to other musicians were strictly reserved for the holidays.
My dad would be the driver of this protocol. He'd start weeks ahead of the school break, searching for jam sessions, networking with someone who knew someone who had a band that I could sit in with for a tune at their next gig. His passion was admirable. Each day as I'd setup my horn to check some music for my next lesson he'd pop in to see how I was doing and to listen to the tunes I was working on. He wouldn't comment much, but he would compliment - almost as if he were an objective audience. He wasn't. He's my dad and to him I'm probably the greatest sax player that ever lived!
Looking back at all those moments when he walked into my room, in the middle of a tune, these were my first encounters with the tension between practice and performance. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but his presence as an 'audience' constantly tore down the relationship between the two. (Eventually I wasn't really practicing much but trying to show chops.)
After the gruelling work done these past few weeks and in anticipation of the recitals this Sunday, I don't know if practice and performance are really all that different, but I think there's a relationship between the two spaces that I'd like to ponder.
Hit me up with a comment below if you have any pearls of wisdom to add.
1. Practicing at home vs. working at a rehearsal
Things are different the moment you set foot outside the door. Physically I'm more exposed. The shell of comfort has been broken. Acoustically the horn sounds different when I start warming up in another room. My cat (who loves to hate my practicing) is not there. Suddenly there are many other voices, opinions and (jazz) cats who've equally done their homework.
To expect that I'd be able to cut and paste the perfection of a tune or part thereof that I'd worked to death at home and do the same in the rehearsal space is irrational and unrealistic. To hold onto that would be to negate all the other energies in that space and really to stop listening - which is the only thing that you should never stop doing as a musician!
2. Rehearsals within rehearsals
To be in a rehearsal is to mimic the way one would work through a piece of music solo. The band stops to check out passages, rework them and figure things out. There's a real time negotiation of many aspects of the music, by multiple voices. As a young musician amongst more experienced musicians, I've often remained quiet in these moments - as I don't have much to contribute that they don't already cover. This is ok, however - I try not to disengage (even if at times I don't understand what they're saying) as that might mean that I'd be lost in that part of the music later. I'd also lose out on an incredible opportunity to learn. Rehearsals in rehearsals are moments to dig into the structural essences of the work, to tweak and to refine. These moments are incredibly valuable.
3. The anxiety of rehearsals
I realise now, after a string of rehearsals, that my approach to them might have been skewed. To rehearse means to be able to fuck up. This is the place where (with respect to the music and the band) one needs to learn to relax in its most challenging parts. To be comfortable enough to let the music come out the way it feels and to allow yourself to make mistakes, to hear them collectively as an ensemble and to correct them without judgement.
Going into these I'd not really thought about it this way. I checked out the music intensely at home and went into the rehearsal room hoping to nail everything and to, guess what... receive a compliment.
A rehearsal is not a show, it is preparation for public performance - not the performance itself.
Nick & Tal's recitals take place on Sunday 18 November 2018.
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