Having read the thoughts on rehearsals, a few queries have come in through various social media platforms and it seems like a good idea to address them. I won’t publish the details of who is asking as that seems unfair but I will try to address each one as fully as possible.

{paraphrase} What makes you so sure that these elements will work?(refers to the blog on restarting rehearsals)

It’s a fair question really. We see a lot of “wisdom” and even dogma written about rehearsal techniques. I’ve even seen detailed accounts of how to rehearse certain pieces which are annoyingly prescriptive given the writer is making assumptions about which errors and omissions people in the group might make. The elements above however, are proven and constructive ways of improving ensembles. In some groups the improvement can happen in one rehearsal, provided the skill and understanding of the players is very high. In the early stages of less skilled groups, things may take longer but with persistence and consistency as well as encouragement and enablement, the results will soon be evident. I have used these methods with many groups and they have been developed through the years. I can’t think of any group that hasn’t improved. I can think of a couple of individual players, lacking self awareness and humility for whom it was too difficult; I think even a cattle prod might not have helped them to better their regime.

How do you deal with awkward questions from players in rehearsal?

This is a multi-faceted question I think. Players have several reasons for asking questions and some are simply genuine queries which should be answered quickly and politely. If it’s a complex issue about a score or possible mistake in the parts, I’d recommend waiting for a break and discussing it with the player with score and part together in order to save time.

If it’s a question regarding how you’re beating a particular bar or passage, this can be asked for two reasons. It could be that the player is counting rests or playing sustained notes and is struggling with counting but it could also be a little challenge to insinuate that you are not easy to follow. You can usually tell the difference pretty easily. My answer is usually “Don’t assume that it will always be taken in (2-4-8 etc) it will depend on the reaction to live events” I remember in Elgar’s In the South saying “If you follow it’ll be in 1, if you wallow it’ll be in 3”.

There’s a common question that often arises from players who like to control others. “Am I the only one marked piano here? Everyone else is too loud” It could be someone getting grumpy because if they play quieter they can’t hear themselves although balance is more to do with priorities than simply and equal blend of players. The answer is to thank them for playing softly and comment that you’re glad you don’t have to judge the group’s balance whilst sitting in it playing an instrument.

There are the awkward moments when someone is deliberately being awkward to make you uncomfortable or to make themselves feel important. It happens. Often those people being disruptive are the least qualified to comment on anything, asking questions that are difficult to answer without being entirely contradictory. I’ve tried not to rise to the bait under these circumstances but sadly have occasionally been a bit mean. “If by some amazing turn of events you miraculously become more musically experienced and knowledgeable you’ll realise what a stupid question that was.” I shouldn’t have used so many words when a simple glance would have done.

As a rule of thumb, deal with things politely, quickly, clearly and accurately. Be assertive but not rude and a smile is always better than a scowl.

How much score preparation do you do?

Score preparation is a very interesting and important element of conducting. I have to say that working with four groups simultaneously and often dropping into other orchestras, it’s really important to be able to sight read and catch on to music quickly. I’m lucky in having experience of a huge variety of musical styles and genres so I can take a piece from library to first rehearsal with a quick flick through.

There is a vast amount of information in any score and I’m always a bit shocked to see what conductors write on them. Huge pencil marks for cues, arrows, wavy lines, pairs of glasses and whilst knowing the score is crucial to conducting, sometimes the minutia gets in the way of the big picture.

I have had to write in multiple time signatures in scores where it’s virtually impossible to see the time signature, scores with bars of four that are shorter than a subsequent 3/8 bar don’t help.

In the end you’ll know what a page of score is going to sound like as soon as you see it. Your beat will automatically follow the metre without triangles and up down arrows. Those movements are instinctive in the end and you can concentrate on the sound picture that you have in your heart and mind. In other words there’s more to knowing the score than just having perused every bar. You need to know what you expect to hear, how the dynamic map of the piece works, how tempi are related and how to create a climax before you reach it. Communicating that constantly to the players, they will come to trust that you’ll help them to enjoy the music at its best and respond to your movements. In this regard, avoid unnecessary movements that don’t mean anything, don’t over conduct in case it diminishes the effectiveness of extra energy when you need it. Conduct the music, the players and the score, reacting to events and staying alert to upcoming corners.

I’m happy to answer any that come in so there’s a contact page on the website and there’s FB, Twitter etc.