Creative Rehearsal Techniques 101
Back in 2010, I had the unique experience to accompany the Tennessee All-State Women’s Choir under the direction of Dr. Judy Bowers from Florida State University. Playing for any All-State Choir has been the highlight of my professional year since 2005. With this particular year, I had an epiphany about how I structured my classes in my own teaching.
One of the pieces the choir performed was “O Sapo” by Stephen Hatfield. It is a very fast and difficult, a cappella piece in Portuguese. The young women in the choir arrived very prepared on all of the literature but due to the complexity of this one piece, they needed extra work. Dr. Bowers saw this as an opportunity to teach the choir about the musical form “Rondo” and use a creative rehearsal technique. It created a lasting impression on my teaching to this day.
HERE IS THE PERFORMANCE. I AM PLAYING SHAKER. 😉
Rondo or Rondeau (depending on what time period you are in) is a form in music where a section of music keeps coming back. So, a typical basic rondo form if labeled with letter names would be:
A B A C A D A
So, Dr. Bowers created a “rondo rehearsal” and assigned the “A Section” as “O Sapo” and other pieces as the B, C, and D sections. We continued to return to the piece within the rehearsal to increase the girls’ confidence and precision while keeping “O Sapo” fresh in contrast to the other pieces in the concert. It worked like a charm.
I returned to my classroom after this event with many new ideas on how to navigate through tumultuous rehearsal waters using creative means. I arranged different laminated pictures with magnets on my white board to broadcast what type of day I had planned. Here are some of the examples that I use on a daily basis and work for me:
Arnold Schwarzenegger Get as many reps in on a passage
Scout’s Honor Mr. M will not stop to fix something
Microscope Detailed study of a passage
Root Canal We need to fix this even if it is painful
Kentucky Men’s Basketball “One and Done” Play passage and move on
Bookends Begin and end class with the same piece
Sandwich The “Meat” of the class is in the middle
Buffet Sightreading samples from larger works
Roller Coaster Spend less time on each piece. (Faster)
Snowball Spend more time on each piece. (Slower)
Mario If a mistake is made, start the passage over
Snake Add one measure at a time
Starting class with these as a guideline gives my teaching some structure and allows me to respond in the moment to what the students need based off of their interest, temperament, day of the week, or whatever extenuating circumstance that may be influencing them at the moment. Just like any lesson plan, sometimes the classes adhere to the plan or sometimes the class morphs into something completely different and I go with it. My students have picked up on these concepts so much they sometimes leave class saying, “that was supposed to be a roller coaster day, but it turned into a root canal!”
I wrote an arrangement of the famous rondeau by Henry Purcell (the one used by Benjamin Britten for “The Young Person’s Guide To The Orchestra) for a school ceremony where freshman receive a patch containing the school crest signifying their entrance into the high school. At the time, the school orchestra was what some directors may label “an island of misfit toys” as there was a clarinet here, some horns over here, a few pianos and some strings. This hodgepodge group gave me the opportunity to create a flexible, rich arrangement with lots of parts being doubled. This work has been purchased all over the world and continues to be my best selling piece due to it’s accessibility and simplicity.