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Rehearsal and Concert Observations

Rehearsal

Truth time. I wasn't able to attend a rehearsal or concert in time. I had several scheduled, but due to life factors couldn't attend. In the hopes of trying to salvage some of this assignment, I'll talk a little about my experiences in the past observing the rehearsals and concerts for the New England Conservatory Chorus.

This chorus was unusual in that it was a mix of vocal students, opera students, and non-voice majors. The non-voice majors typically were required to be in the ensemble and often didn't want to be there. Additionally, most did not have trained voices. This caused some tension in the choir, as the vocal students were able to produce rich tones which were difficult for the non-vocal students.

Tamara Brooks was the conductor. The chorus was approximately 100-120 persons. Ms. Brooks has a big presence and was able to keep the rehearsals moving along and maintain order. Since this was a college-level choir, discipline was not as big an issue as it would have been with a smaller choir.

Typically, since the non-vocal majors had more difficulty singing certain passages, Ms. Brooks would do sectional work, or drill the passages with a smaller group within the section. She had a very good ear and could tell quickly where problems arose. In some cases, where there were rhythmic issues, she would have the choir speak the rhythms until it was clear, and then add back in the melody.

Since it was such a large ensemble with limited time, each person was required to come warmed up. Ms. Brooks did very little warm-up, and mostly delved right into the literature. She worked non-sequentially. Often, she would begin with a difficult passage in the piece, and work backwards. Additionally, she would have the entire chorus sing the melody (of a soloist, or the soprano line) so that everyone had a clear idea of the melody. In some cases, she would have the basses sing with the sopranos to work out counterpoint or syncopation issues.

One issue was clearly that some of the non-vocal majors would not put as much work into practicing and would do just enough to get by. In cases where there were clearly problems, Ms. Brooks would sometimes drill individuals or groups of 3 or 4 on certain sections to see where the problems lay. Ms. Brooks would use this "fear of embarrassment" tactic after giving several opportunities to perform correctly. It seemed to be a last resort to determine which members weren't getting it.

Ms. Brooks style was very dynamic. She was clearly passionate about the music she was conducting. Perhaps some of my body movement in conducting comes from her. She managed to create a big presence by having large movements, and really moving with the music. Looking back, I see it as a necessity. It is in line with what we've been talking about - that your movements and presence should match the size of the ensemble.

Concert -

The concert experience was quite a bit different. Most of the pieces that the choir sang were not purely vocal pieces, but for voice and orchestra. One concert included Carmina Burana and Mozart's Requiem. For these concerts, the choir rehearsed separately from the orchestra. The choir had a piano accompanist, but rehearsed with full orchestra about 3 times.

Ms. Brooks was much more reserved in her movements during the concert. In the areas that were still a bit clunky, she would look at the section that was having trouble and mouth a reminder (something like "fortissimo") to keep the choir on track.

Ms. Brooks generally kept a more regular pattern with Carmina Burana because it is more rhythmically complex than the Requiem. In many cases in Carmina Burana, she would merely indicate the beats, and not include much other direction. With the Requiem, it was quite different. Since the movements are rhythmically straightforward, and the tempo it regular, Ms. Brooks was more expressive in her style. Also, due to the subject matter of the piece, I felt this style was more fitting. She was able to really fine-tune the dynamics and shape of the phrases by her body movements.

For example, during the Dies Irae, she captured the sense of power that the section requires. Likewise, during the Lacrimosa, her style changed substantially, and she included some swaying that provided a nice sense of legato.