Saturday morning’s rehearsal was a good one. Our assignment for the week had been to prepare the first page of Barber’s Adagio for Strings, all of Saber Dance, the Prelude and Frolic movements of An English Suite, and the Furiant movement from Vier Kliene Stucke.
During the week I was increasingly unhappy with my progress on these pieces. I spent over 90 minutes one day on Frolic alone and only managed to learn the first of three pages. The sheer amount of music to learn is daunting. A lengthy Suzuki piece is two pages long, An English Suite is seven pages long all by itself. Prior to orchestra I was used to spending several weeks on the “harder” Suzuki pieces. Now I am trying to learn 25 pages of music in just a couple of months.
Therefore, I was very pleasantly surprised Saturday to discover that my practicing had made a difference - a huge difference. Furiant, for example, is written in 3/8 time with a dotted quarter note equal 76 for the metronome marking. That means there are three eighth notes per beat and only one beat (click of the metronome) per measure. For those of you playing along at home this is a nicely brisk pace. In my practice at home I was playing the piece at HALF speed and at times struggling to keep up. We started our rehearsal with this movement at about the speed I’d managed to attain after a week’s work. Then we played it a little faster, and then faster again. And faster still. Each time David sped up the tempo I was able to keep up. After about 30 minutes of concentrated effort we were playing the movement at performance tempo - and I was keeping up.
My practice had obviously paid off. What’s more I was aware of the players around me and felt a synergy with their playing. I truly felt like I was contributing to the whole and that the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. Not only did the ensemble help me, having a conductor did as well. David was able to have us play two or three lines at one tempo, and then again at a slightly faster tempo, and again faster still. We hardly paused between repetitions and increased speed with each repeat. At home I have to stop and adjust my metronome and start again. I lose momentum since I have to adjust the metronome.
The first 30 minutes of rehearsal was the best ensemble experience I’ve had yet.
We tackled Adagio for Strings next. The first page of the cello part is all half, whole, and double-whole notes. The tempo is slow enough that counting the duration of these notes is the hard part. I feel pretty good about this piece and I think I am making good progress with it. Already the ensemble has a very good sound when we play this. David says, and I agree, that we are going to give the audience chills when we play this piece.
We moved on to Saber Dance next. The metronome marking for this piece is quarter note equals 170 - blisteringly fast. As we move through the piece different sections of the orchestra play on the beat while other sections play off the beat. In order to practice this David had use play a one-octave G major scale (the piece is written in G major), with the cellos and bases playing on the beat and everyone else playing off the beat. We started at 120 and worked our way up to 170 - again with brief little pauses in between repetitions.
The cello part for Saber isn’t too difficult and my practice has focused not only on the different sections but on the transition between those sections. Again, I think my efforts paid off as I was able to keep up. The piece ends with a downward scale pattern that is played very rapidly and has three sting crossings and a couple of shifts included. I am not able to play this at performance tempo - yet.
We moved onto the Frolic movement from An English Suite next. As long as we were on the first page (the part I had practiced) I was okay, once we turned the page I was lost again. The lesson here is to run through the entire movement or section assigned a couple of times - maybe once each practice session - for familiarity’s sake, and then focus on a page or section to practice.
We ran out of time before getting to the Prelude movement of English Suite. Probably just as well as I had only focused on the first page of three there as well.
Our assignment for next week is all of English Suite. All of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso, and the entire first movement of Vier Kliene Stucke. This week is also the first of two practice chart weeks. We are to keep track of our practice with a minimum requirement of 60 per day 5 out of the 7 days. David sweetened the pot by saying the section that has the highest average practice time (section total divided by the number of members in the section) will get a pizza party. I managed 2 hours and 10 minutes on Saturday, and another 2 hours and 40 minutes on Sunday. And learning from Saturday’s experience I took time to sight read through all of the music assigned. Since my lesson is this evening I’ll have a chance to ask questions about the music in time for a week’s practice.
Our two scheduled performance’s are roughly 10 weeks away. I am starting to think that I’ll be able to contribute to those performances now. The small taste of success I had at rehearsal this week has given me renewed hope at any rate.