Thursday, April 16, 2009

On Rehearsal Technique

This may not be that interesting to some. It's a real occupational hazard for me, though, so it's fairly close to my heart.

If I ever grow even more grizzled and cranky than I already am, and decide that music just isn't for me after all, it will probably be because of singers' bad rehearsal technique. To echo some of the remarks I made in in this post, you get the idea that when you reach a certain level that some things will become easier, better, and more professional, and you can tear your hair out when the opposite occurs. Below is a short list.

1. Talking in rehearsals.

This is my number one bugbear, and a genuine case where it seems to definitely get worse the more professional the context is. Being quiet, unfortunately, runs against the grain of many singers, who quite often have very short attention spans and are the worst kind of attention-seekers. Actors are very much the same, of course. Any lull in the action is an opportunity to draw attention to yourself, usually by the most inane means possible (I'm a bad, bad man for saying this, but I tend to find that gay men are particularly bad at this and a certain brand of particularly effeminite gay man will stretch "inane" to its absolute breaking point. Tell me I'm a homophobe, but I figure that if I'm prepared to admit that tenors are annoying, then I've won myself some license). This is, of course, completely counter-productive, and it ends up making everyone's job that much harder. Having to wait for everyone to shut up so you can hear what the conductor is trying to say make EVERY FUCKING TIME THE MUSIC STOPS can just do your head in. I have learnt lately that the best way to deal with the situation is to not talk to anyone at all, ever, unless it's about the music. I genuinely ignore half the things that are said to me. I'm sure people think I'm an absolute arse for doing it, but it makes them stop talking to me. And hey, if you're the sort of cretin that dribbles inane bullshit when you should be concentrating on the music, I don't want to be friends with you anyway.

2. Talking when the orchestra is tuning (you know what this is. It's the "whhhheeeeeeeeeeooooooooorrreeeeaaaaaaaaeeeee" noise they all make before concerts).

This is every bit as annoying as the first, but it doesn't happen as much, so it comes second. I never want to cringe more when I'm in a chorus and no-one can sit still for 30 seconds whilst the orchestra tune - something that the entire ensemble relies on for a successful rehearsal/performance. At some point I'm going to make a sign that says "IS NOT TALKING OR MAKING UNNECESSARY NOISE" and hold it up whilst the orchestra tune. How some instrumentalists don't become violent over this, I will never know. I would.

Here's an exercise that might help illustrate my point. Get a few mates together. Get one of you to hum a note. Something that's not too high or low. Get everyone to sing EXACTLY the same note - no approximations. Involve women and men, and women and men with high and low speaking voices so that people are singing at different registers. Now do it with 40 people. Still singing exactly the same note? Not when there are another forty people sitting behind you talking shit and making stupid extraneous noise, you're not!

3. One-upmanship.

"You're getting that bit wrong!!!" Oh! Oh really? Well, whilst we're making observations, isn't it also true that I just punched you in the face?

Anyone that has ever done this deserves.... well, you get the idea. I will never understand why complete strangers, or at least passing acquaintances, think that it's appropriate to point out their colleagues' mistakes. It seems that some people keep a running tally. To be honest, I will never understand how they even NOTICE, most of the time. When I'm rehearsing difficult music, particularly when I'm singing it for the first time, I'm often so wrapped up in what I'm doing that bothering to listen to what the guy beside me is doing is the last thing I do. Of course you HEAR the mistakes - but finding the energy to actually make the mental note of "Carrot got that wrong!"whilst the music is going on, so you can go back to it later and smarmily point it out to him is going the extra yard, don't you think? ... Or maybe it's just really, really stupid and petty.

Of course there's a line, and quietly talking to someone when they're obviously a little confused and would actually appreciate the help is fine, but - that's not what a lot of people are about. Today's rehearsal involved me sitting next to a guy who obviously had it in his head that he was going to be quality control for our section - the section of him and me. To cover up his insecurities, he had obviously taken the attitude that I was going to be the brawn (i.e. I could actually sing) and he was going to be the brain (because he can't), and point out my every mistake. This culminated in an amusing piece of by-play about pronunciation - after the first run through of a particular piece, when the word in question came up only twice -

Him: It's "feste"

Me: Yes, that's right.

Him: Well, you're not getting it right.

We sang it again.

Him: It's fesTE!

Me: That's what I'm singing!

Him: No, you're singing something different.

Me: Look mate, it's "feste al Nume santo" and the "te-al" is on a quaver. you're probably hearing me sing "te-al".

Him: .... Oh.

Me: And by the way, you can barely sing above an F, you've got a shitty technique, you're always late, and that beret makes you look ridiculous. Get a life.

Didn't say the last part.


To sum up, though, the thing that bothers me most about rehearsing is that everyone seems to miss the point. Isn't the whole idea to concentrate together and try and make the most progress? You're at WORK - you're not there to impress your mates, that's for the breaks (or the post-concert pint - which no-one seems to do in Holland, *sobs*!). And so annoying, asinine dickheads that refuse to concentrate, talk shit through the entire process, and/or try to set themselves up as the arbiter of all standards and mistake-filters really piss me off. I suppose, like in any number of things, I should just learn to chill out a bit more. But just like Richie in his lunch with David in "The Final Dig"-

It just really shits me.

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