As I return to the keyboard after my summer hiatus it was suggested that the WholeNote columnists focus on the significant new developments which were anticipated for their beats in the coming weeks. In my case that meant what interesting musical happenings were on the horizon for September and perhaps into October. After a brief and very unscientific survey of the community bands and orchestras I came up cold. Not a single communiqué reached my mailbox to tell of an exciting musical event to herald the advent of the fall season. Similarly, telephone queries drew blanks.
This doesn’t mean that our community groups are languishing in some sort of apathetic stupor. On the contrary, almost without exception they are busy planning for a new season. However, for most, that season does not include any significant performances until well into the autumn, when leaves on the trees have started to change colour. It’s the start of a new rehearsal season. That is the big event.
By now, most ensembles will have established their schedule of regular concerts and may have come up with a basic framework of the sort of repertoire. In the coming months they’ll undoubtedly add extra performances as they are invited to perform for a variety of functions. What is the process of selecting the repertoire? Does the music director perform that function in isolation or is it a committee decision? Are all members invited in on the process, or are they in the dark until the music appears in the concert folders? In music selection how does one strike a balance between appeal to audiences and appeal to band or orchestra members? We know of one community group where those decisions rest almost solely with the librarian. Who should decide? Why not establish a repertoire and programme committee for your group?
Yes concert performances are important, but for most members, rehearsals fulfill an important social function. Rehearsal night is an evening out to make music with like-minded friends. This brings up the matter of difficulty level. What difficulty level is appropriate for the majority of group members? Should a rehearsal be simply an entertaining evening out to make music with friends or a challenge to the musical abilities of the members?
Should every concert have a distinctive theme, or just consist of a balanced, pleasing musical experience? While I have participated in some “themed” concerts, many, in my estimation, have fallen flat with a jungle of disjointed works that don’t provide the audience with the sense of a pleasant integration.
Are guest performers desired? Certainly they are, if they enhance the quality and variety of the experience for both the audience and the band or orchestra members. To not have soloists would remove from concert programmes a vast array of wonderful music featuring instrumental and vocal soloists. On the other hand, what about visiting ensembles? It’s not uncommon for community ensembles to invite other groups to perform as guests. If this enhances the musical experience, that is fine. However, I know of more than one such occasion where the principal motive was to fill more seats with the families and friends of the visiting group. Musical merit was secondary.
On the subject of rehearsals, my personal preference is for rehearsals that provide both a performance challenge and some pleasant melodies to remain in my head as I wend my way home. I have some anecdotal memories of rehearsals in which I was involved covering the spectrum from excellent to appalling. Let’s start with two in the appalling category.
The first occurred many years ago in a community symphony orchestra. I arrived well in advance of the scheduled 8:00pm start time, set my music on the stand, warmed up and awaited the downbeat. The conductor, a string player, started by working with the string sections on some sections where they were having difficulty. I listened with my trombone on my lap as the string players were coached on bowing techniques etc. I played my very first note at 9:30pm. I never returned.
In another community symphony, I arrived well in advance of the scheduled downbeat only to find that the librarian had forgotten all of the low brass music at home. Rather that offer to rush home to retrieve the music, it was suggested that I “come back next week.” I didn’t.
On the excellent side, I had the pleasure, for many years, of playing under the guidance of the late Clifford Poole. From Gilbert and Sullivan pit orchestras to the York Regional Symphony, Cliff was always considerate and sympathetic to the concerns of all of his orchestra members. Rehearsals began with sections requiring all orchestra members and ended with those components requiring only the strings. In that way every member played until there were no more notes for them to play. Rather than sit around listening to other sections labouring over difficult parts, these members were free to leave when they had nothing more to do.
Also on the excellent side is the young conductor Steffan Brunette and his Uxbridge Community Concert Band (UCCB). Unlike the vast majority of community groups we discuss here, this is a summertime-only ensemble. After their final concert on August 30, members folded their respective tents and went back to their regular fall and winter groups until next May. This conductor is the most organized of any I’ve had the pleasure to work with. At the first rehearsal of the season every member is given his or her music folder for the season. In addition to the music, the folder contains a sheet with the complete rehearsal and performance schedule, detailing which selections will be rehearsed each night. Also included is a sheet covering all information from rehearsal expectations, contact phone numbers to concert information and membership fees.
Earlier, mention was made of concert programmes with a theme. The UCCB has an interesting theme this year. “The Classical Connection” features works by Bach, Beethoven, Fauré and Mozart. In contrast, we have works by contemporary composers which, if not directly inspired by these, took some inspiration from the form. The Bach Toccata in D Minor is paired with Frank Erickson’s popular Toccata for Band, The Fauré Pavane is contrasted with Morton Gould’s Pavane, and other masters are similarly paired. It works well for both the performers and the audiences.
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