Last night, I was privileged to rehearse with a group of soloists, choirs, and orchestra preparing Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass. My preparation got me thinking about what I try to do in order to ready myself. What do I need to do for a successful first rehearsal and performance?
Keep in mind that work often generates more work. Like many trades, we get gigs by word-of-mouth more than other kinds of promotion. A great website does not mean as much as showing up on time, singing well, being easy to work with, and being flexible. That’s what gets around.
I have several goals when I prepare for an orchestra performance. Admittedly, these might be unique to me. All musicians are different. We view our craft based upon our differing abilities, personalities, and perspectives. I know of a soloist with perfect pitch. He does not have to worry about coming in on the right note. That makes elements of music preparation much easier for him than it does for most people in general.
Technique, phrasing, artistry and the like come fairly easy to me. It’s the other aspects that I have to be concerned with. My goals and concerns are the following:
- Don’t be the worst musician in the group
- Keep tempo
Don’t be the worst musician in the group
Simply put, I don’t want to be that guy everyone is grumbling about. You know, the one everyone knows is going to be an ear-sore, but they can’t get rid of him because it’s too late to find someone else. He doesn’t know his notes. He can’t stay on pitch. He misses his entrances. The other musicians in the production complain about him like Anakin whined about Obiwan. He’s holding everyone back. Only in this case, it’s actually true.
Because the soloist has to prepare without regular rehearsals with the group, practicing in strict tempo is important. I was rehearsing a major work once where a tenor soloist could not keep tempo. The conductor had to spend a considerable amount of time working with him. That was very frustrating to the rest of us. Be the musician that can keep the beat. Also, be ready to change with what the conductor wants.
Even soloists need to have good balance with the other musicians. In the Lord Nelson Mass, there are four soloists. One soloist should not overshadow the others, even if that one’s voice is naturally loud. The soloist is not the most important person in the room.
These are just some thoughts on performing as a soloist. As I said, other musicians might be concerned about other issues.