Next Monday is our first rehearsal of the new term (7.30 at Highworth School, Ashford if you want to join us). For teachers it is also the start of a new school year and I often find myself in reflective mood at this point.
As usual we will be embarking on some new music. I have come to love the first rehearsal of a term, although this hasn’t always been the case. I will have selected music. Sometimes it will be in response to suggestions from the orchestra sometimes not. I will have listened to a variety of recordings and looked at the scores in order to be as prepared as I can be. I will definitely have conducted some of it (probably in my car) and there will be moments that I am really looking forward to.
Everyone will arrive and there will be a certain amount of catching up, comparing tans, welcoming new members. John will have organised signing sheets for all the different music, to make sure we get it all back. People will be trying to remember how to put up music stands, and making sure their instruments work ok. If they don’t, they will say things such as: “It was working fine yesterday when I practised” just a bit too loudly, suggesting, maybe, that the instrument hadn’t been out of its case since the last time we met.
As start time nears everyone will sit down and be looking at the music, trying out bits, ooing and ahhing at the sections they like the look of, and the ones that look hard. Brass or clarinets will be complaining that they have to transpose one of the pieces because it’s in A and they are in Bb or something. Helen will play an A on her oboe for tuning. Everyone will make adjustments, play again and then adjust further, probably putting everything back to where it was to begin with.
Then at 7.30 I will say, “Good evening everyone, did you all have a good Summer break?” I will talk briefly about the new term, might tell a joke (I’ve got a good one lined up this year) and then I will announce the piece we are going to play first. Everyone will find their music and someone won’t be able to find it, only to discover it was there all along. I’ll look down at the score and hear the music in my head. I’ll check my opening tempo then say, “Right then, let’s start.” I’ll thrust my baton out in front and say what the count in will be, “after two” perhaps. The orchestra will be looking at me (an unusual occurrence). I’ll give the cue to begin, the baton will come down and everyone will begin to play the wonderful music. I’ll look down at the score…. and barely recognise a note of it.
We will continue playing for a bit, although I won’t really know where anyone is, and then I’ll stop the orchestra and examine the score closely (bending over and leaning forward for a better look). In my early days this was simply a delaying tactic whilst I mentally argued with myself about running for the door. Now this is one of my favourite moments. I’ll stare at the score and work out how to break the music down so that section by section, part by part, it will slowly start to take shape. I love that. I know there will be a moment in a few weeks’ (or months’) time when we will play through the piece and at the end, everyone will have a satisfied smile on his or her face waiting for me to say: “That wasn’t bad at all, in places. We’ve played worse than that in concerts. If we can play it like that in the concert I’ll be happy.”
Between then and now there will be hard parts we nail and easy parts we just can’t get. Things will work one week and not the next. There will be ups and downs (and other baton movements), jokes and hissy fits, confusion over bar numbers, discussions about repeats, bowing, tuning, intonation, dynamics, phrasing and feeling – but we will get there, individually and collectively and it will be an amazing achievement, and a moment of immense pride, for me and, I hope, for the rest of the orchestra too.
And that is why I love the first rehearsal of a new term.