Describing one of our rehearsals is like trying to describe a whirlwind of events, lets just say we sometimes spend more time catching up and telling stories than actually performing.
...scratch that - don't want to give anyone the wrong impression, we get through a ton of music, both old favorites and new tunes, but we also genuinely enjoy hanging out...and of course snack breaks!
That being said, here is a run down on the more serious side of our rehearsals, which is actually playing through music. I should start by saying that it takes time to even choose music, but maybe I'll save that for another blog post. We get our music from a variety of different arrangers all over the world, and choosing pieces to obtain for our library comes from our preferences on what we enjoy playing, as well as requests from clients, and generally what is new and available out there on the interwebs for wind quintet. See, everyone and their dog writes arrangements for ensembles like string quartets, but it takes a special arranger or composer to actually know what sounds good in a quintet, and we love when we find that person. Just so happens, our horn player RB is also an arranger, and many of our pieces come from his talented brain!
So, we've picked the music in general, then it's time to craft the rehearsal itself. We have well over 200 pieces of music in our library, and each piece is at least 3 minutes long (but many are longer), so if my calculations are correct, if I estimate about 4 minutes per song we have, that would take around 13 hours to get through. That's a lot of snack breaks!
To structure rehearsals, I try to pick about 10 pieces we can go over in our two hour slot. Those 10 might come from new music that we need to try - we don't put anything in our binders until we try and like a piece. Or it might be older music that we got as a request for an upcoming wedding or event. We never want to show up unprepared, and this is an important detail in our readiness for important celebrations, we've got to go over what we're playing and just get it fresh in our memories.
We are all professional musicians, so sightreading (playing music for the first time without a prior rehearsal) is somewhat second nature and sometimes expected for certain gigs, but I don't expect it for our performances. I never want to be embarrassed by starting a piece that has errors, sounds bad, isn't written well, or if it has tricky passages and roadmap issues.
Sidenote- did you know we have a roadmap in music? There are fun symbols built in to what we are reading on the page that might tell us to repeat a section, jump to a certain bar, hold out a section, or end a certain way. Isn't music fun?!?
Once we decided what we're playing, we talk the piece through. We all want to make sure we are on the same page about repeats (as mentioned directly above this), and also about the key the music is in, the volume, who is taking lead on various sections. It's all very complicated stuff but basically, we talk through it.
Then, the music happens. Our process for new songs is typically to play through a piece of music all the way, errors and all, and try not to stop, just so we get the hang of it. Once we finish, we'll go back and start to polish sections, work out trouble spots, and make it better, and ultimately we'll probably play through it again once more to solidify things. We might not see this particular piece of music again for a few months, so it's important to make sure we put it away with a good feeling about how it sounded.
I try my best to mix up rehearsals with a wide variety of music. While our group mostly plays "pops" which is a pretty broad category that covers movie themes, Broadway, pop covers, and similar contemporary music not originally composed for quintet, it is also important to get back to the roots and practice quintet specific music, which is all classical. Classical can be fun too, don't get me wrong, and it is so incredibly challenging and rewarding to play, but it isn't as recognizable and, with few exceptions, it isn't picked often by our clients when choosing music for their events. So, our rehearsal might look like a few new Disney or other movie themes, a classical number, some new pop arrangement of The Jackson 5 or Jason Mraz, and then another movie tune.
We try to get a few videos when we rehearse, but since we don't bring a professional audio and video tech with us wherever we go (we should, but we can't afford it!), we have to make do with cell phone video. I'm really picky about my videos, and I'm rarely happy enough with them to put them online - but I'm working on upgrading some recording equipment so we can showcase ourselves on YouTube. You can check out what we have done in the past on our YouTube Channel!
Post rehearsal time is spent adding new and group-approved music to the binders, and getting things set up for our next performance. And of course, writing blogs, because there is nothing more that a musician wants to do with their time than...write stuff.
I really do hope you enjoy reading a little about the inner workings of musician life - I actually do have fun writing things!
Dan is the bassoonist & one of the founders of the LCQ.