My passion is to help others in the community, young, old, and everyone in between, find relevance and joy in learning, performing or listening to classical music.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Preserving the definition of the "dress rehearsal"

Dress rehearsals are in danger of becoming extinct, I fear.  True dress rehearsals, that is.

In my book, a dress rehearsal is the opportunity prior to a performance to do a full, uninterrupted run-through of whatever is to be performed.  It is a chance to let go of perfectionism and to practice putting ourselves in a state of mind where our musical message becomes the goal.  Recently, however,  I have experienced many occasions in which the goal seems to be to deliver a note-perfect, memory-slip free, musically perfect performance in order to reassure the performer that all will be well at the real performance. 

But here's the problem with that - 

That type of performance can only be a miracle!

I know.  I'm usually such the optimist.  And in my mind, I still am.  But I am also a realist.  I believe it's important to have realistic expectations going into any performance.  Otherwise, when the inevitable happens that quest for perfection, which is sometimes the sole purpose for some performers, is ruined - game over.  For those musicians that have held this as their goal in practice, rehearsals, and performance, what is left then?  The mind games that inevitably filled their minds up to this point take over and eat away at their confidence, leaving the chance that any musical message will be conveyed solely to the music itself and to the audience.  It also makes for a very grumpy, dissatisfied, and discouraged musician.  

It doesn't need to be like this!  Performances can be moving experiences without being "perfect" so why expect that from ourselves as the end product?  And why expect that of ourselves in dress rehearsals?  I often ask young musicians that stop in the middle of a final rehearsal, "Why are we stopping now?  How often did you nail it in the practice room?"  Usually the answer to that last question is, "Every once in a while."  

Right.  I'm not great at statistics but something tells me the chances of nailing it in a dress rehearsal and performance aren't very likely with such an answer.  So why stop?  

Again, this is not me being a pessimist - just a realist.  

Let's turn dress rehearsals into a precious time in which we can meet the music face-to-face, free of all the practice-room mind games and tactics.  Let's see them as opportunities to see what we can do with the slip-ups that are going to be there, because they are going to be there, and to revel when we realize that we can still make music in spite of some creative improvising.    Speaking from a collaborator's point of view, let's also see it as an opportunity for the collaborator to figure out how to support the soloist when something does happen.  And let's enjoy the fact that the hall or performance space is ours and ours alone for a brief time.  Some of my most spine-tingling musical moments have been when I've been alone in an empty, beautiful hall.  There's nothing like the pure sound that comes back at you when you're in this most precious of moments but when I'm wrapped up in perfectionist mode, I'm not in a state of being to register the wonder of it all.  

See how wonderful dress rehearsals can be?  We simply cannot let them go extinct.  So stopping?  In a dress rehearsal?  I wouldn't advise it, especially if your collaborator happens to be me!  

And yes, I do have access to a tow truck and I'm not afraid to use it.  


  1. In the theater there is an old saw -

    "Crappy dress rehearsal means great performance and vice versa."

    Although this is undoubtedly questionable from a statistical standpoint, the point is to let go for dress rehearsal - stop trying for perfections and even make the mistakes that are lurking, get them out of your system to clear the way for calm nerves (and thereby focused performance) on the night.

    I have always wondered why these kind of "mindful" performance techniques haven't transferred to musicians.

    1. Eddie Louise,
      That old saw usually applies in my case as well! And it the dress rehearsal does miraculously go well I just thank my lucky stars :-)

      I wonder if actors sometimes have as difficult a time letting go in dress rehearsals as musicians do. If they don't, what's the difference?


      Thank you for reading, Eddie Louise and for commenting.

      All the best,

  2. I agree and agree some more. We just did Don Giovanni and all was well at the dress rehearsal. Come performance time and someone forgot to be on stage when it was their turn to be on, about halfway through the opera - there was a fifteen second delay and it seemed interminable but we simply stopped and waited. It was not the end of the world.

    1. Violinhunter,
      Wow, that must have felt interminable but you're right - the show always does manage to go on, doesn't it? And can I just say I'm more than a wee bit jealous that you got to play in a performance of Don Giovanni? One of my all-time favorites!

      Thanks for reading and commenting,