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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Going beyond the typical dress rehearsal

© Stuart Miles -
I have written before about dress rehearsals and how I feel they can often end up being just your average run-of-the mill rehearsal (see "Preserving the definition of the 'dress rehearsal'") but even my own philosophizing didn't prepare me for one that I had this past Friday.  It was truly outrageous and perhaps a bit scandalous but I have to say it was one of the most entertaining, relaxing, and quite frankly, the most productive dress rehearsals I've ever been a part of.  

Let me set the stage...

The last day of music camp.
20 hyper but exhausted singers.
Tons of music to get through in preparation for the final showcase for the parents.
One not very hyper but thoroughly exhausted pianist.  (That would be me.)

We had been working together for four weeks with me as their practice coach and pianist.  It was a very talented group of kids, many of whom had never taken a private voice lesson before arriving at camp.  There were also many that had never practiced or learned music by themselves before and and a handful that had never performed solo before.  A lot of firsts for a lot of talented kids which makes for a very exhilarating four weeks.

Rather then meet with the singers individually to run through their pieces for the final dress rehearsal I decided to have them all perform for one another.  I figured it would streamline the process and would also give them another chance to get nervous singing in front of their peers.  Once we started it became evident fairly quickly that these kids were done with being serious - they were ready for some fun.  To my horror some of the kids listening started doing goofy things while the first "victim" was up front singing: they danced, they imitated, they made crazy faces.  After a few minutes of this, nobody could keep a straight face making it very difficult to make it to the end of the first song.  At first I didn't know quite what to do.  I was concerned for the singer up front, not wanting this moment to negatively effect his next time up on stage.  But at the same time I got this sense that for some reason this was all quite therapeutic for them.  I decided to go along with all of it and to see where it all led but I also asked them to be merciful to anyone that might want to have a serious dress rehearsal.  What followed was performance after performance that might not have been perfect but was full of personality, energy, drama, humor, and engagement.  There wasn't a sense of "I'm performing classical music therefore I must be proper."  These kids, many of whom haven't been raised in the classical world, were having a ball singing standard literature and after a few minutes of unstoppable laughter at the beginning of it all, they were able to get through their pieces in spite of all of the distractions.  
  • A tenor passionately singing Tamino's aria, "Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön" to another tenor in the room.
  • Another tenor exquisitely singing a Handel aria first an octave higher but then two octaves higher and dancing in a bit of a hip-hop style to tell off the queen to whom he was singing.   I don't know if he knew he had it in him to be a countertenor but I think David Daniels should watch out!  This guy was incredible!
  • A once-reserved soprano singing "O mio babbino caro" to her colleague who was pretending to be her sucker of a dad.  Her voice doubled in size the minute she batted those eyelashes and draped herself over him.  
It was all utterly hilarious.  

And what I think is even more wonderful is that these young singers sounded incredible and were able to do things they hadn't been able to do previously under more normal circumstances.  Many of them seemed to find a connection with the music that hadn't been there before, enabling them to tap into a larger-than-life size musicality that has the ability to reach farther out into an audience.   Others felt what it was like to make up a line or two or lyrics with great spirit without anyone knowing that anything was amiss.  It was one of those magical moments that seemed to give them a chance to try something new, to be themselves within classical musical, and to simply have fun.  

It was a lesson for them.  It was a lesson for me.

Sometimes letting go and allowing ourselves to simply have fun can make music-making all the more powerful and sometimes it can show us a level of musicality and expression we never knew we had in us. 

So next time you find yourself facing a dress rehearsal, you never know what might be just beyond what you typically expect.  It might prove to be a pretty wonderful place.  

I hope to see you there sometime!


  1. What a fantastic experience Erica! Those kids are lucky to have someone like you understand that the best thing to do is to let them enjoy the moment and have fun with it, rather than imposing our pre-determined vision of what classical music is. I bet they will from then on love classical music, and will want to keep on singing and being a part of it, all thanks to you!

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, Geraldine. I hope that some of these kids, at least, will stick with it or at least continue listening!

      All the best,

  2. Our adult music group recently had a session on performance anxiety, and the coach encouraged the performers to do similar things (e.g., she told one woman to pretend she was Liberace; another to smile and look at the audience as she played the piano, etc.). I think anything you can do to get out of your head and more in touch with your body is good.

    1. Harriet,
      Yes, that is a good exercise. I've actually never tried it myself but I've recommended it to others. Like you said, it gets us out of our own head where lots of silly, scary, crazy thoughts and mind-games reside.

      Thanks for reminding me about that tactic!

      Happy practicing,

  3. This. Sounds. AWESOME. :-)

    1. It was, Janis! One of the most incredible experiences I've had in what is usually kind of an anxiety-ridden time. And one of the most affirming things to me was the next day when it came time for the performance. The kids that were a part of that dress rehearsal looked as if they had performed for years and put on an incredible show - not quite as over-the-top as the previous day which is a good thing, but still full of energy and creativity.

      And nobody seemed traumatized from the dress rehearsals shenanigans so that's also a good thing.


  4. Erica, what a great recap of your experience - I felt I was there. You have come a long way from the timid Erica I knew years ago - so great to see that you are enjoying what you are doing, but most of all - the kids will have a lasting impression of you and their experience.
    Keep up the good work - kids will appreciate your teachings.
    Love - Verena

    1. Oh my goodness, Verena. It is so wonderful to see you here on my blog! Thank you for reading and for your feedback. It's always hard to have perspective on one's own journey - it takes people around us to help us to realize how we've grown. So thank you that!

      And I hope you know that your interaction and care for the kids that worked for you has been a source of inspiration to me when I work with young people!

      All the best to you,
      and with love,