Orchestra Programs

Watch: How Not To Rehearse an Orchestra

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As conductors, we like things to go our way. (I’m attempting to avoid calling us, however affectionately, “control freaks.”) Especially in a high-stakes situation, it can be difficult for us to remember that, in rehearsal and performances, we only have control over what we’re doing on the podium.

For this week’s post, I’m dipping into the YouTube treasure trove of amusing conducting videos. The following, a performance by comedian Kenneth Williams from the 1961 film Roommates, has been subtitled by many as “How not to rehearse an orchestra.”

Mr. Chesney, Williams’ character, heads into the audition, convinced that he must dictate every aspect of the music and (rather literally) command the players. The musicians respond accordingly (to hilarious effect), subverting his authority. Chesney’s mistake was forgetting, or perhaps, not realizing, that conductors are not really generals but rather guides of ensembles, and the performers are (generally) there by choice.

As with conductors, the intention of ensemble members is to perform well – regardless of their perceived investment in the group. No one sets out wanting a performance to go poorly. If conductors head into rehearsal with Chesney’s outlook – that he knows all and the players nothing – our results will be similar (albeit with less amusement for the audience). In short, trust in the good intent of the musicians in your care; things are more likely to go your way.

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