Orchestra Rehearsal, in Which We Try to SIng in Tempo with a Conductor 35 Ft Away and an Orchestra in the Pit Beneath Us
Last night we sang onstage for the first time, continuing to accustom ourselves to the conductor's signals (he first worked with us at last Sunday's rehearsal). He is a very fine conductor, but his style, his little signals for entrances, etc, are quite different from our choral director's. No surprise, no two conductors could ever be exactly the same, but we are still getting to know each other. It's rather like a slightly awkward but well-intentioned first date. Add to that challenge the distance between us (35 feet!), and the accompanying lag in sound as it travels across the stage from the pit to where we are, which equals conductor plus two sizeable groups of musicians--orchestra and chorus--fighting it out over tempo. Not to mention our far upstage location behind partial scrims and a giant wheel of Fortune (see photo). So, not only is it hard to hear, it's hard to see.
An interesting problem to solve.
After singing thru a few sections, the technical staff turned on some monitors behind us, and we were able to hear the orchestra in something approaching real time. However, even though the sound only had to travel vertically (which for some reason, I assumed would be faster than a horizontal trip) there was still a millisecond of delay. Enough to remind us we mainly needed to rely on sight (the conductor's hands & baton) rather than sound. Particularly hard for me - I have always relied the most upon my ears and my tonal memory when I sing! Happily, by the end of the evening, I think we'd all found our way to a place of agreement.
While we sang, André, the gentleman who is staging the ballet (he teaches it to the dancers, and maintains the integrity of the original work as they rehearse it) quietly marked the steps of each section, paying close attention to the conductor's tempo. That tempo MUST remain consistent throughout the run of this production. I assume the tempo was originally set, not by our conductor, but by André, because in ballet the music has to serve the movement, even as it seeks to express that same music. And because there are human beings moving, ballet demands an almost extreme fidelity to tempo and rhythm in live performance, unlike a typical concert where tempos can 'breathe' a little and fluctuate in very subtle gradations. And with such large numbers of people involved, staying together requires deep and sensitive listening.
The artistry comes from the conductor, who finds a way to create beauty within these strictures, leading us along with him/her. It's pretty magical, actually.
Tonight - first dress! Glimpses of the Carmina choreography & the dancers! Plus, how many of us get to wear the big orange ecclesiastical robes?