How much rehearsal do you really need?
I’ve heard statements in my two regular groups along the lines of ‘I’m a bit bothered, we’ve only got four practices till the next gig.’
I’ve sardonically commented on the true differences in preparation time (and, even more, attitudes) between amateurs and pros before. Certainly for an orchestral freelance job, rehearse in the afternoon and perform in the evening is normal.
But, I hear you say, all the notes are written down for you in that case. That’s true. And if I’m really lucky the music will be sent out in advance, or I’ll be able to download a copy off the web. On the other hand, for Saturday’s concert the one piece that I hadn’t been sent a part to was the one I missed rehearsing altogether due to being delayed about half an hour. I sight-read it in the concert. (Luckily, orchestral violin 2 doesn’t have to do too much in The Lark Ascending and the conductor’s beat was very clear!)
And then there are the jobs where the notes aren’t written down. I might not be able to make a rehearsal for a couple of gigs I’m doing with a function band fronted by a great Irish lass, Amanda Murphy (or Ni Mhurchu with some accents I can never place correctly if you want the Gaelic spelling), next month. Which will be interesting since they’re not usually a note-for-note covers band even once I’ve learnt, or made up, fiddle lines from recordings on the web and then transposed them into the singable keys (bluegrass revival in D flat, anyone?).
But, covers being covers there is usually a pretty reliable version to be found on Youtube somewhere (I won’t tell your mum if you don’t tell mine). Every once in a while you get the bookings with an originals band …
On Thursday evening I answered an ad for a dep fiddle player. The order information made it through to me was confusingly random, but here’s a more or less chronological version: originals band, playing a string of festivals along the south west and south coast, lost their regular fiddle to a broken collarbone (sustained while jumping off a part-therapised psychotic horse who would otherwise have bolted into a main road – I wish I was making this up, my imagination’s nowhere near this powerful … ), and then had various problems with deps being unavailable, or unwilling to travel to Plymouth to play this particular date. This particular date being the following day, Friday, late afternoon. So I listened to some tracks on their website, requested a set list with keys of the songs for the gig, hunted out the one trad fiddle tune that was mentioned, and set off. Cat, the injured regular player, was tagging along as it was basically a hometown gig, and able to demonstrate bits of melody on mandolin, so I got about half an hour with her trying to master the arrangement of Morrison’s Jig and the exact nature of the fiddle lick on the opening track. Otherwise, I busked it by ear apart from Whiskey in the Jar (broadly the Thin Lizzy version). About half of what they were doing (it was a 45-minute set) was off a currently-in-progress second album, so I hadn’t even heard it before I got on stage. And boy was I grateful for playing an acoustic instrument when the monitor mix turned out to be terrible!
Everyone knows you get better at what you practice. But if your roots are classical, you might have a narrow imagination when it comes to interpreting that. It’s not just vibrato, position changing, flautando, sight reading that benefit from practice. I know very well from my own experience that improvising – both on a particular theme and in general, certainly within a particular style eg from chord changes – gets better or worse, easier or harder to make sound the same amount good while being more or less sophisticated, depending on how much you’ve been doing it lately. And while improvisation was obviously well to the fore at Friday’s gig, it wasn’t the only part of the picture enabling me to get away with it startlingly well (judging by the audience / bandmate feedback anyway). The thing is, you can effectively practise performing without having practised much – and the nature of a freelancer, perhaps especially a getting-started one doing a lot of low-budget, last-minute, one-off jobs, is that you do it a lot. I’m certainly a lot better at it than I used to be!