a cappella listening – part 1

R – Jarika and I were talking about her rehearsal today and some breakthrough moments she and her students experienced. As a related sidebar, she commented how strange it was that she now prefers being her own accompanist in rehearsals even though she is not a piano player. I’ve always felt the same way and we talked about why. One reason I prefer it is that my rehearsal pace and “brain motor” work more quickly and more efficiently when I’m on my own. But the other reason for me is that I become more of an “a cappella listener”. And I have never used that phrase before but I am so glad it came to mind! We talk about the benefits of a cappella singing to our singers, but what an awesome thing to have to do it as a director… think about it: the piano is, in part, a percussion instrument – which by definition works against the natural flow of phrasing. And even when it tries, the rehearsal piano is incapable of simulating a rainbow phrase to the same degree that the human voice can. The piano is incapable of subdividing microscopic components of text into meter.

And the piano covers up singers’ musical sins. And lots of ’em.

Rehearsing without piano forces the conductor to become acutely analytical of why (there’s that word again!) something isn’t working. Take pitch accuracy for instance, you really can only fall into one of two categories as a rehearsal technician: you identify the wrong note as the problem, or you understand wrong notes to be¬†symptoms of other issues. When you rehearse with piano, you are completely limited to hearing wrong notes. When you rehearse a cappella, you are suddenly able to train yourself to understand wrong notes as symptoms, and THEN you begin to HEAR and address the actual issues that cause those wrong notes; those issues become the primary concerns of your rehearsal. A cappella listening! More on this topic soon!!!

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