Now that we are in the summer doldrums of heat and monsoon tempest, the new season of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra is several months away. This affords an opportune time to explore how public orchestra concerts matriculate. Two general areas, programing and rehearsals, will be covered and explored.
Looking at rehearsal first, there are a variety of events that need to take place prior to the first downbeat of the conductor’s baton. The conductor has previously selected the music to be performed for the entire season. The librarian has the music for each concert ahead of time by borrowing, renting, buying or securing it from the SASO library. He then places parts in a folder for each player who is ready for the first rehearsal.
There is also a personnel manager who ensures that there are musicians to cover the requirements of the selections as some works need fewer or greater number of players. This person also is in charge of auditions of new members.
At each rehearsal, orchestra volunteers set up chairs but each player puts the chair away afterward. The conductor’s stand and podium are included. Percussion instruments that are needed are set up by the performers. Anywhere from two to five timpani are moved into place, drums are unpacked, and instruments like xylophone, bells and chimes are set up, if needed. The orchestra owns all of its own percussion instruments.
There are seven rehearsals for each concert. One of these is a sectional where the strings, woodwinds and brass – each has their own – to work out problems, phrasing and intonation. Rehearsals include a Saturday morning dress rehearsal followed by a Saturday night and Sunday afternoon concert. Regular rehearsals run from 7 to 9:30 p.m. and the dress runs 9 a.m. to noon. There is a 15-minute break at each.
The conductor sends everyone an email prior to each rehearsal stating which selections or parts of these at a specific time will be rehearsed. When the players arrive they are prepared to rehearse specific sections. Two minutes prior to starting, the oboe sounds A 440 – a pitch standard – for tuning by brass, woodwinds, low strings and high strings sections.
There are various problems to be covered at a rehearsal. Two important ones are intonation and phrasing (bowing in the strings – when does the bow go up or down). Others are knowing your music, arriving on time, mistakes in the printed parts, and instrument problems.
One important aspect of a community orchestra like SASO is attendance. It is vitally important that each player attends all rehearsals. All the wind and percussion musicians play different individual parts; only the string players have uniform parts.
This means that the former are basically playing solo parts and the strings have the major problem of matching each other exactly. Only rehearsing can resolve this serious problem.
Performance is the other part of this essay. Far in advance, a variety of necessary arrangements need resolution: concert dates, advertising and public relations, ticket availability, long-distance travel arrangements, music selection and acquiring the parts. Closer to concert dates, uniform review and concert locations are covered for new members. Donors are very important for an orchestra group as ticket sales never cover expenses. They include the conductor’s salary, buying or renting music (each selection can run hundreds of dollars), purchasing percussion instruments, the facility, stage and storage rentals, an instrument-hauling trailer, and “thises and thats” that turn up.
On the day of a concert the volunteer group sets up chairs and risers, checks lighting and the piano, if called for, and the PA system. There is also a stage manager, a very important role, in charge who hauls the instruments from site to site.
An hour prior to the program there is a sound check to get the feel of the auditorium. At concert time as at rehearsals, the concertmaster signals for the tuning A from the oboe. The conductor comes on stage and the concert gets under way.
Following the program, the audience leaves fulfilled and pleased. The musicians pack up and depart with a feeling of accomplishment having performed the composer’s work correctly.
For information about the 2011-12 SASO season, musicians, tickets or general information, visit www.sasomusic.org.