by Erik Franklin
Since we started rehearsing together as the Novacane Quartet, we have been trying to improve our rehearsal etiquette, making our time together more efficient and productive. Finding the perfect group dynamic is hard, and it’s always changing. Every group works differently, because individual personalities really influence the group dynamic. In his book Indivisible by Four: A String Quartet in Pursuit of Harmony (1998), Arnold Steinhardt writes about the unique qualities of the Guarneri Quartet. This is a fascinating look at how an ensemble can work together, achieving so much over an impressive 45-year journey together.
A unique and defining quality of the Guarneri quartet was that the first violinist was not the leader of the ensemble. The group operated democratically—all decisions were to be made by the group as a whole. John Dalley (2nd violinist) explained how this operated:
“You have to be able to bend or give up some of your ideas. If you don't compensate and give in and compromise, you just don't get along. I think we had four strong personalities, and that's good. It's one way for a quartet to mature. The other way is to have a dictator who rules over the other three. That's the way it was in Europe, but Americans don't like that. It works faster, but the democratic way is more satisfying. “ (Reel, James (2009). "Guarneri Quartet Takes a Final Bow". All Things Strings)
In Novacane, we also operate democratically. We change parts depending on the piece, and everyone contributes musically and logistically. We find that, like Mr. Dalley and the Guarneri Quartet, we prefer the democratic way to the dictatorship, even though it does indeed take longer. As we grow together, we come up with “rules” to govern how we work. We have even written them down to make a handbook of sorts.
I thought I would share with you a few of our most basic rules to have a good rehearsal. If you are just starting a group, use these as a guideline to get you started with productive, satisfying rehearsals.
Groups can add, subtract, or change any of these rules according to their needs. I think the most important idea is that everyone is on the same page about how to behave in rehearsal. Having a unified vision for the group and a consensus for working towards achieving that are crucial, and communicating these clearly (and all together) is the most effective way to do that!
What are some rules your groups have for rehearsals?