A typical rehearsal

… is informal (but not undisciplined!)

… is supportive

… starts with any necessary help in tuning instruments

… includes a short break for a drink and a chat

During a typical evening’s rehearsal we usually spend some time on tuning exercises and on rhythm-reading as well as working in detail on a variety of pieces of music. At many rehearsals there is some sight-reading, to develop the skill which is the musical equivalent of curling up with a good book!

Things to bring

Things to bring, aside from your instrument itself:

  • soft pencil, e.g. 4B type, and rubber, to mark your music parts (good thing to keep in your instrument case anyway)
  • music stand if you have a music stand, although if not, you can borrow one your first few times
  • a strong envelope or folder or music case, to keep your music safe and flat when you take it home
  • mug for your tea or coffee at the break, if you signed up for refreshments. (this is free if you’re on a trial visit.)

More on what to expect…

Here’s a description of a fairly typical rehearsal night.

Rehearsal starts at 7.30pm. Some people come early and do some practice. Most people try to be there by about 7.10/7.15, so there’s time to set up without being in a rush.

As people arrive, they know to look on the table just inside the door, to see where they’ll be sitting that night. This gives us the flexibility to put specific people next to each other on different weeks – e.g. a newcomer next to a more experienced person playing the same part – or just to vary the layout to help with getting to know each other. (At an average orchestra, you’d typically be in the same place every week, so this is one of the ways that Da Capo is a bit different.)

The table also holds any new music, for people to pick up as they arrive. Each person’s initials are in pencil on the corner of the page; this means that lost parts are easy to return, and if we play the same piece again a few years later, you can potentially get back the same copy with your own pencil marks on.

It’s always been OK for individual players to come in late, as we realise that some people come straight from work, or can’t set off till a babysitter arrives, etc. However, for those who are there, the orchestra has almost always started exactly on time. Aim to be sitting in place by about 7.25pm.

We’ve adopted a tradition from Scouts/Quakers, where a hand up means “Please listen, and please put your own hand up so everybody notices”. This is useful when it’s time to start.

The first thing we do is that the conductor stands in position and everyone actively checks that they can see both the conductor and their music at the same time. If you don’t have a clear sight line, you might need to move your music stand up or down, or move your chair a little bit.

It’s classical orchestra tradition to tune to the note A, usually from an oboe if one is available, and that’s what we do. Most players can tune their own instruments. We encourage the use of electronic tuners (set to A440). Otherwise, the conductor or a more experienced player might help.

At the beginning of a term, there’s often a warm-up at this stage where we follow the beat while clapping. The conductor will speed up, slow down, switch to different time signatures, stop suddenly, etc.

This warm-up can be used to develop familiarity with the various time signatures in the term’s pieces, and is general good practice for watching the stick. Towards the end of term, this item will generally be omitted in favour of greater focus on the pieces.

Each term, we learn around four to six pieces in contrasting styles and with varying musical challenges. Where possible, we include at least one new piece each term that the orchestra has never done before, because of the value of sight-reading. The other pieces that term can be “recycled” from previous years, but not until several years had gone by, so that some players had left and new ones arrived.

As well as the music parts, sometimes there’s an additional printed page which everyone gets, with the rhythm patterns used in that piece. This can be used either as a warm-up to playing that piece (clapping, or playing on a random note), or to pull out mid-session if a particular rhythm is giving trouble.

We would usually include working on each piece at every rehearsal – but not necessarily playing through the entire piece.

When we practise a piece, we often also practise doing a beautiful ending for it. Everyone stays silent and keeps their instrument in position until the conductor lowers the stick to end the moment.

At about half-time, we have a break, usually about 15 minutes. One of the orchestra members organises tea and coffee for those who want it. If joining in with refreshments, you pay for the term, on the basis of 25p a week, and bring your own mug.

The rehearsal finishes at 9.30pm.

After the rehearsal finishes, we have the hall for an extra half hour, until 10pm (or occasionally 10.30). Some people leave straight away. Others stay to play other music in small groups, usually rehearsing something they might play at the soirée.

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