“How many of you have ever participated in a medical research study?”
And thus began our most recent master class as part of our Meadows Prize residency at SMU.
We came up with this idea a few weeks ago and decided to try it out for the first time here. I began the exercise by asking the assembled Chamber Music Class the above question, called on volunteers (note to self: if you need six violinists out of a large group, and six don’t present themselves, ask instead for anyone there who knows a violinist to point her or him out. It works.), and then went into the experiment, which is described below. Some successful things, some not, but an interesting exercise I thought worth sharing. Let us know what you think.
And before I go any further, a HUGE thank-you to the students who participated in this. You were brave and, as I described this afternoon, much awesomer for doing it. Go Meadows School!
OK, a description of the experiment.
The goal: to prove that knowledge of the score, and specifically written-in cues in a part, greatly helps the rehearsal process for new music, and by extension, all chamber music.
The test: three string quartets were each given the same 2 1/2 minute excerpt from a Jennifer Higdon piece (hi Jennifer!) that they’d never seen before. Each group had 20 minutes to prepare it, and then had to come perform the excerpt in front of their peers. The first group was given just a set of parts, the second a set of parts and four scores, and the third a set of parts with cues already written in them plus four scores.
The outcome: all three quartets were challenged by the piece, which is rhythmically pretty tricky. The second group seemed the most comfortable, having decided to perform from the scores, with the third group being described as “more musical.” The first group took a slower tempo than the others. All three groups relied on downbeat cues, conducting, and other visual tricks to stay together.
Interestingly, the third group did not find the written-in cues helpful: they said given only 20 minutes, they had to concentrate on their own parts and couldn’t look at the other notes as they went by. So we didn’t exactly get the result we were hoping for, that “Aha!” moment of “Wow, cued parts are so much better!”
Problems with our process: twenty minutes was too short to prepare what is a pretty challenging sight-reading excerpt. Impossible to have the exact same level of players on every instrument in each quartet, so there was no control for experience or ability. Writing in the cues for the third group isn’t the same as having the third group write the cues in themselves, which would have connected them to their cues much more. We didn’t standardize whether or not groups could have metronomes or pencils (!), so I think our scientific method was flawed. Not bad for a bunch of musicians, but still.
So what do you think? Interesting exercise, or inherently too complicated to prove anything? If we do this again, what could we do better?
And is our main point, regarding the benefit of writing cues in parts after studying the score (hopefully before the first rehearsal), something you agree or disagree with? Link to the Original