Following on from the previous post I now offer Back to rehearsals part 2 and my experience of returning to rehearsals with Worcester Concert Brass.
The band is very fortunate in that their rehearsal room is a very large studio at a local school and, despite social distancing restrictions, it means that the whole band can meet together as a group, sort of! But one of the first things that strikes you, after the new routine of mask wearing, hand sanitising and cleaning of the area and equipment, is how far people are apart. In a large hall with 2 metres between players, it is highlighted with the MD being at the end of the room, probably about 5 or 6 metres away from some players. This immediately provides some practical difficulties, anyone with partial hearing or eyesight has an immediate problem with seeing the baton or hear what the MD is saying, and on a couple of occasions a nearby player was needed to relay messages. There are however, some more subtle issues around this. Firstly, as was noted in part 1, the sense of ensemble is impaired and from an MD’s standpoint this makes blending sound and balance more difficult. It also makes it more difficult to play in time and together, the sound always travels farther from the back of the band and basses often need to be slightly in front of the beat, particularly in a room with a high ceiling, otherwise they sound behind the rest of the band. With a socially distanced band this makes things even more difficult, particularly as the upward pointing instruments are having the same problem in this environment. It does create an opportunity though, to encourage listening as that is going to be the way to play together and if it can be organised as a habit then there will be long term benefits.
Due to the mitigations that are required for us to meet it is not possible to share equipment, including music. Most regular players have their own music pads, but for those who are new or when new music is made available, a different method was required as it would not be possible to issue music generally at rehearsal. The solution came with a shared online folder where music to be played was scanned, (sorry to any publishers who may be reading this) and made available for download by all members. This worked well except for those who don’t have printers. In that case music had to be requested beforehand and if it was to be brought along to the rehearsal it must be quarantined for two days beforehand.
Bell covers are controversial, and it remains to be seen if they offer any significant benefits. The band has been bold enough to obtain them, although supply problems meant that those for cornets had not arrived by the rehearsal. Having said that, they do not do any harm and if they make players feel more secure, however true that may be, then there should be no objection to their use. Surprisingly perhaps, they don’t appear to alter the sound or tuning to any significant extent, but they do provide some practical problems as they cannot be used with a mute, or when placing the instrument on a stand. That said, another unexpected benefit has come from a student who has said that they do act a little like a practice mute, in that although they don’t have the same amount of pressure they do encourage the player to blow a little harder. Logical when you think that anything put in or over the bell is bound to impede the air flow to some extent.
Face coverings have become a way of life, and may be so for some time yet, but the advice is that MD’s should wear face masks for the rehearsal, or at least a vizor. Experience from teaching, where it is extremely difficult for the student to hear, and the rather claustrophobic effect after just half an hour, means that wearing a mask and trying to talk quite loud make it impractical for two hours in a large band room with players who would have difficulty hearing even without a mask. Because the room is so large and the distance between the MD and even the closest players was probably more that 2 metres then it is better to work without it.
So rehearsals aren’t perfect, for either the player or the MD but it is a step in the right direction and players are at least able to play in a live ensemble with real players. It will also be possible to play out at summer events and hopefully indoor concerts before too long.
Roll on that day!