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Making the best of conflicting views in chamber music rehearsals

The ongoing challenges for musicians in 2020

The lockdowns go on and on in different countries around the world, bringing with them so many real and diverse challenges. For most musicians, not performing is devastating. It’s like being in the desert without water.

In late summer in the UK, orchestras and festivals started to explore their own individual ways of managing the restrictions, to claw back some semblance of normality. Even though these attempts to get back to performing in concerts were wonderful, they came with their own unique set of challenges. For example, it’s tough when you are used to being close to other musicians, hearing everything they do, and then you have to be distanced from them and learn a new spatial awareness on stage. It’s tough to have to wear a mask which cuts off the possibility of seeing your fellow musicians’ facial expressions. It’s tough to get used to the conductor being further away than normal or having the extra pressure of playing in exposing chamber ensembles because working in a full orchestra is no longer possible. And it's tough simply struggling with confidence issues after an enforced break of many months of not performing. I have been working with many players from national orchestras over the last few months and these have been the issues that have come up again and again.

Cellist Joan Dickson

How to make the best of conflicting views in chamber music rehearsals

I have to admit that this year has stretched me emotionally in more ways than I could have imagined. I am lucky in that I have been able to shift my teaching and coaching online when needed with relative ease, so I haven’t been deprived of what I love, the sense of identity that comes with that work or the financial squeeze, but I struggle with the physical restrictions on our freedom. Sometimes I find myself at odds with the people around me, holding different views or opinions about what’s going on. My personal challenge has been to learn to agree to differ, to disagree in an emotionally healthy way, without damaging the relationship in question. I am pleased to say that has happened in every case.

This reminds me of words of the wonderful cellist and teacher Joan Dickson and the equally wonderful pianist and teacher, Joyce Rathbone, my piano teacher for a number of years. At the beginning of one of their fabulous chamber music courses - courses that inspired me to set up my own years later - I remember Joan talking about how to rehearse chamber music, with Joyce interjecting from beside her. She said you can’t just go along automatically with the other person’s interpretation, especially if you don’t agree with it. You have to discuss your different views without backing down.

Joan Dickson and Joyce Rathbone playing croquet

You need to air them, explore them and disagree if needs be. Then, in some rather magical way, an alchemy can take place. Your different views find a way of coming together and bringing forward another unique pathway of interpretation. I wasn’t sure I understood it at the time, when I look back, the best performances I’ve given have come about from that approach.


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