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Why We Need You at Every Rehearsal

A note from the Artistic Director, Russell Steinberg

We can permit only a small number of excused absences from rehearsals each semester, and no excused absences are permitted for performances. If you know in advance that you will be unable to attend a rehearsal -- for a school trip, a religious observance, a family event, a performance by another group -- tell us as soon as you know about it. This will make it possible for us to better plan our rehearsal strategy. Please use the handy little Absence Request Form for this purpose We'd like to know about such absences at least two weeks in advance.

The potential for our orchestra to sound truly professional is within our grasp if we can minimize absences from rehearsals. We schedule as few rehearsals as we can for each concert that will still allow our orchestra to sound its best. But every student absence simply brings our overall performance down a notch. Here's why:

  • We have only 10-12 rehearsals. Yes, the LA Philharmonic can do it in four rehearsals, but a youth orchestra needs a minimum of 10-12 rehearsals to master all the notes, intonation, rhythms, tempo changes, balances, and ensemble playing for a concert's worth of music. Believe me, if we could do it in fewer rehearsals, we would!
  • When players are absent, the conductor makes decisions about balances, rhythms, articulations, and tempo that may be less than optimal because they are based on only part of the orchestra. Imagine planning your month with a calendar that has missing days! Your schedule would be off. That's how it is rehearsing a piece without the entire orchestra.
  • Myth of "Coming Together At the End" I often hear parents exclaim at the concert how everything just miraculously "came together" at the end and worked out ok. Yes, to non-musicians, it does seem that the orchestra suddenly plays better at the concerts. But a careful listener easily detects intonation and ensemble problems in an orchestra where players have missed rehearsals.
  • Ensemble playing that should be tight and in tune sounds ragged and uneven within the sections of the orchestra when players miss rehearsals.
  • During rehearsals, we mark our music with pencils and make literally hundreds of small but important choices. When people miss rehearsals, it isn't possible to communicate all these changes. At the next rehearsal, we'll have to repeat the same thing for people who were absent. That wastes everyone else's time and leaves less time to rehearse. But even worse, often we don't have a chance to repeat much of the information and then people who are absent are playing the wrong fingerings, dynamics, bowings, etc.
  • Learning is exponential; the muddy beginnings in early rehearsals grow into clear major results by the later rehearsals. If you miss rehearsals, you miss out on this important gradual process. Having to catch up, you may learn the notes, but the music still never fits right or feels natural in your hands. Remember that it is in the beginning frustrating stages that the real learning is taking place. It takes time for your brain to process new ideas and teach your body to perform them. You don't want to cheat yourself out of these steps.
  • Regular attendance lets us get past the notes to the music itself. That's the whole purpose of the orchestra -- to create expressive music. But if players are absent, then we have to spend our last few rehearsals stressed out trying to just get everyone to play the notes correctly and together.
  • Think of our rehearsals as 12 movements of an entire symphony. To experience the complete work you need to be present for every movement. Ultimately, the concerts and the entire orchestra experience itself mean more to you when you attend every rehearsal. I regularly receive emails from students during summer telling me they miss the orchestra. That lets me know that we are part of something very special. Honor our special orchestra by clearing your calendar of all conflicts on the days we rehearse.

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