Thursday, 23 July 2015

On the box, off the box

With respect to physical space, I have to think about the orchestra my son was playing in. They had a very very small podium to rehearse on - about 8mx4m and about 35-40 students including 1st, 2nd & 3rd violins, cellos, violas and 2 double basses. The podium had an upright piano - which isn't being used but can be moved but not off the podium.  Excepting the 3 celli, they are all standing for a 2 hour rehearsal except a 15 minute break and they're pretty squashed at that.
That got me interested in what the "norm" would be for orchestras. When I looked it up, 1.7-2m2 per person was recommended (this particularly has to do with health and safety guidelines - for noise / sound exposure - the whole article was quite an eye-opener for me).
The impact the limited space has includes the fact that it is very difficult for the conductor and the teachers aiding the orchestra to move between the ranks, and individual players - this is normal behaviour in amateur and student orchestras since the players are often too young to just take the instructions and write them in the music unaided, or even sometimes to understand exactly what is meant or asked for. This is even more the case in a situation like this where the musicians only come together for four days of rehearsals with the final concert on the fifth day. The students have limited freedom of movement which leads to more cramped posture which impacts the sound, and they're very close which can lead to a claustrophobic feeling in some.

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Day 1 - squeezing 38 players on a podium
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Viola players off the edge at the back
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First Violins nearly on the edge
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A lot of space and few observers
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Day 2, piano moved not much improvement

The interesting part of the equation, is although the podium is small, the rehearsal space is very big, and there are relatively few observers.  I did make the suggestion to the conductor that there was no particular need for the rehearsals to take place on the podium, and we as observers would be happy to sit in one part of the room while they took over the rest - but he didn't seem open to the idea.  I guess it's that thing of not being able to think outside of the "box" or the functionality of the podium, which in this case is not very functional! Then on the third day I went to look at the rehearsal of another orchestra (there were three orchestras in total depending on ability). Voila! This conductor obviously was not constrained by the box! The first violins, cellos and double basses sprawled over the front edge, as did the conductor and the spectators were pushed back.  Why?  I can only imagine that with 6 cello players needing chairs they just HAD to move down, it was no longer an option to stay "in the box"

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Conductor off the box!
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Violins have plenty of space
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Cellos spread out. Violas on the podium
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no-one falling off the edge!

Funnily enough I did ask my son and the other viola players how they felt. They were a lot less indignant than the parents of the players. Is it because they are much younger and have less insight? Or is it because they are more happy to accept what someone in authority decides? Or do they get less upset and excited generally about this type of thing?  Anyone have suggestions? Do we care too much?