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The phenakistoscope – a couple waltzing
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This week I played a variety of rehearsals.  This post talks about how my approach changed to accommodate the needs of each.


Sections of movement begin on action words (“march,” “dance”) in this production.

  • make each new section obvious in advance so participants can more easily make the switch

Participants are thinking about their feet and where they are on stage.

  • play sharply
  • loud enough so people on opposite side of room can hear easily
  • make staccato speak
  • prominent bass line ~ foundation of rhythm and harmony
  • if the singers rush or drag, don’t allow it ~ play percussively, steady tempo, no matter what
  • NO rubato
  • play an intro before starting point from an obvious spot, counting loudly so the singers know where they are (they are not looking at the score)
  • harmonic structure and main beats are always more important than every note
  • when repeated chords change rhythm (i.e. quarters to eighths), emphasize the change
  • play in the character of the choreography (i.e. march, lilt)

I am suggesting that your playing needs to be louder than usual.  But avoid making it heavy.  Everything will slow down!  What’s needed instead is constant impetus.


learning unfamiliar music

  • begin rehearsing under tempo
  • make entrances obvious
  • play w/very little pedal
  • conduct from piano by the way you play, or use hands too
  • if unfamiliar text slows down note learning, use nonsense syllables instead for now
  • have singers mark score ~ breaths, diction, details to help them read faster
  • ask singers to exaggerate consonants to reinforce rhythm

Knowing What Each Rehearsal Requires

A good rehearsal pianist will be able to intuit what is needed.  If you’re not used to that, it takes a little practice.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • What kind of part are you playing?  A piano reduction?  A flute solo?  A guitar part?

Your volume, type of sound, and articulation (length of notes) all need to project that.

  • Are the singers/dancers near you, or dispersed across the stage?  Are they backstage on the opposite side from you?
  • What are the acoustics like?  Reverberant?  Soundproof?  Dry?

Be sure everyone can hear you, and remember that they are thinking about sets, costumes, other people, and their feet.  If this rehearsal is off book, your cues will be especially helpful.

  • Is there a conductor?

If not, then you are the conductor.  For the most part, you will be conducting with your playing.  The participants need to hear the orchestra part, and you will need both hands to make that work.

  • Is the choreographer or stage director asking you to start in a place that works?

If a different place would be better, tell everyone where you’re starting, and then just do it.  You don’t need permission, and the singers/dancers/actors need a good, solid cue.

What do you think?  How do you provide what is needed in various types of rehearsals?  Please comment in the section below!

Related post:  Rehearsal playing

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