Working with somebody new can be a little off-putting because you’ve never worked together before! It’s simply unfamiliar! However, you can follow some simple steps to have a really good experience. I got thinking about this because a few weeks ago I got to work with somebody new and it was really, really great. So I asked myself, “okay, well what makes it so great when you get to work with a new collaborator? What are you doing to really make sure that the relationship is good and that your work together is really fulfilling and satisfying?”
Your micro action for today is to communicate well with a new collaborator.
First and foremost, one of the aspects that jumped out at me from this recent interaction are just generally meeting each other and respecting each other as humans and valuing each other. So when you meet a new collaborator, take a moment to learn their name, their pronouns, and learn how they want you to say their name. Learn how they want you to refer to them in that situation. These are very important things. Do not overlook this. Sometimes this can be challenging especially if you’re jumping into an already-established ensemble. It’s okay to take some time – not taking away from rehearsal time – to add a few moments to learn people’s names and how you want to talk to each other.
Efficient communication in rehearsals
The next part is committing to a very efficient but satisfying rehearsal process. If you are the person jumping into an already-established ensemble, figure out who the director of the ensemble or the decision-maker in rehearsal is. Find some time (outside of group rehearsal) to ask:
- What are some of the ways y’all like to rehearse?
- What are some things that might help me fit into the rehearsal process or rehearsal style?
That can really help you hit the ground running. Please don’t take that time out of the whole group’s rehearsal. This can be done in an email or short conversation beforehand. You might reach out to the director and ask, “Is it possible for us to have a few minutes to chat before we start rehearsing?”
Pre-planning for good rehearsals
It’s important to learn for yourself, “how do questions get asked and answered in this setting?” Some of this is dependent on your role in the production/performance. If you are an incoming soloist with a large ensemble, it can be a positive move to reach out to the director and ask things like, “Should all questions be funneled through the conductor or would you prefer that I speak to an instrumentalist directly if I have a question or musical request?” However, if you are a chorister with the ensemble, for example, you may be able to ask your fellow musicians who have been singing with the group for a while or learn from the cues given during the rehearsal process.
The conductor is often setting the course for how you’re using rehearsal time and when questions are being addressed. Make sure to take your own notes throughout the rehearsal and bring them up when it’s the right time. Does the conductor do questions in the middle of rehearsal or in between sections? Maybe you need to collect them and wait until the very end of the rehearsal. This can also work in smaller ensembles. Ask each other, “How do we want to do questions? Should we do questions as we go? Do you want to make it through this section and then go over any questions? Obviously, if we have any train wrecks, we’re gonna talk it out right there. Do we want to navigate some things beforehand?” A little bit of pre-planning like that can make your rehearsal process more efficient.
Troubleshoot before the trainwreck in rehearsal
If you have more control or directorial agency in the rehearsal process, then you can start thinking about how to move more efficiently through this time together. Say you’re working in a trio or perhaps you’re working with a collaborative pianist for the first time, that’s great! You can start the conversation by saying, “let’s look at a section or maybe this first movement. Are there any points of confusion or any points that you think might be challenging as we rehearse this together for the first time. Before we get started, let’s talk through our approach to those spots so that we can really nail this together.” We’ve all been working on parts in which it’s tricky to pull the right pitch from music and you can address those together before getting hung up on it during a run through. Perhaps you want to isolate a rhythm together or draw attention to how you’d like to pace a ritardando. Those are all great things to talk about right before you get into it, so that you’ve focused the attention of your rehearsal process. I always want to avoid, “well, I guess we should run it and see how it goes…”
You can work together to think through what might be some tricky areas. What might need your most focused attention for rehearsal? How can you address those first and early while you’re fresh? I promise that having some of these conversations before you get started can really save a rehearsal situation. It can also help you understand how you like to talk to each other when you’re bringing up a question. Many people have different feelings about how to address each other in rehearsals. You may guess that I’m always a “people first” type of person. I want you to say their names instead of their instrument or character. Be human together!! You’re creating art together as people – not just pawns.
Discuss the outcome you’re trying to achieve
Another soapbox you’ll catch me on is talking about outcomes. It is important to really describe what you want the outcome to be. Focus your language on your desired dramatic, aural, or physical outcome. You could try saying, “Well, the thing that I want to achieve is this really expansive moment. Can we try a bigger ritard here?” Perhaps you’re trying to increase the effectiveness of your non-verbal communication in performance. You could try something like, “I’d really love to place this entrance together. Is it okay if I give the cue or would you like to give the cue?”
So what you’re effectively saying is, “here’s the outcome that I’m looking for. Here’s a possible option to it, but I’m not so egotistical to think that I have all of the options. I’m sure that you have options that you can bring to the table.”
This is especially important if you were working in a mixed instrumentation ensemble or with a conductor/composer who isn’t familiar with the technical ins-and-outs of the voice. If you’re the only vocalist and you’re working with someone who is an instrumentalist, you can model this type of communication by saying, “I don’t know how specifically achieve that on your instrument. But, I’m excited to find out. Also, here’s the thing that I’m hoping to do. What does that look like for you?”
Help your collaborators shine
When collaborators deeply understand each other and work to make sure each member of the ensemble shines individually as well as together, that is practically magical. In an effort to get to that level of working together, you could try asking, “Are there any areas that are challenging or areas where you really want to shine so that I can help make sure that I’m committing to that at the same time?” I don’t want us to get so bogged down with only what we’re doing when we’re working together, that we can’t help each other shine in the moments where it really comes out. When your musical compatriot’s line really takes off, that’s not your chance to just check out. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to really enhance this moment and to help my musical collaborator make the most out of this musical moment, the same way that they helped me shine?”
Good ensemble communication is about having solid answers to the question, “How are we communicating about what we all want to have happen?” If you’ve started to started to get into a pretty easy or efficient shared language with each other in rehearsal, you may not even have to belabor this with saying it out loud. You may already read each other’s intentions and concerns through cues and non-verbal communication.
Use logistical questions to open up more collaborative choices
Things such as agreeing on tempos can open up immensely helpful conversations. It never hurts to say, “Hey, let’s check this tempo. Do you mind?” If you want to go a level deeper to get more out of checking tempos together, you can add a bit more information such as, “Do you mind if I check this tempo so that we can feel this at a faster tempo? It don’t have to be at a faster tempo. But, I do want to feel a more driving emotion here. Is that something that we can achieve in another way?” That opens up the conversation in case it’s a dynamics choice, or other phrasing/expression choice, that you’re making together.
Getting to work together is a privilege, divas. And, it’s one of the things that I think most of us got into music for in the first place. We really liked making sounds with other cool people who are really good at making cool sounds. So, I want you to take that desire and take your collaborative relationships to the next level. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself and each other, “How can I make this experience even better together? How can I show up for this person?” I want you to feel the passion and joy of making music together in collaboration. That helps you focus on creating a special space or a special moment for listeners. If your communication is spot on, then I know that you’re going to create something that’s really transformative for the listener. You’ll do your work so that the listener can just step right into it and be overwhelmed with how wonderful that time is together.
Take your collaborative relationships to the next level
What I want you to take away when working with a new collaborator is to quickly establishing that positive relationship between the two of you. Figure out your communication cues, physically, verbally and non-verbally – as musicians we do so much nonverbal communication. Be aware of that when you’re working together. Are you being consistent with your body language and with what you’re saying with your words?
I want you to bring your best self to any new collaboration. It really is one of the most rewarding aspects of a professionally creative life. It’s an honor to get to work with that other person or with that ensemble. The best thing you can do is come together in asking, “How can we all achieve our goals together through this piece, through this music, also honor the composer’s intentions, the composer’s creativity, and our shared musical imagination?”
Hopefully, that gave you some new things to think about. Maybe you’ll even tell me about it. Tell me about some positive, new collaborative relationships you’ve experienced and what made them go well.