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Being a rehearsal director: I just love it. In doing so I coach a band or orchestra towards its own result: what potential does this group have, and where are the current possibilities for growth? This is totally different for each band. It’s a question of listening closely to the ‘personality’ of the group and the players. All the musicians in the group have the potential to play well – usually much better than they do now – only all kinds of things are standing in their way. From practical matters that can be remedied in an instant to ingrained patterns that are much harder to break through. But whatever is going on, listening is the key.
The role of band coach is deeply rewarding, and one I’m delighted to fulfil. As the ‘fresh ears’ of the band I’m not held back by familiarity. I hear and see everything for the first time. That throws new light on the musical interplay. I then get down to work on that straight away to make it something fresh and sparkling.
Making the group aware of the total sound, and so bringing about an ‘aha-experience’ is the best thing of all. Playing from a basis of renewed listening. There is an immediate result: ‘Wow, we can sound like that too’. Or: ‘Is it as easy as that?’ Yes, it’s as easy as that. The music plays itself, I once learned from drummer Michael Vatcher, and that’s just the way it is. Only you have to achieve that moment again and again. I’m happy to help.
For over ten years I’ve been proud to say I’m the rehearsal director of the best-known street orchestra in the Netherlands: De Fanfare van de Eerste Liefdesnacht (‘The First Night of Love Brass Band’). A job I’m really happy with. The Fanfare, with its roots in the activism of the 1980s, is an idiosyncratic orchestra that has existed for 35 years and has done many fine things and made many remarkable journeys. Their energy is enormous, and their waywardness too. To preserve this and still achieve a high level of musical interaction is the challenge. Not some well-behaved village brass band, but a seeming motley crew that suddenly, as if from nowhere, conjures up musical magic.
Once a month I lead the weekly rehearsal of the Tegenwind street orchestra from Utrecht: a job I really enjoy. Because it’s only once a month there’s always a feeling of ‘fresh air’. And as it often goes with bands that have played together for a long time, I sometimes stop them abruptly after an initial disorganised intro: ‘Are we going to listen, or are we just playing on autopilot? Did you really hear the count-off?’ ‘Oh… yeah…’ and then everyone’s focused again. They’re a great band, who are eager to learn and listen much more closely than the name (‘The Headwind Street Orchestra’) might suggest, and so have developed a wonderful sound and tight interplay over the years under the leadership of Hermine Schneider.
A band that emerged from a project I did with Tetzepi and the French clarinettist Louis Sclavis. After a plea from a saxophonist in the audience – ‘why is there nothing like this for amateurs?’ – we took the bull by the horns and cleared the initial hurdles. The exhilarating mix of a challenging repertoire and free forms of improvisation absolutely demands that you play on the cutting edge. And that’s what it’s all about with this band: not nodding off during someone else’s solo, because there’ll surely come a moment when you can make a contribution, meaning you have to stay involved so you can follow that one impulse at just the right moment to help the music along. That is the attitude that often makes the difference between exciting and unexciting music. And that is the area where I like to keep the musicians of the Bears on their toes.