Learning From Repetition

One of the things I envy most of the musical stage production our students participate in every year is the repetition.

Not the rehearsal repetition. The hours required to learn dialogue, staging, choreography, music are massive!

No, what I envy is the performance repetition. Bright students can learn so much from each audience interaction.

Last night I saw the fourth of six performances of Bye Bye Birdie at Rockford High School. I watched students perform with the knowledge of where three previous audiences had reacted. They subtly shifted lines to get a better laugh, they relaxed their musical phrasing into familiar tempos, they more fully embodied their characters onstage.

Contrast that with a choral performance: most high school choirs perform a piece once in concert and maybe once at a festival. Are those same bright students able to learn how to connect with an audience over that piece? They are not.

Without repeated interaction with audiences, they can’t possibly start to internalize and strengthen the emotional connection we seek in choral performance.

Robert Shaw once described the end of a Robert Shaw Chorale tour that had featured the Mozart Requiem in 65 performances. He wrote,

Music comes hard.
Sixty-four performances under every conceivable condition of fatigue and tension, a growing technical mastery, a deepening understanding. On the sixty-fifth performance it happens. Now they know – and without notable exception, fifty professional musicians break down and shed tears.

Making music at the most emotionally vital levels requires repeated performance in front of audiences, so we can learn to collaborate with the audience, understand the audience, connect with and affect the audience more deeply.