This may sound familiar to folks who have sung in choirs, played in bands, taken part in theater productions.
Your fellow performers saunter in, greetings are made, jokes flash by quickly almost out of earshot. Papers are pulled out from binders that hold the music, there is a group-wide sorting to find the right song, someone looks over another person’s shoulder to see what it is supposed to look like.
Things settle, attention focuses on the leader who, like everyone else, is dressed casually, whose manners are organized and instructive but stop short of being pushy, judgmental. He/she needs you all, and you are all in this together. You will be performing for those who are not yet here. You all have to work together to get the kinks out. Sometimes it is more than that, sometimes it is learning the tune from the get go, hoping that it will not be played/sung this week.
You are in the back, on the single riser, and as the tune is broken into learn-able bits and repeated, the image comes to mind of being in the trumpet section, the big band in which you never played. The director gives you free rein to sing the tenor line, even make it up on occasion. There is a singer who tends to be off key at crucial moments, he is adjacent to your better ear, on the left side. You struggle at times to stay afloat, raise your volume in the hopes of keeping him and yourself in the same lifeboat. He doesn’t seem to notice the effort.
The piece is finished, it’s a little shaky. The director says kindly how we will sound as we become confident. This is just the rehearsal, a mini-break, more shifting of books, papers, everyone very informal, a light smattering of shared stories spreads in groups of threes, heads bending to the side and forward to be a part of it all, to be included. It’s the sum of the parts. It’s the heart of the endeavor.
No one’s arm was twisted to show up. We all want this moment and the moment to come for which we are preparing. We’ll be dressed differently then, the stories and jokes remembered. Quietly.
When we finally deliver this thing, it will be called the performance. What we’ll remember then is that it was never about us. The tune will flow as it will, from the collective work, and the un-rehearsed reception of the listeners, rounding the circle.
Meanwhile, this is the rehearsal. We start and stop and start again, in the liveliest preparation of the present.