Today has been exhausting like no other. For me, for the entire creative team, for the cast...
I kept away from the main rehearsals and spent my time instead focussing on the band, who are a wildly eccentric bunch. The rehearsals started with a full band call and then the brass boys were sent away to rest their lips. They seemed to spend much of the afternoon playing croquet on the lawn and watching a video of last year's NYMT production of West Side Story. Oh to be a brass player, and to have the excuse of numb lips!
The strings, percussion and keys continued to work into the afternoon, and we hit a good rhythm for a time which felt very productive. That was until we stumbled into the murky waters of what can only be described as "cello gate."
We have a young lad in the band who plays the 'cello. He's immensely talented, but he's so tiny that his 'cello is three quarter sized! Part-way through the rehearsal I was aware of a degree of commotion which ultimately led to both 'cellists in the band rushing out of the space.
A few minutes later they returned, handed William's 'cello to me and told me that it was broken. They weren't wrong. The strings were unravelling as fast as you could tune them up. I've never seen anything like it in my life before and there was nothing I could do to help. William was dispatched to a local luthier who seems to think he can only do a short term fix, and the rehearsal promptly ground to a halt.
In the meantime, young Alice, who is a member of the pastoral team, very kindly went back to London to collect her brother's 'cello for William to use until his own one is returned.
Cut to ten minutes later when the other 'cellist took me aside, thrust her instrument towards me and said "look." Bizarrely, the exact thing had happened to her cello. The g string unwound as you tuned the a string and vice versa. I don't know if it's the temperature of the room we're rehearsing in, or the damp weather, or the ghost of a Leeds Pal having a laugh, but it seems lighting can strike in the same place twice!
It wouldn't have mattered had we not been doing the Sitz Probe tonight, which, for those who don't like pretentious opera terms, is the rehearsal when the singers and band sit down to play through the entire show without actions or any blocking. The band is basically one day off being ready for this particular rehearsal. It usually takes place after all other rehearsals are done, but there's some technical reason why it can't happen on Friday to do with the transportation of set.
I spent much of the sitz rushing about, listening to the music from different places in the room. The acoustic in the space we were in made everything sound insanely boomy, so it was quite impossible to tell what was going on much of the time. Despite this, there was something quite magical about the occasion. The cast got incredibly excited and spent much of the run with their mobile phones in the air recording sequences of music. Sadly, in our allotted rehearsal time, we didn't manage to quite reach the end of the show, which upset me because I've genuinely never heard the last two songs!
Sam Becker and Matt came, as did my friend Di, a wonderful playwright, who gave me brilliant advice at the start of my research period for Brass; "choose your setting before you open up the massive can of worms which is the First World War." And she was right. There are so many documents out there pertaining to the Great War, that unless you refine your search by deciding first where you want to set your piece, you're almost done for! I chose Leeds.
Sam gave me some very well-considered notes after the sitz which were incredibly useful. What that man doesn't know about orchestration and instrumentation isn't worth knowing.
I leave you all with a link which comes from Nathanael, the young lad who plays the role of Henry in Brass. Henry is an actor who is obsessed with Charlie Chaplin (who was apparently my great grandfather's cousin). Anyway, Nate has taken the Chaplin research to his heart, and has written a very lovely song with his Mum to celebrate the fact.
Here it is...