By Dr. Paul Tucker, Co-Director of Music
On June 3, at 5:30 a.m., I, along with 50 singers from the University of Kansas, flew to Los Angeles International airport for a week of rehearsals and a live concert/recording with my twin brother’s orchestra from the University of California, Irvine. Frankly, I was dreading the trip. I was already tired from the spring semester, which had just ended two weeks prior. The project was also sure to be a daunting task, with one of the most difficult pieces I had ever encountered. The main composition on the concert was the premiere of a work, “Journey to freedom,” by a deceased composer from the University of California, Irvine. The concert was meant to honor him.
I had been wishing for some time to rest, but we had been planning the project for more than a year, and everything was now in place. Our schedule of rehearsals was intense, but I decided that we would give the students a break each hour of rehearsal. The students used their breaks to throw a football, throw frisbees, and just walk around the beautiful UCI campus. When they returned from each break they seemed renewed to tackle this mammoth of a work. We even gave them a day to go to the beach.
I began to guard, fiercely, those 10 minutes every hour for my downtime. I might watch the students play or watch them soak up the sun, or I might just sit quietly by myself. Although I never lost sight of the work ahead, I made the rest periods just as important. It was also good that I had the opportunity to be with my brother. It created its own relaxation, one that I cannot create here at home. By the time we got to Friday (the concert was on Sunday), there was always the nagging temptation to work longer and harder, but we stuck to the schedule of taking breaks and it allowed us to start each practice session fresh.
I learned a great lesson from this major undertaking. There is no substitute for rest. No substitute for quiet. No substitute for stillness. It is quite possible that we get more done if we respect those moments of stillness. In my work as a choral conductor, many people think if we just worked without ceasing we would get more done. Well I am here to tell you that the opposite is true. In my rehearsals, I will often break to tell the singers random or silly episodes and then go right back to work, I have found that much more can be accomplished using this approach, and sometimes I have to remind myself to stick to that plan.