As one half of a musical duo that lives in different places, being able to prepare for concerts using the internet has been key to our professional success. Though online tools cannot fully substitute for live human contact, in some ways working remotely can enhance and improve creative output. With the rapid shift occurring to online work across all disciplines, I would like to share several methods that have worked well for our ensemble in the past.
Since 2009, the AdZel Duo has performed around the world, appearing at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Juilliard School, Yale School of Music, the Royal Conservatory of Madrid, the Costa Rica International Clarinet Festival, and many others. We have commissioned and premiered dozens of pieces, appeared as duo soloists with multiple orchestras and at numerous festivals, and released an album that was praised by The Clarinet for our “compelling unity of sound and excellent ensemble.”
We did this while Mariam was touring with the Imani Winds and living in New York and later when she moved to Paris. Between my busy schedule as a university professor at the University of Kansas and her touring as a soloist and chamber musician, we have had to find creative ways to rehearse. Juggling busy family lives and full careers means that we often fly in to a performance either the day before or even the day of a live event. Being able to combine our work over the internet with an occasional concentrated rehearsal week has been vital for our artistic collaboration.
What has worked for us has been assiduous preparation with recordings of each other. One of us will start by recording a piece at a much slower tempo than the actual speed in order to incorporate all nuances and dynamics. It is vital that this step of the process is done with an audible metronome or click track so that there is no discrepancy in tempo. Then the slow recording is sent to the other who prepares their part with the original. We continue to do this over the course of weeks, slowly speeding up the tempos as needed. We do not go into a performance situation until both of us can play perfectly with the final tempo recording of the other.
Because an ensemble of homophonic instruments is reliant on synchronized rhythm and perfect intonation, this work with recordings allows us to know each other’s tendencies and interpretations on a piece before we even meet up in person. Our final recordings are done without a click track so that we know the rubato and freedom that we can use in a live concert. In this way we are able to combine precision in the earlier stages of preparation with the spontaneity and excitement of a performance without sacrificing either element.
Video recordings and Skype sessions are also important for the cues and body movements of a live performance. Because we need to be completely in sync with each other, sometime audio is not enough to keep us on track. We often want to be like actors with our instruments and so it is important to understand the intent of a piece in the same way. This also gives us more flexibility and freedom to improvise in a performance instead of simply trying to play together.
Because we work closely with composers, video conferencing with them is key for proper interpretation of new works. We communicate with them on the internet as a group since most of us are never in the same physical location until the time of the actual performance.
In these ways we are able to lay important groundwork before our precious in-person rehearsals. Though not a substitute for live human interactions, in some ways living in different places forces us to use different modalities in order to be in sync with each other and our composers. We are also more appreciative of our artistic time together than perhaps we might be if we lived in the same location. In a rapidly changing world, understanding the possibilities of working in this manner is not just a luxury but also a necessity. The internet is not perfect but indeed gives us a vibrant forum to meet when live interactions are not possible. In this way we can continue our important work as artists.