Rehearsals with Sir Neville continue and he continues to be demanding. His age is truly perplexing. I wonder if he's taken some magic potion or something. There are no signs of slowing down; we're the ones tired at the end of the rehearsal!
And our concertmaster is also quite demanding of the violin section, making them stay 45 minutes into the lunch break today, and also after rehearsal for at least an hour (rumors were that it might last more than 2 hours). It's a strange thing to be in a non-union orchestra, and strange to be in an orchestra that straddles an identity between professional and student. In America, that couldn't happen; but only one of the violinists isn't Japanese (though another was born and raised in America by Japanese parents) and there seems to be little resistance to this sort of demand.
For me, as a foreigner, there have been many times when I'm happy to have a sectional or even ask other members to go through various spots. And that could certainly happen in America. With most jobs there is an expectation to do more than what one is required to do. But to infringe so heavily into someone's personal time is a little extreme.
It's also difficult, because in an orchestra there is a hierarchy of power. Yes, we all have ownership of the final performance, but the conductor and the principal players have more. But if one of them says more time is needed, the others must follow them and listen to everything that they want. It isn't like chamber music where everyone has a more equal investment in the performance and has more of a voice about the course of rehearsal. One has a deeper incentive in chamber music, more responsibility, more leadership.
And it's led me to think about obedience. In Japan, there is a lot of it. I don't know that any American, used to a world of individual rights, can imagine how obedient a population can be. It means great things can happen with a group of people. And it means that egos are small which can be good for individuals as well as the community. I've learned a lot from that deference.
It also means that sometimes things are not voiced that could be. It means that progress happens slowly, that people with power keep that power and don't even realize the power that they have. There is a hierarchy of respect based on inherent qualities, one's sex, one's age, on'e class, and not based on things that can be earned through merit.
Obedience is something I've thought about since being in an orchestra, where my job is to do what someone tells me. In an orchestra it can feel very strange to move or emote or input one's personal expression. One is meant to be a gear in a large machine and too much individual volition gets in the way. Perhaps that's why orchestral playing can seem so impersonal; its execution kind of is. But there is also beauty to it and obedience towards the goal serves that beauty, as long as the goal is truly a shared one, if everyone's volition is the same.
I'm skeptical of whether this is truly possible with a conductor. I tend to think that musicians need empowerment, need to feel a sense of responsibility and ownership that goes back to the last stands of the section. I think the best situation is chamber music, conductorless orchestra, or finding a conductor truly worthy of following. I've only encountered a few, but it has been a privilege to work with them, to feel fully onboard with the vision.
Orchestra is a wonderful thing. This week has reminded me of that and encouraged me to reconsidered continuing to pursue an orchestral career. But there are some difficult aspects of it apart from the discipline and perseverance. One has to blend oneself into others, and that can be a very difficult thing to learn to do. I'm grateful for my time in a Japanese orchestra to help me learn the value of this lesson, one that is practically impossible to find in America.