Diary of an Intern - Episode #1

AFC is thrilled to announce the launch of our new internship program in partnership with New England Conservatory. Undergrad and grad students were invited to apply to be a crier this semester - doing everything from performing with the group to learning the ropes of how to run a non-profit musical organization. As part of the program, we've asked the interns to relay their insights about the experience. We hope you enjoy this first installment from Shaheen Lavie-Rouse!

Managing The Inevitable Surprise By Shaheen Lavie-Rouse, Cellist and A Far Cry Intern

I was in for a surprise. I knew it was coming. I had prepared, more than ever. But in some scenarios, no matter how much you’ve anticipated a surprise, no matter how much you try to cushion it, learn about it, or get ready for it, you’re still facing a big unknown. Playing in an orchestra, with no conductor, was the scenario I was facing last Friday morning. I was heading to A Far Cry’s first rehearsal, preparing for this weekend’s concerts at St. Johns Church and at Calderwood Hall in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

When I learned that I’m going to join A Far Cry for a concert, my first preparation was to see the group perform. As they were playing John Adams’ Shaker Loops, the last piece of the night, I was still busy keeping mental track of how they stuck together. How are they sharing a pulse, a beat, with no conductor to show it? Towards the final climax of the piece, I sensed the glue loosening. The beat was just slightly rushing. It was a subtle effect, like a negligible tectonic plate shift, only acknowledged by a neglected ticker in some U.S Geological Survey office. What I thought to be the first gaffe of the concert, a slight loss of control, slowly revealed itself as A Far Cry’s shining moment that night. The beat’s acceleration slowly revealed itself to be completely intentional. No one was losing control. It was an accelerando - a performance instruction written by the composer himself. The players were playing in unison: the 19 musicians were playing the exact same notes, exactly together, and accelerating at exactly the same, constant, steady pace. The group paced this acceleration together for over two minutes, into one final hoorah. A Far Cry’s sync reminded me of a New Yorker article I read about the Sympathetic Nervous System a couple years back. Some scientists speculate that a cryptic and yet-to-be understood facet of this system connects our brains to the brains of others neurologically. I was eagerly looking for a “Far Cry method” to keep the beat. Instead, I found out I’m in for a bigger challenge: tapping into some sort of subconscious, instinctive, brain-pulse as the beat evolves through a piece of music. No matter which practice methods I’d use to prepared for that, I knew to expect a surprise last Friday.

The thing about the unknown is, it doesn’t always turn out bad. As I finally played with A Far Cry, I remembered another part of the New Yorker article. The sympathetic nervous system isn’t something you consciously tap into. It’s just there, in the back of your mind, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The New Yorker mentioned this speculated brain network is in action when you imitate others’ yawns, or cringe if another human is in pain. Tapping into A Far Cry’s psychic beat was just as effortless and instinctive. As I breathed into my sound and started the opening notes of Schoenberg, I was relieved. This surprise couldn’t be better.