Can a rehearsal be better than a concert?

rehearsal concertCan a rehearsal be better than a concert? You be the judge!

Every summer since 1951, the world-famous Marlboro Music Festival takes place my small Vermont hometown. Last week my wife and I attended the free morning rehearsals for two pieces of chamber music — Mozart’s Horn Quintet and Dvořák’s Piano Trio No. 3 — played at the formal concert that afternoon.

The rehearsal

Around twenty-five people showed up in an auditorium that, in a few hours, would be filled with hundreds. We could sit anywhere! Naturally, we chose front row center.

Earlier Festival rehearsals are held in classrooms scattered around the Marlboro College campus. Many years ago, when I taught at the school, I’d wander around during the summer and hear beautiful scattered fragments of music. Auditorium rehearsals are the last before the performance, so they tend to contain long stretches of music, punctuated with only a few pauses and occasional repetitions at the ends of movements.

This rehearsal was no exception. The artists played both pieces through with little interruption. They conferred with each other on stage, but we couldn’t easily hear what they were saying.

After the rehearsal we noticed that several friends were present, and it was easy to stroll over and spend some time chatting.

Rehearsal versus concert

It’s interesting to compare the rehearsal and concert experiences. I think many listeners would agree that rehearsals are primarily about the music, though some rehearsals I’ve attended at other venues have offered fascinating glimpses into the ways in which musicians think and work together.

Concerts are, hopefully, primarily about wonderful performances of great music too, but they are also social events. Sometimes, I admit, I find the social aspects distracting and/or detracting from the performance. Audience coughs, rustling, and occasional clatter are inevitable. Navigating my way through crowds to take my seat, get a drink during intermission, or leave when the concert is over is sometimes irksome.

Paradoxically, we met and chatted with more friends at the rehearsal than we’d probably have at the concert, where it’s harder to physically move near people who you know.

Listening to a breathtaking musical performance with hundreds of others is also a unique experience, with the loud applause and, sometimes, standing ovations emphasizing the depth of feeling that the audience collectively shares and of which you are a part. The rehearsal, in contrast, is a subdued affair, with each audience member individually responding to the music and the performance.

Which is “better”? I’ll leave that as an exercise for you. (Feel free to share your perspective in the comments.)

Final thoughts — a performer’s perspective

For a dozen years I sang tenor with the Brattleboro Concert Choir. This involved many weekly rehearsals, followed by just two or three public performances. Like all musicians, we spent far more time rehearsing than performing.

As a performer I learned the wisdom of a mantra that has stood me in good stead over the years — after I slowly and painfully acquired it. “Process not product!” The frustrating, time-consuming, and taxing process of learning your part in a majestic piece of music and working to sing it really well with others is valuable in itself. Though there is the bonus of finally performing publicly to an appreciative audience, I did not spend my time and effort to be rewarded with applause. I rehearsed mightily because I love to sing for or with others. That, as an amateur musician, is sufficient reward.

Photo attribution: Mitsuko Uchida & Jonathan Biss from Marlboro Music 

Why meeting evaluations are unreliable and how we can improve them

evaluation 5201223017_52a7453f27_o

A fatal flaw
Just about all meeting evaluations are elicited within a few days of the session experience. All such short-term evaluations of a meeting or conference session possess a fatal flaw. They tell you nothing about the long-term effects of the session.

What is the purpose of a meeting? Unless we’re talking about special events, which are about transitory celebrations and entertainment (nothing wrong with these, but not what I’m focusing on here), isn’t the core purpose of a meeting to create useful long-term change? Learning that can be applied productively in the future, connections that last and reward, communities that grow and develop new activities and purpose—these are the key valuable outcomes that meetings and conferences can and should produce.

Unfortunately, humans are poor objective evaluators of the enduring benefits of a session they have just experienced.

Probably the most significant reason for this is that we are far more likely to be influenced by our immediate emotional experience during a session than by the successful delivery of what eventually turn out to be long-term benefits. We like to think of ourselves as driven by rationality, but as Daniel Kahneman eloquently explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow we largely discount the effects that our emotions have on our beliefs. Although information provided by lectures and speeches is mostly forgotten within a week, the short-term emotional glow fanned by a skillful motivational speaker can last long enough for great marks on smile sheets. And paradoxically, the long-term learning that can result from well-designed experiential meeting sessions may not be consciously recognized for some time.

Other reasons why evaluations of conference sessions can be unreliable include quantifiable reason bias (the distortions that occur when attendees are asked to justify their evaluations) and evaluation environment bias (evaluations are influenced by the circumstances in which they’re made). These biases are minimized if evaluations are made in the environment in which hoped-for learning can actually be applied: i.e. back in the world of work. But instead—worried that no one will provide feedback if we wait too long—we supply evaluation sheets to fill out at the session, or push evaluation reminders right away via a conference app.

How can we improve meeting evaluations?
If we want meeting evaluations to reflect real-world long-term change, we need to use evaluation methods that allow participants to report on their meeting experiences’ long-term effects.

This is hard—much harder than asking for immediate impressions. Once away from the event, memories fade, our professional lives center around our day-to-day work, and we are less amenable to being refocused on the past.

While I haven’t formulated a comprehensive approach to evaluating long-term change related to meetings, I think an effective long-term meeting evaluation should include the following activities:

  • Individual participants document perceived learning and change resolutions before the meeting ends.
  • Follow-up with participants after an appropriate time to determine whether their chosen changes have actually occurred.

In my next post I’ll share a concrete example of one way to implement a long-term evaluation that incorporates these components.

Photo attribution: Flickr user jurgenappelo

7 more great iPhone/iPad apps for event planners

App_StoreThree years have flown by since, excited by my immediate purchase of the original iPad, I shared 13 great iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch apps for event planners. I am still a big fan of five of these apps (Simplenote, DropBox, Square, Evernote, and GoodReader) while the remainder have been discontinued (WifiTrak and, sadly, TweetDeck), or superseded in my affections (Adobe Ideas, Beat the Traffic, Box.net, Instapaper, iTalk, and WeatherBug) by other apps.

My original iPad is now in my wife’s hands, and my Tumi Alpha man purse (je t’adore, read the reviews!) contains these days an AT&T iPad 3 (fits in the Tumi perfectly), a Verizon iPhone 5s, and a second generation iPod touch holding music and podcasts which, with the addition of an $8 SODIAL FM radio transmitter, I use solely to pump audio into my car radio as I drive.

It’s time for an app update. Here are seven more apps that I actively use and enthusiastically recommend to event planners:

BirdbrainBirdbrain ($2.99)
If you are active on Twitter (and I’d argue that most event planners should be) Birdbrain is a fantastic way to manage your Twitter network. The app provides an excellent overview and management of your followers and those you follow. Birdbrain handles multiple accounts, makes it easy to investigate anyone on Twitter, allows you to track unfollows as they occur, list people you’re following who don’t follow you, display mentions and retweets, and provides informative statistics showing changes in your Twitter stats over time. The only feature I’d like to see added is the ability to show inactive accounts you’re following. Recommended!

WazeWaze (free)
Waze is my favorite traffic and navigation app of the many that I’ve tried. Unlike traditional GPS units with traffic updates that I’ve often found to be woefully out of date, Waze uses information from its own users to detect traffic snarls and reroutes you on the fly when necessary to avoid that accident that happened up ahead five minutes ago or the rush hour traffic jam building up on the interstate you normally drive on to get home. Purchased recently by Google, my only concern is that the company will start using my location in nefarious ways. If I start seeing annoying ads promoting the tattoo parlor I’m passing by I’ll reconsider. Until then, this is an amazing app that has saved me hours of driving and frustration, and shown me countless new neighborhoods as I bypass traffic where other drivers sit fuming.

flywheelFlywheel (free app, $1 per trip surcharge)
Flywheel is my latest app love, recommended to me by my fashionable younger daughter when I was visiting her in San Francisco last month. Unlike Lyft, SideCar and Uber, Flywheel uses legal licensed taxi services to get you where you want to go. Currently, the app allows you to effortlessly hail cabs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Daytona Beach, Miami, Naples, Atlanta, Louisville, Lexington, Lansing, Cleveland, Oklahoma City, Dallas, San Antonio, and Seattle (and they say more cities are on the way). Once you’ve set up an account tied to a credit card (this takes just a few minutes), hailing a cab requires just two taps on your phone. You can then view a constantly updating display of the time before the cab arrives (never more than a few minutes in my experience), watch the cab approach on a map, and talk directly to the driver if necessary. You have a couple of minutes to change your mind; if you cancel after that you’re charged a $6 fee. The service costs $1 per trip, and your desired tipping percentage is built into the app. You never need to give cash or a credit card to the driver.

All this beats stepping out into the street in the rain and waving frantically at a cab that blithely drives past you!

foursquareFoursquare (free)
Foursquare started as a game (be the mayor of places, win badges, and have more points than your friends) and a way to see where your friends are and what they’re doing. I live mostly in a rural area and, while I have occasionally discovered and met up with friends I didn’t know were near me, my main use of this service is to store a searchable history of where I’ve been. When did I drop off that luggage to be repaired? What was the name of that great place I ate dinner with Susie in Atlanta? When exactly was I in Anguilla in 2009? Foursquare’s history of my check-ins is often useful in unexpected ways. And, yes, I admit it, it’s fun to triumphantly win back the mayorship of my favorite local restaurant once in a while…

gateguruGateGuru (free)
GateGuru is an airport information app that was purchased by TripAdvisor in June 2013. While it attempts to replicate some of Tripit‘s functionality, I use it to scope out the places to eat (aka amenities) at airports. The traveler’s reviews, while sometimes spotty, usually allow you to pick out the best place to satisfy your current gustatory desires, and I’ve occasionally found a real gem tucked away on Concourse C that I’d otherwise have missed.

googlevoiceGoogle Voice (free app, most but not all services are free)
Google Voice has been around for years and has a bazillion options, many of which I don’t really understand. But that’s OK, because I find it very useful for two things: a) transferring calls made to my cell to my office phone when I’m at home where my cell phone doesn’t work (ah, the joys of living in rural Vermont) and b) texting. Now let’s be clear: I hate texting and refuse to pay the inflated rates that carriers charge for it on my cell phone, but sometimes it’s the only way to communicate with some people (especially my two younger kids). Google Voice to the rescue! I can text for free from my free Google Voice number, which works with strangers as long as I let them know in the message that it’s me, Adrian Segar, texting them.

Incidentally, though I haven’t yet used this feature, calls made using Google Voice from outside the U.S. to U.S. numbers cost just 1¢/minute; a pretty good rate!

opentableOpenTable (free)
OpenTable allows you to make free reservations at ~30,000 restaurants in the United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the UK. No more phone calls to a restaurant only to get an answering machine, having to leave a message, and wondering whether you’ll get the reservation you wanted or not. The app works quickly and many reservations give you OpenTable points which can eventually be redeemed for a discount off your meal.

Well, these are some of my favorite apps that make it a little easier to travel, communicate, and eat while I’m on the road. What apps have I missed that are especially useful to event planners that you think should be added to this list? Let us know in the comments below!