My wife and I went with some friends to the Michael Jackson documentary the other night.  Wow.  It’s great.  Go see it.

I enjoyed the film on a few different levels.  For starters, all the footage was from the prep and production rehearsals for Jackson’s This Is It Tour, which would have been quite a spectacle.  As a professional musician, most of my work takes place in this prep/rehearsal environment.  Any given 90-min gig of mine will often require at least 4-5 hours of personal prep and rehearsal time, and it’s almost impossible to measure how much overhead work goes into a complex show like Jackson’s.  It was really cool to get a first-hand look at everything that goes into staging a show in the big leagues.

Which, leads me to the thing I really took away from the film.  No one made ANY mistakes. In all the footage of instrumental rehearsals and technical run-throughs, I never heard or saw anyone in the band play anything incorrectly.  Everything sounded as great as I imagine the actual performances would have sounded.  Of course, the band often stopped to get instructions from MJ or the producer, but it was always timing and cue issues that needed discussing… never playing issues.  Never.

Everytime MJ would stop the band during a tune to give them directions, he would say “see, this is why we rehearse.”  The thing to notice here is his definition of “rehearsal.”  The musicians in the film are obviously not learning how to play their parts during the rehearsals, as was apparent in their mistake-free playing.  Instead, the band is spending the rehearsal time learning how to perform the show.  There’s a huge difference in those two things.  Learning how to play your part is something you do on your own, with your own time.  That way, when everyone gathers together to work through the songs, you can give your attention and focus to timing issues and the nuances of the performance’s flow.  The details of how the show progresses from song to song are often even more complex than the way you will play your instrument within a song.

A good show hinges on both correct playing and smooth transitions.  The playing part can and should be handled on your own – but the transition part has to be worked out with everyone together.  Therefore, in order to maximize rehearsal time in a group setting, the individual musicians need to be as prepared and precise as possible.  The group rehearsal is simply time when you prove to everyone that you did your homework.

This Is It reminded me again of the importance of adequately prepping for gigs, so that I ALWAYS bring my A-game.