Watching A Master Artist At Work-Leonard Cohen In Rehearsal At Camp Cohen For the Old Ideas World Tour

Sharon Robinson, Leonard Cohen & Arlene

August 1, 2012

A few weeks ago I was invited to drop into Camp Cohen and check out a little of the rehearsal.

I didn't know how long that meant and was unsure what to expect when I got there. But I did know I wanted to be unobtrusive and discreet. So for those of you who know my shticks so well when it comes to Leonard Cohen happenings, I took no surreptitious videos or photos.  I have only my impressions and treasured memories to describe what it was like watching a Master Artist at work with his pallette of luscious instruments and enchanting voices.

Because it was that metaphor that struck me three hours later while driving home from the rehearsal studio. It was an image of Jackson Pollock (Ed Harris in the bio movie) standing with his back to the audience while we observed him dialoguing in his own way with the colour and shape elements on a large canvas.

Whenever LC dialogued with the band, his back was to "the audience".  Essentially, I was an audience of one seated on one of the three black couches often seen in Camp Cohen's postings.  (A group of hard working crew were behind the couches and equipment boxes working intently in semi-darkness.)

When they started with the first song, it seemed to be one that was in the early arranging stage. LC told the band something like, "You all do your thing and we'll see how it goes". After each iteration, LC would turn to them and make suggestions, sometimes just for one bar or line.  The band would sometimes try different instruments   Once or twice, the singers conferred with each other trying out different harmonies.  But LC was the one who decided when to revisit a bar, a line, a verse.  It was thrilling to watch the progression of the song each time the song was repeated.

LC's patience was so beautiful to watch. He was creating a soundscape with very deliberate strokes.

This reminded me about a comment I once read that the key to Frank Sinatra's success was always having a talented arranger.

Well, Leonard Cohen is so "hands on", he is his own arranger.  And that's why each and every song he performs in concerts is unique and very special.

After a half hour of working on this one song, they took a short break then resumed with different songs.  These songs were polished, repeated once or twice and seemed more a run through with LC practicing his choreography, kneeling and doffing his hat for some solos.  He made a few tweaks here and there and for one song, a suggestion was made to pick it up by a beat or two.  Yep, it worked,  But of course, the first version sounded pretty good to me too.

When LC starting singing a favourite song of mine from his new album, I broke into a big smile.  By the end of the song, I had tears rolling down my face. 

If my memory is correct, they rehearsed six songs in two hours.  Leonard Cohen is noted for having more weeks of rehearsal than is usual in the pop/rock touring business. I've been told that level of attention to detail, the determination to "nail" each song is virtually unheard of. So when you hear Leonard Cohen promise in concerts, "We'll give you everything we got", the key is his long rehearsals. They all work very hard for many weeks - Leonard Cohen, his awesome band and glorious back up singers.

I have tickets for Austin, Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle and hope to report here about the songs I heard that afternoon in one rehearsal, especially the song where I watched Leonard Cohen creating his resplendent canvas.
  • Photo at the top ~ J.S. Carenza III (aka Joey Carenza), webmaster of Greetings From Camp Cohen here   
  • Jackson Pollock film, POLLOCK with Ed Harris  here  
  • I posted this comment on Facebook:  Just to clarify, I was there for basically half a rehearsal. I arrived at 3:30pm as instructed, they began rehearsal at 4:00pm and broke for dinner in the studio around 6:30pm. That was when I left, not wishing to overstay my welcome. They would continue to rehearse for a few more hours after dinner. The security man told me they start at 4pm and rehearse "all night".


  1. Arlene, you painted an exquisite canvas yourself. Very touching and insightful report of your adventure into Cohenland. Thank you for sharing.

  2. oh Arlene, thank you for this wonderful report !! love your writing very much !!

  3. What a glorious insight in to the creative process Arlene. Your report very much confirmed my expectation that Leonard is very much "in charge" with everything just as HE wants it - whilst at the same time empowering his musicians. A wonderful management skill that sadly all too few people possess!


  4. Arlene, I felt like I was sitting right next to you! Wonderful description! Looking forward to seeing you in Seattle! Let us know where you are staying.
    Love, Dee

  5. Arlene, thank you so much for this posting. I have often wondered about how the arrangements developed and now I know! You are one lucky lady to receive your invitation - congratulations.

  6. A wonderful experience, Arlene! Your words present us a mosaic of the creative genius of Leonard Cohen. Thank you.

  7. What great experience and wonderful report! Away on a "computer-less" vacation, I opened your site today and am glad to have broken the rules. Your description made me feel as if I witnessed the rehearsal myself. Thank you, Arlene.

  8. Thank Arlene, for sharing this with us. You are so generous, and you described the scene wonderfully I´m very glad of you, you deserve it ..