Not every concert needs to be big!

This is part blog/part advertising so bear with me as I do a little promotion for my students, and offer some ideas to the new community of music educators who are not afraid to talk about ideas and issues that can have tremendous impacts upon our program. Thanks to the support of my administration I was able to institute a section of students within the high school wind ensemble that would receive weighted credit. These students have additional requirements beyond those of the regular Wind Ensemble students, and for their academic preparation and performance receive 1.1 credits. One of those additional requirements was to perform in a chamber recital with their peers last spring. Despite a tornado warning that delayed the start of the program (as we were in the hall observing our severe weather plan), it was a wonderful evening full of great music. As I sat and listened, and made introductions and remarks to the audience (45 to 50 people) I kept coming back to the same thought: these students have made tremendous strides musically. The thought kept going on as I drove home and I began to wonder: What would an ensemble sound like if every student studied some chamber music and would get it ready for performance?

As this year, it was interesting to note the looks on the faces of all the wind ensemble students as they were told that everyone is required to perform in our recital this year. It was even more interesting to watch their reaction when they learned it would be during the first nine weeks – not that band directors are generally busy during that time of year or anything. It makes sense: give them an opportunity to grow early as a musician so that it benefits the ensemble through the rest of the year. We completed our fall concert a scant week ago, and now turn our attention fully to the recital. It will be held on Thursday, October 25, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. in the high school band room. There are works (arrangements and transcriptions) by Faure, Mozart, Telemann, Greig, and Bizet on the program. Additionally, several of the students will be presenting portions of their solo they will present for the PMEA Honors Band Auditions in November at Westminster College. It is an entertaining evening. It is also a very classy evening out, and it will only last about one hour. AND IT’S FREE!!! Unless of course you would like to make a donation to the Mercer Band Program, in which an exception will gladly be made….

But despite the entertainment/culture enrichment this event provides, the process of preparation answers a lot of needs for any group. In this our second year of hosting such an event, these are the benefits that I have noticed within my own students:

1) Put them on an island (Survivor for Band!) – With much of this music, there are no friendly “doublings” with other sections of the large group. In most cases, a single student is responsible for their part and cannot hide within a small group or depend upon an upper classmen to help them carry the part. And believe me, when someone is not performing their part at an acceptable level, their classmates are ready to vote them off the island!

2) Choose music that helps the students grow! – I don’t seek music for these recitals that is the most difficult piece available. I choose music that provides an appropriate musical challenge given the different age levels within each group. I also look for music that allows them to focus on dynamic expression, communication of style and phrasing, intonation, and dynamics. The expectation is that students will preserve and honor the integrity of the piece by communicating all of the expressive elements (in addition to notes and rhythms!) and deliver a wonderful performance.

3) Develop student leaders! – We do use our normal rehearsal time to prepare the music. Some groups like to meet before or after school to work out their parts. If I am called away or rehearsing another group, rehearsal for other groups does not need to stop. Aspiring music educators and student leaders can be given rehearsal responsibility. Give them some direction as to what section might be a problem, where balance becomes an issue, or even to tune the group before starting. It is a great way to bring guidance out of reluctant leaders, and keep our highly motivated students who are in danger of getting bored in a normal rehearsal ahead of the curve and meeting new challenges.

4) Answer Standards 6 through 9! – One of the new things I am asking the students to do this year is to research their composer and piece for the recital. Each group will do a brief presentation the night of the recital and provide the audience with appropriate background material. Additionally, this can be a great opportunity for peer to peer evaluation and get students to actively participate in writing about music!

5) Learn some new music yourself! – I enjoy the opportunity to work and learn new music to aid the students. One thing that I have been trying to include in my recent compositions and arrangements are chamber like sections. It has been beneficial to look at the orchestration or the small groups and compare it to full scores. At times, it has revealed to me something new about a different piece that I am working with the full ensemble in terms of its harmonic structure, instrumentation, or form.

6) Host a chamber festival for your area! – Some schools do not have the facilities to host a marching band festival or a county/district concert band event. Here is an opportunity to give students from your band and from other schools the opportunity to be showcased in a unique setting. It gets you “out of the box” and aware of what your colleagues are doing. It also is very rewarding for students to get support and feedback from other students who are studying similiar music. If you have an area college or university, for probably what would be a nominal fee ($20-30 a judge), use higher education studio faculty as adjudicators to critique the performance and if time permits rehearse each group, giving them pointers for improvement.

There are probably (and obvious) other benefits that get paid out to students through this process. Budget constraints need not be an obstacle either. I have been able to borrow music from private studio teachers (who have genuinely enjoyed hearing we are doing a chamber recital), and some of the transcriptions/arrangements have been taken from Finale Showcase (Use of their search option has yielded some good additions). The online stores have plenty of small group arrangements available, and I have picked up others at festivals and conferences. I am here to tell you that it takes some additional work on your part as an educator. But if you want what is best for your kids and program, it is worth the push. It is an opportunity for success that is attainable, and it definitely can push our talented kids to work harder.

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1 Comment

  1. Hi Mr. Weller,
    First of all, thank you for your comment on my post about Robert W. Smith. I also appreciated and enjoyed reading about the other three pieces of his that you suggested.

    I thought you brought up a lot of really important points in this post! We never had recitals or chamber groups in my high school, but I participated in Solo and Ensemble Festival throughout middle and high school. These were really good experiences to get to exand your musicianship and just have some fun. It also really helped to get in front of people and perform. With my senior recital coming up, I’m glad that I performed as much as I did!

    And you’re right that it really does make students assume more leadership roles and be more accountable for their parts. In the performing I did in woodwind quintets and with a couple duets, I became a stronger musician. After the performance the students also start to feel even more like real musicians and can have a sense of pride about what they accomplished.

    I think it’s good to have this as a school function and to have it required. As serious music students, recitals and chambers experiences like this are very beneficial and things the students won’t forget. Plus, it’s nice to get to hear your peers perform as well. I wish that my high school had done something like this.

    Thanks for your post and I’ll talk to you later!
    -Krista Schmidt

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