Cool Tip #1 – The Long and Short Game
Choose your performance repertoire by asking yourself all the usual questions regarding the number and types of performances (festival, holiday, etc.)? Then, for the long game, choose one piece that will be an all-year project. A few years ago, in September, I introduced a piece to my young band that was just a step beyond their ability. In fact, at the time, I was afraid it might have been too difficult. I certainly didn’t want to discourage them but at the same time, I didn’t want them to become too complacent. To reassure them, I told them that we were just trying an experiment and that we weren’t necessarily going to perform this “challenge” piece. It was just to see how much progress we could make on it by the end the year.
Each week we would just play through sections of it that I thought were “attainable”. Since we weren’t really going to perform it, there was no pressure. After two months, I began to notice that much of it was sounding fairly good, but it still wasn’t ready for performance. Besides, we had other repertoire that was definitely going to be performed. Their progress by December was amazing and, to my utter astonishment, we performed it at our Christmas concert. I’m not one hundred percent sure why they took so well to this challenge. Perhaps it was the non-threatening way in which I introduced or it was simply fun to play; whatever the reason, I was grateful. We performed it again at a festival in March at an even higher level. Even if my band had never performed that piece, they still benefitted from all the hard work.
Now for the short game. Consider selecting a number of pieces from your music library that your students haven’t seen before. Any style will do, in fact, the more variation the better. Introduce only one new piece each week. You are only going to play it once. Keep forcing your ensemble to read new material. Their sight-reading will improve greatly and they won’t be bored. Your rehearsals can consist of a warm-up, then once through the “new piece”, and then finally the remainder of the rehearsal could be spent on rehearsing the music you’ll actually perform (of course if you are playing “the long game” you can run through the challenge piece as you see fit). The rule should be that, as an ensemble, they have to play the sight-reading piece from beginning to end without stopping, NO MATTER WHAT!! Even if some or most (or even all) students get lost, keep conducting and count every bar aloud as if they were still in the right spot. It may not seem productive initially, but if you do this every week your students’ musical awareness will improve greatly. Eventually your students will be able to sight read all the way through a new piece with fewer mistakes. At the end of the term, your music folders will be really thick but your students will have far better sight-reading “chops”. As a bonus, you may actually move some of those pieces from the sight-reading column to the performance column. But that’s all cool stuff for next year. Now go have a great summer, rest up, and see you in September.
Stay Tuned for…
Cool Tip #2 – The Mini Road Trip