Wednesday
Jul232014

Classroom Management | by Pam Silverio

The most important challenge I’ve faced is Classroom Management.  It entails so much more than is discussed in Methods classes or any other college education classes.  It is a given that you must possess good skills, have enthusiasm for your craft, enjoy teaching, be well organized, plan for every minute of the day, and love students.  But despite all of these you may find that you are overwhelmed with the day-to-day interruptions and social interactions students present which distract you and others and prevent you from effectively delivering your lessons.

 

You need professional help.  In addition to continuing education in your major area, you need mentors, confidants, friends who will advise without judging, hours of observation of other teachers in your building (every year), and ongoing education directly aimed at classroom management.  Your district may provide classes and Professional Development Days.  Take them seriously, take advantage of the information, and seek more.

 

I suggest Performance Learning Systems through Baker University.  Their classes are wonderful and easy to fit into your schedule.  You can get a list of classes offered online and in your area by logging onto www.plsweb.com or calling 800-862-7263.

 

Keep in mind the following “Faculty Meeting Rule” that I recently learned at a Professional Development Day.  Each time you talk to a student, imagine that the student is yourself at a faculty meeting.  How would you want the principal to talk to or question you in front of your peers?   It is a powerful thought to keep in your mind at all times.

 

Finally.  Everything you say and do (good and bad) in and out of the classroom will get around and back to you.  Remember your parents' advice:  “if you don’t have something nice to say – don’t say anything at all.”

 

Good luck.  Keep close to ACDA.  We want you to succeed and love teaching music!

Wednesday
Jul232014

Developing Effective Rehearsal Plans | by Dr. Stephen Kingsbury

Introduction

 

                Choral directors at every level of performance are united by a common desire to have our ensembles perform to their fullest potential.  Unfortunately, at times the reality that faces us in the classroom or rehearsal hall can make achieving a high level of performance seem extremely daunting.  The key to unlocking this problem of helping our ensembles reach their full potential lies in the manner in which we plan, and ultimately implement, our rehearsals.  Put simply, successful planning will lead to a successful performance.  Poor planning will lead to a less desirable result.  How then do we go about planning successful rehearsals?  The answer can be found through developing both long- and short-term goals for the rehearsal sequence, and then crafting a careful, systematic, and efficient approach to achieve those goals.

Long-Term Planning

                The first aspect of this approach lies in long-term planning.  Conductors must initially determine how much time they will have available during which they must take the piece from the initial introduction to the performance.  For the initial introduction, many conductors advocate a “whole-part-whole” approach through which the students are led through a run-through, work on specific, important sections or concepts, and then run through the work again.  In other situations, analysis of the music might call for a slightly different approach.  Is there one component or underlying principle upon which the entire work is based?  Would working on that component or principle in isolation ultimately be more beneficial than struggling thorough a run-through of the entire work?  In more complex music, it is often more productive to address a specific component first.  For example, in a fugue, it might be much more beneficial to teach the elements of the fugue (subject, answer, counter-subject, etc.) before asking the ensemble to sing the entire texture. 

                Even when the “whole-part-whole” approach doesn’t seem like the best choice for the initial exposure to a work, it can serve as a guiding principle for long-term rehearsal planning.  At the beginning of a rehearsal cycle, it is often extremely beneficial to give the ensemble members as much of a sense of the work in it entirety as technical limitations make possible.  This gestalt approach helps instill in the ensemble a sense of what the goal will be at the end of the process.  The end of the rehearsal cycle should also center around the work as a whole.  At this point, ensemble members should have mastered the individual artistic and technical aspects of the piece.  Now, they need to get a sense of how those aspects come together to create a work of art.  They also need to develop a sense of the overall flow and pacing of the music. 

Planning Specific Rehearsals

                The intervening rehearsals provide the conductor with an opportunity to work on specific ideas or sections.  The exact nature of these technical and musical aspects, and the order in which they are addressed through the rehearsal process must be determined by the conductor, but will often change from group to group and from piece to piece.  The conductor’s responsibility at this point lies in the ability to diagnose specific issues as they arise.  Problem areas will relate to specific technical components such as rhythm, diction, articulation, phrasing, dynamics and balance, intonation, etc.  Conductors should approach each piece of music with an aural image of the way the piece should sound.  This is determined mostly through the score-study process, but to a much smaller degree awareness of the performance tradition which comes from participating in performances of a given work as a choir member, attending performances, and listening to recordings.  This aural image will serve as the end goal that the ensemble is attempting to attain at the time of performance.  For each rehearsal, the conductor must compare this aural image to the actual sound that is being produced.  The conductor can then create a mental listing of the areas in which the ensemble is falling short of achieving the desired ends, as well as the areas in which the choir is excelling.  

As the choir progresses through the rehearsal process, the conductor must not only identify issues as they occur, but prioritize them, addressing the issues that are deemed to be more important before addressing those that are less important.  A fundamental tenant of the conductor’s art must be the understanding that our ensemble members want to be successful.  When they are not correctly performing a certain aspect of the music, it is most often not because of any ill intent, but because we have either not successfully communicated what it is that we want them to do, or because they don’t yet have the technical ability to perform the skill in question. 

For each problem area, conductors should have in mind two types of approaches that they can use to remedy the issue – one metaphorical and one technical.  At times, teaching through metaphor is the most meaningful and helpful way of addressing issues.  It provides a bridge from something relevant in the lives of the ensemble members to a specific musical goal, without getting them caught-up in the minutiae of technique.  This can take the form of asking students to imagine a certain situation or mood and then try to portray that situation or mood through their singing. 

However, at times this approach will not be sufficient.  There must be a technical approach to act as a counterpoint to the metaphoric approach.  With professional musicians, it is often sufficient to say “Do this…,” “Please be more staccato here,” “Please phrase this melody in this way.”  However, most musicians need to be taught to execute the specific skill in question.  Oftentimes ensemble members are not successful not for lack of emotional understanding, but because they lack the technique to be able to produce the desired musical outcome.  In these cases, it becomes the responsibility of the conductor to determine exactly what skill is lacking, isolate that skill, and teach the students how to do it.  In other words, the conductor must craft a procedure through which they isolate the specific performance skill in question, teach that skill outside of the musical context in which it occurs in the literature being performed, and then gradually reintroduce the skill into that musical context.  This small-scale application of the whole-part-whole approach can prove extremely beneficial.  It allows the conductor to isolate a specific issue, teach that issue, and then build the necessary skill back into the written music in a way that asks the singer to concentrate on only one or two new tasks at each step in the process.  This has the advantage of allowing each singer to apply their full concentration to the specific issue being addressed, without compromising their concentration by asking them to attend to the varied complexities of the entire musical context all at once. 

For example, if there is a problematic pitch in one or more voice parts, the conductor must first determine if the problem is one of linear movement, or one of verticality (or both).  The answer to this question will determine the nature of the approach taken to fix the problem.  If the problem is linear, the conductor can ask the section to sing only the problem interval, usually out of rhythm.  Once the interval is articulated correctly, the conductor can begin to reintroduce the musical context in which the interval occurs.  This is often done by first adding successive pitches before and/or after the interval in question, and then by adding rhythm.  This entire process could be done with or without the use of the written text (i.e. a neutral syllable of some kind). 

If the problem is one of verticality, it often helps to isolate the chord in question, spelling it one pitch at a time so that each singer can become familiar with the physicality of singing their specific pitch in that specific sonority.  Once the chord is articulated by the ensemble, with correct balance and intonation, context can be reintroduced by moving from the prior chord into the problem chord, first out of rhythm, then in time. 

Issues of diction are often best addressed by first attending to the text in isolation from the melody to which it has been set.  The text can be chanted, first out of rhythm, and then in rhythm in order to clarify the specific issue being addressed (vowel shape, consonant placement, consonant dynamic, etc.).  Next, pitch can be reintroduced, initially on a single tone (so that the singers don’t have to grapple with the complexities of text, rhythm and melodic contour all together at an early stage in the process), and then with the written melodic contour.  All the while, it is the responsibility of the conductor to insure that the task that was originally isolated is performed correctly through each successive step.  If it is, then the ensemble is ready to move on to the next step.  If not, don’t be afraid to go back and repeat a step, or design another process through which to attend to the same original issue.

This rubric of identifying an issue, isolating the required skill, teaching that skill and gradually reintroducing it into the musical context can be used with any technical issue that might arise.  The problem that many young conductors have with this approach is that it devolves into a type of “bag-of-tricks.”  Conductors learn one or two basic procedures for addressing the most common problem areas in choral singing.  Ultimately, the goal is to learn to devise new and exciting approaches.  Varying these approaches will help to capture the singers’ interest and attention.  In this way, the conductor can keep the rehearsal process fresh and exciting, while, at the same time, continuing to be a creative and artful practitioner of their craft. 

Another important aspect of rehearsal to remember is that there must be a purpose for everything that we do.  It is equally important that we share that purpose with our ensembles.  We should not ever find ourselves running the music simply for the sake of running it.  When we do stop to address an issue, make sure to give the ensemble appropriate feedback.  Tell them what they were not doing well, give them an opportunity to fix it, and then give them feedback on whether or not they achieved the goal.  Positive reinforcement is an important aspect of this process, however, if positive feedback is all an ensemble ever hears, they will never improve.  It is important to strike a balance between positive feedback (by all means, acknowledge success when it occurs!) and relevant and meaningful constructive criticism. 

                Another key feature to remember is the need to remain flexible at all times.  There will be rehearsal during which issues that we had identified as problematic will not be issues at all.  At other times, new problems will emerge, or will force themselves to the forefront of our attention and demand immediate action.  This can be overwhelming for young conductors.  The key here is to remain flexible in your approach.  The conductor who is able to adjust to the immediate reality of the rehearsal hall will be a much more successful conductor than one who remains rigid in their approach.

Conclusion

I have tried to suggest a rubric that will help young conductors get the most out of the rehearsal time spent with their ensemble.  This rubric is meant to serve only as a set of general guidelines, not a dogmatic approach.  Maintaining a degree of flexibility and creativity throughout the rehearsal process is key to insuring a fresh and artistic approach to the performance of music in general.  One should remember that technique, in and of itself, is not the end product to be achieved.  Technique, however, is a prerequisite for a powerful and deeply meaningful performance.  It is this type of artistic moment that should be the goal of every conductor and every ensemble.  

 

 

Dr. Stephen Kingsbury

Director of Choral Activities

Coordinator, Choral and Vocal Studies

Central Missouri State University

 

Wednesday
Jul232014

Rehearsal Planning | by Noel Fulkerson

            Whether one likes it or not, the success of the rehearsal depends upon you and your planning. Consider these tried and true suggestions for good rehearsing.

 

  1. Do your homework. Robert Shaw awakened at 5 a.m. for his 10 am rehearsals   and planned them down to the minute. Every minute of a two-hour rehearsal was planned, in advance. In my experience, no one rehearsed with more purpose and detail than Mr. Shaw. The planning was key to the efficiency and purpose of every rehearsal he led.
  2. Use a model as you begin to establish your rehearsal plan. The Madeline Hunter model may be one to consider. Check the internet for others. For those who teach in elementary and secondary school settings, there are probably planning strategies in place. Consider using them. Whatever system you use, use it faithfully and it will become an efficient life long habit.
  3. Develop a consistent mode of rehearsing. When your singers know what to expect, your rehearsals will go more smoothly. Conversely, it is always advantageous to modify the plan as conditions dictate.
  4. Create a plan that will take reinforce basic concepts (sight singing, musical literacy, tone development, etc.) first while emphasizing the need for taking care of details (dynamics, phrase, musical style, etc.) One will enhance the other. Therefore, both are important.
  5. Make sure that plan keeps them participating. In other words, keep them singing. Charlene Archibeque has a rule that all instructions should be comprised of no more than seven words. Good planning eliminates excessive teacher instruction.
  6. Be sure that you communicate the plan. Write the plan on the board. Better yet, create a weeklong rehearsal strategy and stick to it as the situation warrants. Communication and structure are important when you rehearse.
  7. Your conducting and non-verbal communication must show the singer that you have planned, as well. Mixed signals are derailed many a rehearsal. You must believe that you plan will work. If you don’t – chances are that doubt will undermine your rehearsal.
  8. The success of every rehearsal depends on you and your planning. To state an old saying – “fail to plan and you have planned to fail”. The better you  plan the greater the success.

 

Wednesday
Jul232014

Effective Rehearsal Plans and Facing | by Brian Reeves and Janice Ragland

EFFECTIVE REHEARSAL PLANS

Brian Reeves

 

The psychology of the rehearsal is different for different people.  I am inclined to think that the student is at their most focused at the beginning of the hour so that is when I rehearse the most challenging pieces.  As the hour progresses, I move towards the more accessible and try to end with the most accessible or something they are putting the finishing touches on.

 

PACING

Janice Ragland

 

            The word becomes even more important with block scheduling.  Pacing a rehearsal is the difference of kids saying “how much longer?” or “is it over already?”

            You do not have to rehearse the entire song every day.  Rehearse only one section.  Then move on.  Don’t always start with page one.  Keep the tempo of the rehearsal moving at a quick pace.  This is much harder for the director than the kids.  Never allow a section of students to sit without some activity for more than two minutes.  Involve the other sections as you rehearse the tenors.  Have them sing along.  Have them pulse the beat for the tenors.  Have them write in the vowels of their part of that same section.  Have them sing the part as a sight reading exercise (solfege/numbers).

            Work fast and furious, then give them a “down” time and play a recording of another choir or even of themselves.  Once they listen, they will change and adapt their sound.  Play a recording and let them guess the age and experience level of that choir.  A less than perfect recording can also be a good listening experience.  Teaching students to listen and evaluate a recording, transfers to listening and critiquing their own performances.

            Have hymnals or sight reading materials and do a little EVERY day.  Make the altos read the tenor line of one of their songs.  Figure out the solfege of a familiar song.  Close the piano and use a pitch pipe.  Doesn’t have to be a lot – just EVERY day.

            Intersperse teaching theory as a part of the rehearsal.  “Tenors, what was that interval you just sang at measure 54?”  “Everyone – sing a Major third up from your note at measure 44”

            Insist that students number every measure.  It facilitates the speed and accuracy of your rehearsal when you can give specific measure numbers.

            Keep the pace quick and up beat.  Doesn’t matter if it’s children or adults – plan your rehearsal and keep in moving.  Start and end on time.

            Pacing in the weeks of preparation for the concert is crucial.  Make sure YOU have given enough time to all selections.  Keep a chart.  Notate which days you rehearsed each piece (total or sections).  Learn to “manage the clock.”   Don’t run out of time for a selection because you spent too much time on another piece.  Would you like performing feeling unprepared simply because the director didn’t spend sufficient time on that piece?

            Pacing at a dress rehearsal is vital.  Don’t run out of time because of starting late or mismanaging time.  Starting and ending on time is a part of being a professional and showing respect for your performers.  You may not be able to “fix” every problem encountered, but you must allow everyone time to prepare for the entire concert/show.

 

I repeat – keep the pacing quick/fast.  You can slow the tempo and offer a relaxed release by listening to a recording, discussing the historical style, etc.  But keep the rehearsal exciting and energetic.  As so often stated – talk less, rehearse more.

Wednesday
Jul232014

Assessments | by Tresa Jo Wilson

If music performance classes want to be respected on the same level as core academic classes, directors need to develop methods to accurately assess the abilities and accomplishments of the students.  A well-rounded assessment takes time to plan and to evaluate, but it makes students individually responsible for learning and contributing to the choir and demonstrates the value of the class to administrators and parents.

 

A written test may cover music terminology, knowledge of composers or music history related to selections the class has performed, and the understanding of vocal technique.  Many schools require such a test at semester along with an authentic assessment.

 

For choral music, the authentic assessment component could give students the opportunity to sing a short solo, perform an assigned part on a section of music, and sightread rhythms, melody lines or a specific part.  If the directions and music examples are recorded, it saves wear and tear on the teacher’s voice and assures that each student is treated equally.  If well organized, each student can complete the exercises in 7-10 minutes, and if listening live, the teacher can use a rubric to complete the evaluation while it is being performed.  Assessments can be done during academic labs or before or after school to avoid taking up rehearsal time for the entire class.

 

Tresa Jo Wilson, Retired

Francis Howell School District