Finalizing your contest or spring concert preparation can be busy and stressful. As you get closer to the big day – and time is running out – these last-minute tips can help ensure a successful performance.
So much of a performance’s outcome is based on the performer’s confidence level. It is important for the conductor to do everything they can to instill confidence in the students so that the performance will be successful. Organized, planned, and meaningful rehearsals will promote a sense of urgency but not seem frantic and stressful. Encouraging comments will reassure performers in their abilities.
Moving the ensemble preparation forward at a reasonable pace will keep on schedule without pushing the students beyond their abilities. Know your ensemble and sense what they need to feel confident, secure, and proud of their upcoming performance. Share those words with them, often, and repeatedly. This will give them a sense of confidence about the performance.
Prioritize what can and can’t be fixed in the remaining rehearsal time. Once you know what can be fixed, focus on that methodically with your remaining rehearsal time. Accept what can’t be fixed and allow that to be ok. (We will come back to that topic later.) Spending valuable time fixing a problem that can’t be fixed in time is counterproductive and will become a source of stress to you and your students.
First and foremost, insist that your students play with the best tone they can at their current level of development. Second, try to correct wrong notes and rhythms before you address dynamics. Next, address basic balance issues – who has the melody (play stronger) and who has the accompaniment (play softer and listen for the melody). Slow the tempo down so that the performers can play in control with these concepts in place. Finally, add in the dynamics, style, and increase the tempo only to the level that the performers can confidently and successfully perform them.
Share reference recordings of your pieces with your students. It will give them an exact and precise aural model of what their performance goal is. Having a good aural concept will more efficiently reinforce so many of the musical concepts you are trying to convey. A picture is worth a thousand words…so is a good recording.
Also, record your rehearsals and stage an informal ‘recording run-through’ of the entire piece or concert. Most students are motivated to perform at a higher level when they are being recorded. It also helps to instill a sense of urgency to:
- Be able to play all the way through without stopping;
- Minimize mistakes; and it tends to
- Hold the performers accountable for their performance.
Listen to and analyze your rehearsal recordings to track progress and plan for upcoming rehearsals. Play selected sections for the students to give them a sense of their progress as well.
Go over all of your paperwork for your entries, procedures, and rules for the contest or performances. There are so many things to take care of from entering the contest, requesting the busses, creating a roster, requesting the check, getting scores for judges, communicating with parents, teachers, administrators, and creating an itinerary that it is easy to overlook something.
Check and double-check what needs to be done. Share this information with students. Go over the logistics of the day. Let them know what they should expect. This will keep you organized, reduces stress, and will ensure that the performance goes smoothly.
Take Notes for Next Time
As you wind down preparations for your performance, take time to reflect back and analyze areas for improvement. If you need two more weeks of time to prepare, start two weeks earlier next year. Was the music too difficult or too easy? Did the music give your students opportunities for growth? What skills were your students struggling with – focus on those in the fall and in their beginning years.
Visit with a mentor or colleague about your performance and adjudicator comments. Find ways to refine your teaching and incorporate those areas into your curriculum. The real preparation for spring performances occurs in the fall and the beginning/foundational years. We expect our students to grow and progress on their skills each day, week, month, and year. We should demand the same from our own professional and musical growth as teacher. I strive to use every performance and competition as an opportunity to improve my craft for the benefit of my students in the future.
Remember to keep perspective during contest and spring concert preparation time. Stay the course, fix what you can, review procedures, and instill confidence. Focus on the progress you and your students have made and enjoy the journey of making music.
Celebrate the journey and enjoy the music.
Asa Burk is the Associate Director of Bands at Argyle High School in Argyle, Texas, and an active clinician and adjudicator.
He has twice been named “Teacher of the Year,” at the Huffines Middle School in 2001, and at Cross Timbers Middle School in 2012. His bands have consistently received UIL Sweepstakes Awards and many Best in Class designations at local and national festivals, and were state finalists in the TMEA Honor Band selection process in 2004 and 2008. In 2011, his Cross Timbers MS Honors Band was a featured performer at the Midwest Clinic in Chicago. In 2014 the Argyle High School Band was the UIL 4A Marching Band State Champion.