To some, the idea of having a sixth-grade beginning band perform a concert 6-8 weeks after school begins sounds like a bad dream. In fact, performing early and often can be a great way to reduce the anxiety students experience during performances. It also offers an opportunity to make all parents and guardians aware of – and a bigger part of – the process of learning an instrument. Rather than trying to program a full concert with students who may know only 3-5 notes, I set out to create an informance.
What is an Informance?
In contrast with a traditional “performance,” my beginning band’s first concert is designed to be an educational opportunity for students and parents. It’s a chance for students to showcase what they can do and an opportunity to educate parents about the process and how they can help support their students at home. In addition to several opportunities to perform solo and in small groups, the informance gives many students an opportunity to speak to the audience.
For example, I’ll ask one student to describe how we have learned to clap and count rhythms and why that helps us as musicians. The student will read from a script they have helped to create, ensuring they are clear and accurate in their descriptions. Then as an entire group we’ll clap and count a line from our book before performing it for the audience.
An informance provides time for a great deal more communication with the audience about what we have learned and why it is important to our development as musicians. This, in turn, makes the entire band experience more transparent to family members, especially those who’ve never performed in an ensemble. In addition, it really reinforces the vocabulary and topics covered in class with the students.
In our educational environment, students are very accustomed to performing while sitting at a desk, in a quiet atmosphere, on a test where they are scored only on their own knowledge. Yet in music ensembles, we ask them to showcase what they know on a stage with lights, microphones, and an audience which is prepared to give them immediate feedback on their performance. It’s very different.
Young musicians approach performance opportunities with a wide range of comfort levels. Some are eager to share and enjoy the spotlight. Others are terrified at just the thought. Performing early in the process helps them to discover the joy found in performing together. It takes the mystery out of the stage and what a performance looks and feels like. Once some of the build-up and anxiety is removed, it simply becomes something that we do together.
Informances also offers the flexibility to have students that are ready and willing to perform to help with the demonstrations for the audience. Opportunities range from demonstrating a buzz on a brass mouthpiece to performing a more advanced piece while exhibiting excellent tone. An informance allows you to differentiate your performance to include all students.
Creating an Informance
As this event differs from a traditional concert performance, it does require a different type of planning to work effectively. I use a script for the entire performance. I create an outline of topics that we have learned that we want to share with parents. Next students help to create the script. As a class, we edit the script for accuracy and clarity. We start this process about two weeks prior to the performance, addressing small components each day using five minutes or less of class.
I assign students to speak during the concert and often encourage those who are hesitant to give a try for this first concert. By having it happen early in the year we minimize the apprehension that can build up over a longer period of time. Finally, we practice the scripted narration during class at least three times prior to performance so that students are comfortable with their speaking parts.
Here are a few examples of students’ scripted parts describing the importance of posture and great tone:
Student 1: Posture is a key element to playing any instrument. To have excellent posture you must sit on the front edge of the chair, with your feet flat on the floor in front of you. Your back must be tall, shoulders down, with your chin parallel with the ground. You want to create a clear path for the air that you need to operate your instrument. Plus it makes us all look very professional.
Student 2: Tone is the overall sound you make on your instrument. Great posture, air flow, and embouchure are important. Embouchure is the shape of your mouth, and it allows you to change the pitch of your note. All of these factors help make a great tone, and that is the most important part of any performance.
As a director, I speak very little at these performances. I might offer a simple description of what an informance is and simply recognize students, parents, and administration for all of their support and hard work. I believe students take more pride in ownership in the informance if they lead it.
Another aspect that contributes to the success of our fall informance is that many beginning students have already performed at a similar event. I have a summer band program in which beginners have 45-minute instrument-specific classes for just a few short weeks during the summer. The classes are taught by aspiring music educators from surrounding universities. On the final day, we do an informance for parents. This is a very informal concert, performed in our band room. With students sitting and parents standing, the instructors walk parents through what students have worked on and how parents can best support their young musicians at home. Each classes’ performance is only about 10 minutes long.
It is powerful for these students and parents to know that in just a few short classes they are able to perform and showcase what they have learned. It also provides them with next steps to continuing playing for the rest of the summer.
The Fall Informance
Our fall 6th-grade band concert is a more formal approach to informance. It takes place at a nearby high school auditorium. Everyone is dressed in their concert attire, and follow a detailed script that we created together for this performance.
The formality of the event gives students the sense of a traditional concert combined with the comfort of simply demonstrating what we do every day in our class. Students who would like to play alone or in a small group during the performance audition for an opportunity to do so. These students perform from their seats in between our full band pieces. They might play a few lines from our method, or something more involved. This allows them to experience the feel of a solo performance without having to be front and center.
The entire informance lasts about 30 minutes. The brevity helps keep the experience engaging for everyone involved. While it does require a great deal of planning and student preparation, the informances that my students have hosted have been a success with parents, students, and administrators alike. Students enjoy the opportunity to perform and parents come away with a better understanding what they are hearing and seeing at home.