Has your ensemble been chosen to perform at an MEA event or the Midwest Clinic? Congratulations! Anytime you get an opportunity to perform for an audience of fellow music educators, it is an extra honor. With that honor comes the responsibility of additional preparation to make certain the concert is the success you know it can be.
Music selection is going to be your first priority. You certainly feel an obligation to pick only the best music from the entire history of the repertoire. I mean, after all, your audience will be filled with critical listeners who will be expecting to hear only the best music performed in the most musical way. You will want to have enough variety for the entire concert to be enjoyable. So where to begin with so much music to choose from?
Here are some guidelines that will help you get started.
Select a March
First, choose a march. You can go with a traditional march from the standard repertoire or select something less traditional. Either way, you can’t go wrong. Marches are standard to bands.
Select a New Composition
Next, find something new. You can choose to have a piece commissioned to commemorate the occasion or select something that has been recently composed. The commission process is quite rewarding and can be a great adventure in and of itself. Interacting with a living composer in bringing a new piece into the repertoire is an experience that your students won’t forget. Once your new piece is selected, go back to the established repertoire.
Standard Repertoire and Feature
Select a piece that has established itself as a staple of the repertoire either through the quality of the composition or the reputation of the composer. After that, you might consider a feature piece. Consider something that will highlight a particular section or soloist.
Mix it Up
In keeping with the idea of variety, select pieces of varying tempos, moods, timbres, textures, styles. Don’t pick only the fast, exciting pieces and avoid slow pieces. When selecting a slow piece, consider its emotional effect. Your audience wants to be moved by the performance. They want to be connected to the art and beauty of the music, and a slow, lyrical piece may capture their hearts.
As you balance new/old, traditional/modern, lyrical/technical, etc. try to evaluate each piece by asking the question “will this piece sustain and push the art form forward?”
Talk to Others
I think it is very important to solicit the advice of colleagues and mentors. Their opinions of pieces, composers, repertoire can be invaluable in shaping a program that will provide a musical experience for both audience and performer alike. As you get close to finalizing your program, it’s okay to select more pieces than you can perform and trim the list down. Put the pieces in order and listen to them. Is there enough variety? Do you have a representation of the list you started with?
Once you have selected your program it’s time to plan and set up a timeline. Start with the final performance date. Work backwards to allow enough time to prepare the concert to the level that you and your students will be proud of.
Then add some extra time.
There is always something that comes up; picture day, standardized testing, fire drills, illness, weather events, etc. This is in addition to the other normal performance obligations that you have including seasonal concerts, football games, playoff football games, audition preparations, solo/ensemble preparations, and the like.
Whether or not you should ask your students to go above and beyond for a concert – in addition to the other performance obligations and school work that they are responsible for – is something to keep in mind. Allowing enough time will lower everyone’s stress levels and keep the task manageable.
Schedule a few intermediate performances. I suggest having one about halfway to check everyone’s progress, and a few closer to the final date to serve as dress rehearsals and to fine-tune the performance. Invite clinicians and mentors to come to rehearsals and attend the concerts. Their input can help guide and shape your planning to make the performance stronger. Knowing your group’s strengths and weakness, as well as their preparation tendencies, is something to keep in mind as you develop your timeline.
Once you have your timeline in place, don’t forget to plan the logistics. It’s a big job – start making that list early in the process. Include everything from reserving the performance venues and scheduling clinicians and composers to arranging the buses to transport your students. Communicate early and often with your students and parents about the time commitments and schedules.
Being organized is essential to the success of your performances. Make organization a habit with your daily, weekly, and monthly rehearsal plans. This will help you stay on pace and let you know if you are ahead or behind.
Thoughts on the Extra Effort
It goes without saying that planning a concert of this nature is something that doesn’t happen all the time. Due to its unique and special nature, it’s common sense to put a bit more effort and energy into the planning and implementation of it.
But what if we approached every concert with the same level of determination, selecting only the very best music for our audience? What if we chose to make the generic winter concert the best concert event of the year? Many of the same guidelines for selecting music would benefit both performances… In fact, they all would work.
Giving our students and parents the best possible musical diet can be very transformative in advancing their musical understanding and appreciation. While you can’t perform for a state or national audience at every concert, you can perform great music every time.
Always Consider Performing:
- Something traditional to connect to the past
- New music to push and expand the repertoire, possibly collaborating with a composer to bring the piece to life
- A piece that features a soloist or a section
- Some “moving” music for the sheer joy it offers or for the emotional connection that it evokes
Take every opportunity to perform an amazing concert of the very best music from the entire musical repertoire. What an honor! While the event may be something as routine as a fall concert, your students will have an amazing musical experience that they will treasure. Your community will enjoy a concert that connects them with the performers.
You have the opportunity to perform and create something that is memorable, lasting and transformative.
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.