So, Your Ensemble Isn't Ready

So it’s performance time, and your ensemble is not ready. What do you do?

Before we dive into some emergency solutions, let’s first try to figure out why they aren’t ready. Was the piece of literature too difficult? Did you not have enough time to rehearse? Did your students not put in proper effort? Were there other obligations or too much other music to prepare? As the instructor, were you not prepared? These are hard questions, but finding the root cause of the problem will help you avoid this situation in the future.

Sometimes, we can be over ambitious and inflate the skills of the ensemble. Sometimes, situations out of our control, such as weather cancellations, can affect the preparation time. And sometimes, students with important parts get ill!

So take a moment and reflect on your why for the situation you are in. Make notes of the things that worked and the things that did not work. We’ll come back to this later with some long term solutions.

Let’s cover some emergency bandaid solutions and then we’ll close with the long term solutions.

  • On challenging passages, limit the amount of players/singers. Come back to tutti when the challenging passages have finished.
  • Make cuts or edits to the music and/or take out repeats. This can be a challenge especially with regards to copyright concerns.
  • Perform an excerpt of the piece with the intention of performing it completely at another time. It can even be announced to the audience that the ensemble has worked very hard on this part of the piece and they cannot wait to perform it in full later.
  • Put a smaller group of students on the entire piece.
  • Replace the piece with another selection you have on hand.

We have to remember that these are temporary solutions. I’ll be the first to admit that I have used these myself! It happens. Life happens.

Now let’s work on how to address this concern longer term, so it does not become a habit. Go ahead and grab any notes you may have written down earlier.

If the musical piece was too challenging for the ensemble, figure out why. Is one of your sections weaker than another? Are the musical concepts themselves too challenging? When programming your music in the future, take a good look at your ensemble, and write down their strengths and weaknesses to avoid this. For instance, let’s say you have a killer trumpet section where three of the four are graduating seniors. Next year, you may not want to program a trumpet feature.

If things happen out of your control, like weather cancellations, perhaps you and your administration can have some back up rehearsal time scheduled just in case.

If your students did not prepare their parts, respectively, on their own, consider having weekly playing tests of your performance literature. If there are solo parts or exposed parts, consider having a few students learn these as well. Illness happens.

If you over programmed or overcommitted your students, consider taking on less performance obligations in the future or programming a few easier selections instead. It’s hard to say no when your ensemble is asked to perform. However, their growth and mental health is important. We as teachers are in it for the marathon, not the sprint. It’s ok to say no and it’s also ok to have a few easy pieces that sound great on hand.

If you as the teacher were not prepared as well as you would like, try to figure out why? Did you not have enough time to study your scores? Do you need more planning time? Summer is a great time to plan ahead. Perhaps have a few more selections on hand in the future for if time during the school year is difficult to find. Also, making time for your educational growth and inspiration is important. Do you attend your state music teacher conferences, ACDA, STA, or others? These conferences are great to get tips from seasoned teachers who have been here before.

Finally, committing yourself to doing daily sight reading and supplemental music theory will only help your program long-term. By being fluent in the language of music, your students can be flexible and more willing to adapt in challenging situations.

To find out more about Sight Reading Factory feel free to contact us.

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