Concert Reflections

Last evening was our annual spring band concert. The middle school concert band, senior high concert band, and jazz ensemble performed. The kids did a pretty good job, and I am so proud of them. As I was driving home last night, and reflecting again today, here are my thoughts:

1. Why is it that I have such a small audience at my programs? Do I not advertise enough? Is it that I have so few students (20 in middle school & 25 in high school)? Is it just the culture of the area in which I live (socio-economically depressed, broken homes)? Is it a combination of all of these? How can I make it better? I feel bad for the students when I look out into the audience and don’t even see 100 people there. Maybe I am being unrealistic?

2. My students get so nervous! One of the most influential teachers I ever had in college told me that you should be 110% prepared for your performance, because you loose 10% right away to nerves. I wish I could accomplish this level with my students, but we never get close to that. I attribute this to a few possible factors: lack of rehearsal time (we only meet 2 days a week for 40 minutes each due to scheduling), lack of student practice at home. I never feel that the kids performance is near their actual level of ability, because they are always so timid at the concert. It is also possible that they lack confidence because of the lack of instrumentation in the group: 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, etc.

3. Sometimes we focus too much on the concert as being the representation of our programs.  Yes, the concert should reflect the culmination of the semester’s work, but we should also not forget that one short performance is not what our programs are all about. If I can walk away from my concert (even if the performance wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be) and I can answer yes to the following questions, then the semester was a success: Did the students improve musically? Can they walk away from these pieces with a greater understanding of them? Have they learned something valuable? I think these are the questions that are most important – not necessarily “Did they play well at the concert?” We must remember that our programs are more about what the students accomplish during the other 178 days of the year that they are in our rehearsals. Focus more on the process, rather than the product. (Please do not think I am down-playing the importance of a good performance!)

4. Why do students not show up for their concerts? I have had a few students not show for any concerts this year. Aside from the fact that they will not receive a passing grade from me – Why would you want to be in band, but yet not want to perform at the concert? I must touch base with these students and find out what is going on. I took a summer clinic/class that was taught by Gary Smith from the University of Illinois, and his advice was not to get angry at students for missing things like performances until you get the full story. He related a story about when he taught at Illinois and a student of his punched a hole in a wall at the hotel they were staying at. Gary immediately kicked the kid out of the band, and came to find out later that the student’s father had just passed away. Don’t react to the situation until you get the full story! I need to find out why these students aren’t showing.

5. Seniors – It is always a pleasure to reflect back to when I first began working with these students. I can remember how they played (or didn’t) when they were younger. There is a great sense of satisfaction for me to listen to them play at their final concert, and know that they have improved as musicians and human beings dramatically! That is what this job is all about – knowing that you had something to do with that student’s musical – and many times – social development. I’ll miss them!

6. Sometimes, Murphy shows up! You can’t let these situations panic you…they are inevitable! During our first senior high piece last night my first trumpets sounded like they were dying! I asked what they problem was after the selection was over.  “My first AND second valve are sticking!” So, I proceeded to talk at length about the next piece while another student ran downstairs to the band room to get valve oil, because of course, no one had any on stage!  Lesson learned for the brass players!

Overall, it was a good concert, and the students did well. I’m sure I’ll feel differently when I hear the recording, as I am always very critical!

To those of you with concerts still remaining, good luck and enjoy!