It is fairly common to hear ensemble directors talk about how they “train” their students. Of course, all classroom teachers do this, really. One of the first lessons taught in classroom management courses is that of teaching your students routines. You are to train them to know where to turn in papers, where to find passes, how to transition in and out of the classroom, and so forth.
In the music classroom, we train our kids in these same areas, but also in how to be responsible, independent musicians. I always start my classes with vocal warm-ups, ensuring that they are becoming mentally focused for rehearsal while also creating healthy habits for their vocal use. I work with them on their sight reading skills so that they can learn music on their own without always needing someone to pluck out notes for them on the piano. I constantly remind them to give me good posture, always keeping their hands at their sides, feet firmly planted on the floor. I promise them I’ll wear extra make-up – even paint my nose red – if they will just watch me conduct!
I have a group of students leaders that I have made sure to train for various roles. Some have taken on the responsibilities of recording attendance, leading warm-ups, or setting up risers. Recently, I even went so far as to run timed set-ups of the risers to prepare for our annual Fine Arts Showcase, a concert in which we would need to set up the risers backstage quietly and quickly while other groups performed.
The Fine Arts Showcase has been a tradition at my school for the last six years. We perform a two night show that includes students from dance, theatre, chorus, orchestra, band, and even visual art. It is a great event, but can be very stressful as there is a lot of transitioning that takes place. While one group performs, another group quietly sets up in another part of the auditorium. There is no down time at all so that the audience constantly has some entertainment going on. I have been a part of it from the start, but this year things were a little different for me.
Last week, my sweet Grandmother passed away. Oh, what a special lady she was, not just to me, but to so many. I am still dealing with so much heartache, and when I am ready I feel certain I will have a blog post to share just how wonderful she was. She passed away unexpectedly the week of the Fine Arts Showcase. I was in such a fog. My colleagues knew what she meant to me, and they knew I would need to be with my family for the visitation and funeral. They immediately jumped in and took care of everything for me. The band director, who already had a tremendous amount of responsibilities on his plate for the week, jumped in and directed my choirs. He rehearsed with them as much as he could so they could get used to one another, and then he did a fabulous job conducting them in the concerts. What a relief it was for me to know my students would perform with everything they needed even though I could not be there.
Through this Showcase, while I was gathered out of town with my family, my students proved to me the value of “training”. The other directors share how the students came in dressed and ready to go for the concert. Somebody stepped up and led warm-ups, and all of the students participated. They lined themselves up to walk on stage just as we had practiced, and the riser team had the risers set up in record time without disrupting the other performances taking place on stage. They were in their places ready to go with time to spare before the curtains opened. They performed their pieces beautifully, and when everything was over, they had the risers broken down and put away. They even cleaned the room as if no one had ever been there.
They impressed the other directors that night and represented our choral program extremely well. They were professionals. They gave an outstanding performance, and they allowed my mind to focus on my family instead of worrying how to be at the concert to ensure that chaos did not break out. This was the best gift they could have given me during my time of grief. They gave a beautiful, impressive performance that allowed their audience to pause and enjoy the holiday season without distraction. This is why we train our kids.