Recently I have encountered the debate of what is more valuable in a K-12 ensemble classroom: an excellent conducting gesture or rehearsal technique.
I say both are definitely important, but I strongly lean towards having more rehearsal chops.
Here’s why: I’ve seen some amazing conductors lead TERRIBLE rehearsals.
There is definitely an art to great conducting. If you are able to elicit a response from an ensemble in regards to both musicality and metric precision, than you have an extra skill in leading a great rehearsal: less talking, more showing. It’s an incredible time saver!
If you can’t systemically teach repertoire, or even charm a crowd, then I don’t think it matters how you conduct. Your rehearsal is going to be confusing and stale.
In my experiences both as an ensemble member and as a conductor/teacher, these are the items that contribute to an excellent rehearsal:
- There’s a goal in mind, and everyone in the room is made aware of the goal. Whether it be tackling a specific passage in a piece, learning pronunciation, incorporating dynamic contrast to a piece, etc. There is no need to blindly lead people through a rehearsal, or it will feel like mindless singing to them. Give everyone a purpose for their singing and focus!
- New information is being provided. Everyone in the room should learn something new in each rehearsal, whether it be as simple as a new section of music, or a new musical concept. If there is nothing new in each rehearsal, it will feel like a mindless routine. In a K-12 rehearsal, even if you are just reviewing on a Friday before the weekend, find SOMETHING new to share, whether it be a vocabulary word, information about the composer, or some form of musical skill that can be applied to a piece (such as theory concepts, literacy skills, etc).
- Organization is obvious. Come to rehearsal with a plan. Everyone in the room can tell if you are making it up as you go along. Be familiar with the passages you are rehearsing, and spend time in the score before rehearsal. Additionally, make it a seamless plan. Jumping from random sections of different pieces is going to make the ensemble feel on edge. Always make sure there is a sense of flow.
- Be kind, be encouraging, and be cool! Ensembles will make mistakes, they will struggle with certain passages, and sometimes they will be tired and uninterested! That’s OK!! It’s how you handle those different ensemble moods that leads to a successful rehearsal. Always acknowledge the ensemble as “we.” You are as much a part of the ensemble as the performers, you just have a different role. Saying “you aren’t focused today,” or, “you are missing that interval in measure 4,” may seem harmless, but it can make ensemble members feel defeated or even targeted. The more inclusive you are, the better. And of course, have fun! Corporate music making is an activity people take part in for some level of enjoyment. Yes, you want an excellent product and you work on serious repertoire, but there is no reason not to make the process enjoyable and exciting. Make jokes, share stories, and invest in the people you are waving your hands at! It will go a long way!!
I had the opportunity to participate in #MusEdChat the other day for the first time in ages! I brought up this debate and had a lot of great responses that I thought I would share with you:
How do you feel about gesture vs. rehearsal technique? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.
Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/
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