Festival and competition can be both an exciting and frustrating time for you and your ensemble. There is much to prepare for, and depending on the competition, there are many facets to your overall score that you need to practice, rehearse, and refine. Typically, your ensemble receives a performance score, and perhaps you participate in the ensemble sight-singing portion. It’s a lot of material to cover in a 50-minute rehearsal each day!
As I said in the this week’s Starting Monday post, if there is any reason to take your ensemble to festival or competition, it’s to teach them the true value and purpose of team work. Sure, we want to teach musicianship and give a quality performance, but we should also want to instill a sense of unity among our ensemble members.
By now, you have already chosen your repertoire and have probably been rehearsing it for weeks. You’ve been drilling sight-singing (hopefully!) and you have gone over the logistics of the day with your students. And, I could be wrong, but you’re probably waiting on 3-5 permission slips to come back to you. Am I right, or am I right?
While you may feel you are in the midst of festival preparation, I want to challenge you to prepare your ensemble in a different way than you may have before. It will require no more than 20 minutes of your rehearsal time, with frequent reminders in each rehearsal prior to the event.
Give your ensemble a reason to unify.
This isn’t a leadership workshop, or a heart-to-heart conversation, and it’s not quite a team building activity. It is simply coming together and writing goals for the ensemble for this particular event.
Here are some questions to start the conversation:
- As a (choir/band/orchestra), what is our biggest strength and weakness? How can we strengthen our weaknesses for our festival performance?
- What are the expectations for each ensemble member and director from today’s date until the festival date? What will hinder our rehearsals and performance?
- If you have gone to festival/competition in previous years, what did the judges say you needed to improve upon? Are we taking time to address those improvements?
- In each of our pieces, what is the one thing we want the judge to remember? (This can be a musical aspect, a conveying of text, a professionalism quality, or anything!)
These are 4 questions that will help give your ensemble a direction for the duration of your preparation because it addresses your repertoire, the strengths and weaknesses of your ensemble, the expectations of each ensemble member, and it gives you at least one aspect to focus on improving. Even if you only set that one goal, you’ll have immediate results once you receive your score sheets.
After the first festival I brought my choir to, each judge docked our points on musical phrasing. Most of their comments were suggesting we needed to pay attention to musical line and pay attention to word stress. In addition to that, our sight-singing score was pretty awful! These two aspects became our main focus for our festival preparation the following year.
For musical phrasing, we dissected every piece and made sure we understood how the text was functioning in relation to the music. We heavily marked our scores when certain sections had the melody, when certain words needed stressing, when dynamics needed to reflect the text. We used the rubric and self-assessed a rehearsal recording, and paid extra attention to phrasing.
For sight-reading, I would say I went into solfege drill sergeant mode. We sight read every day as an ensemble, and supplemented with individual sight-singing tests. We sight-read for an audience to really add the pressure. Sight-reading became an extra meal during the day. And it was delicious.
And wouldn’t you know, we received COMPLIMENTS on our musical phrasing that year! To top it off, we got a 97/100 on sight reading! We went home with straight superior ratings. Talk about over the moon!!!
But it wasn’t from mindless hard work. All of our preparation was intentional. From setting musical goals, to expecting each other’s best work, attitude, and attention in rehearsal, but mostly because we all wanted the best for our ensemble. Taking the time to have that group conversation and setting those goals as an ensemble was worth the loss of 20-30 minutes of rehearsal.
I challenge you to try this with your ensemble. While I can’t guarantee a high-scoring performance, I can absolutely guarantee your ensemble with strengthen and unify, and that will pour over into other ensemble activities in the future!
Try this with your ensemble and let me know how it goes! What questions do you have? Leave a comment below, or continue the conversation on Twitter @LindsayBrazell.
Photo Credit: Florian Christoph https://www.flickr.com/photos/113417287@N08/
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