Changing It Up: Embracing Chamber Music

Traditionally, the band program at my school does four band concerts per year, and participates in two parades. This works out to roughly one big performing commitment every month and a half, which is a lot to ask of middle school students. We also used to participate in solo and ensemble festivals, but no longer due that because participation requires a membership in our state band and orchestra organization, which would take roughly half my budget alone (but that’s a post for another time…)

This year, I decided to switch things up for our March concert. This is usually the concert with the longest period of preparation (well over two months!), so we’ve got the luxury of doing a few different things in the time leading up to concert day. Since we’re no longer a member of our state’s band and orchestra organization, I thought how can I give my students the valuable solo and ensemble experience, minus the pressure and bull**** bureaucratic rules?

The answer, at least for this school year, was to turn our March concert into a chamber music recital, with each grade level getting their own night. Before we left school for Christmas break, the students formed their own chamber groups and prepared a few simple holiday carols to perform around school. That performance was unfortunately snowed up, but things were already in motion. After we returned from the break, the groups spent a day looking through our music library to choose pieces (Duets/Trios/Quartets for All were perfect for this) and then they got to work rehearsing during class a couple of days per week.

The actual recital is still a month away, but so far the early returns have been incredible. My students come to class each day excited to work with their chamber groups. They’ve been focused, and are starting to pay close attention to musical details like dynamics and phrasing without me asking them to do so! I spend 5-10 minutes with each group during class, coaching and offering feedback. We took a day at the beginning of the chamber music experience to watch some performances on YouTube and discuss good rehearsal techniques, and I continue to reinforce those techniques during our coaching sessions.

I’ve never seen a group of students more excited about a concert cycle. They’ve taken complete ownership of the rehearsals and repertoire choices. It’s been a successful first-year experiment so far. In the future to make it even better, I’ll likely try to set up coachings and performance demos via Skype with some college music majors.

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The Trombonist’s Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License


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