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Guest Clinicians: Inviting a Clinician into Your Ensemble

Mike Lawson • Archives • October 22, 2006

By Amy M. Knopps

Preparing for a major performance is a stressful time in the lives of many music educators; it is, however, an ideal time to invite a guest clinician to work with your ensemble. It is a point in the year when students are the most focused, playing their best, and working the hardest toward a common goal: an outstanding concert.

A clinic session for your ensemble can be very rewarding. Proper planning on your part can make a clinic even more satisfying for your ensemble, for you as a music educator and for the guest clinician. This article provides a step-by-step approach to making a guest clinician experience both valuable and productive for you and your students.

Benefits of Working with a Guest Clinician

The number-one benefit of a guest clinician is that they bring a fresh pair of eyes and ears to the podium. This fresh approach can help you identify items you have not seen and/or heard that will contribute to the overall success of the performance. The time off of the podium can also help you objectively assess your students’ performance. The off-podium perspective heightens your awareness as a conductor and drives you to formulate a list of issues to address in addition to ones identified by the guest clinician.

Often the guest clinician will address certain musical skills and concepts that have already been discussed with your students. This has positive potential because hearing ideas communicated in a different way can be beneficial to both you and your students. Exposing yourself to different styles of conducting and teaching can add new techniques to your educational “bag of tricks” for use in future rehearsals. Every student learns in a different way and the more ways you have to reach your students, the more effective and successful the ensemble will be in rehearsal.

A positive experience will leave you and your ensemble with a revitalized inspiration, energy and passion for music while reveling in a sense of pride for the work accomplished to date.

Extending the Invitation

The first step in organizing a clinic session is selecting and inviting a guest clinician to work with your ensemble. This is not an easy task; however, it is the most critical. Select a guest clinician whom you respect, want to learn from and envision your ensemble enjoying. Possibilities include mentors, retired conductors or university conductors.

Invite the guest clinician by letter, telephone or e-mail two months prior to the date of the clinic session. (Choose your communication method based upon how well you know your chosen guest clinician.) Make sure the date of the clinic will allow you and your ensemble time to adequately prepare for the guest clinician and give you a comfortable amount of time after the clinic session for further fine-tuning before the performance.

If there is someone you would like to work with but do not know very well, speak with your colleagues and solicit help in contacting this person. Network at conferences and concerts, ask to be introduced, or bravely approach your chosen clinician yourself. When you have the opportunity to speak with this person, be very specific in your outline of the clinic session. Inform the clinician why you have chosen him or her, where you teach, the performance for which you are preparing, the music selections you will be performing, the day and time of the clinic and the overall goal you have for inviting him or her to work with your ensemble. If the clinician is not able to give you an answer right away, give him or her your contact information complete with office phone number and e-mail address. You will often find that many conductors are willing to comply if their schedules allow and will contact you when they are able to give you an answer.

In our profession of music education, there is a feeling of “we are all in this together.” As conductors, we all want everyone to be successful and will share any knowledge we have to contribute to each other’s success. This kind of camaraderie is found in few professions, especially when compared to the business world where companies try to outdo one another and pride themselves on being secretive.

Pre-Clinic Preparation

Once the guest clinician is chosen, contacted, and confirmed, you are ready to prepare “the packet.” “The packet” is a compilation of the following items to be mailed one month prior to the clinic date:

  • Official letter of invitation and thank you.
  • Roster of students and instrumentation of your ensemble.
  • Seating chart.
  • Scores of music selections.
  • Recording of music selections.
  • Directions to your school and ensemble room, including specific school guest sign-in procedures.
  • Itinerary of the clinic session’s specific events.

    The clinic session itinerary should follow this ordered format:

  • Introduction of the guest clinician and restatement of mission for clinic session.
  • Warm-up.
  • Tuning.
  • Performance of music selections.
  • Welcome guest clinician to the podium.
  • Clinic session.
  • Announcements, including a public “thank you” to the guest clinician for sharing his or her expertise.
  • Pack up.
  • Class dismissal.

    As the date of the clinic session approaches, keep in close contact with your guest clinician by letter, telephone or e-mail (again, based upon what method is comfortable for you and the guest clinician). Contact the guest clinician one week prior to the clinic session and the day before the clinic session, giving any updates on changes to the itinerary and asking if there is any additional information and/or materials that will be needed for the clinic session.

    Preparing Your Ensemble

    By this time, the guest clinician is well taken care of and it is now time to turn your full attention to the students in your ensemble, for whom you are doing this in the first place. Preparing your ensemble properly is another key point in ensuring this clinic session will be successful.

    For my ensemble, I created a handout titled, “Guest Clinician Guidelines.” This helped my students truly understand all aspects of the clinic session they were going to experience the next day. Clinic sessions are two-fold: what the guest clinician brings to the ensemble and what the ensemble brings to the guest clinician. Each element must work together to yield a positive experience. In the “Guest Clinician Guidelines,” I outlined the importance and benefits of having a guest clinician come in to work with the ensemble, the itinerary of the clinic session, what to expect from the guest clinician, and specific rehearsal etiquette points I wanted conveyed.

    As with any important day, I encouraged my ensemble to eat a good breakfast so that they would be fresh and energetic for the morning’s rehearsal. I emphasized the importance of being on time. Our rehearsal started promptly at 8:15 a.m. and my students were instructed to be in their seats ready for the clinic session to begin at 8:10 a.m. This is in part because I wanted to maximize the time we had with the guest clinician. This also demonstrated the students’ professionalism and respect for the guest clinician and the clinic session. My students were asked to wear their casual band uniforms, which include our “Center Band” polo shirt and jeans. Casual band uniforms are a great way for your students to be uniform, look professional and be comfortable.

    The specific rehearsal etiquette points I addressed with my ensemble included my “Three B’s”: Be respectful, be attentive and be patient. I emphasized to my students that they would be representing themselves, the band program and the school, and must act appropriately at all times. My students are urged to be courteous and treat the guest clinician with the utmost respect at all times as they are taking time out of their own schedule to work with them. They are instructed not to speak while the rehearsal is in progress. (My students have been trained to cease all talking and playing whenever anyone, including a guest clinician, is on the podium.)

    Clinic Session Considerations

    In a clinic session, students are often asked to play a number of musical elements or passages differently in an effort to propel their playing to the next level. I asked my students to follow the guest clinician’s instructions even if it is something different than what we have already done in class. Students are required to have a pencil handy at all times to write down any remarks or suggestions the guest clinician makes to them or their section. I stated to my ensemble that, after the clinic session, we would take the ideas that had been presented and decide as a group what we want to focus on; all statements are merely suggestions.

    A clinic session also provides an opportunity for your students to perform to the best of their ability, show the guest clinician that they have worked very hard to prepare the musical selections and develop a sense of pride for what has been going on in the band program of their school. At the end of the clinic session, the ensemble, you, and the guest clinician will thank one another for a wonderful time of music making.

    To make the clinic session even more personable and impressive, here are a few suggestions to consider. First, make a welcome sign for the guest clinician. This sign can be placed on the door you have instructed the guest clinician to enter or at the front of the room. You can also form a “welcome committee” made up of student leadership to greet the guest clinician. Make a thank-you card, signed by the ensemble, to be presented to the guest clinician at the end of the clinic session. Most important, clean your room and provide a space where the guest clinician can listen and take notes.

    Dr. John P. Lynch, Director of Bands at the University of Kansas, made a great statement to me when he did a clinic session with my ensemble last year: “A clean room is the first indication of a well-organized band program.” Luckily our room was clean and organized at the time. Attending to these extra items will only help personalize the experience and impress the guest clinician.

    The Day of the Clinic Session

    Finally, the clinic session date arrives. This is where all of your preparation and pre-planning culminates into what you hope will be a wonderful musical experience for your ensemble.

    Welcome your guest clinician upon arrival, inform him or her of any changes to the itinerary, give a short tour of your musical facilities, and, if time allows, offer the clinician coffee or breakfast items in the music office before the start of the session. Follow the itinerary as planned and enjoy the clinic session!

    Immediately after the session, speak with the clinician one-on-one about his or her notes and thoughts about the session. Collectively form a plan of action for the ensemble. This step is extremely important for you as a conductor and often not utilized to the fullest potential. If you normally have a class immediately after your rehearsal, work with other staff members beforehand to clear time in your schedule so that this collaboration can take place. Once finished, thank the guest clinician again for his or her time and be proud of the opportunity you offered your ensemble.

    Post-Clinic Reflection

    The next rehearsal with your ensemble is a time for reflection on the clinic session. Speak with the students about their overall thoughts and feelings. Ask them what techniques the guest clinician used to improve the ensemble. If you are specific in your questions to the students and specific in your expectations of their answers, more will be learned. Ask them about how they felt about the guest clinician’s interpretation of the musical selections. Do you collectively agree on the way the guest clinician took the ensemble? Do you want to continue in that direction? A number of questions and topics can be brought up for a fruitful discussion.

    Share with your students what you learned from a conducting standpoint. Address the items that you heard and would like to work to improve before the performance. At the end of the discussion, reinforce what both you and your ensemble have learned. Do not let the learning stop with just the selected pieces. Apply overall music skills and concepts learned in the clinic to future music selections.

    The next day, send a follow-up letter or e-mail or place a telephone call stating your gratitude to the guest clinician for his or her time. If you and your students enjoyed the guest clinician, state that you would welcome him or her to come out for another visit in preparation for your next big performance if schedules allow.

    Closing Thoughts

    Performing music at its highest level is the ultimate goal and most worthy aspect of our tasks as music educators. Remember where your students start in this process and then bask in the glory of where your students finish. The knowledge gained along the journey through preparation and performance is most important. These lessons will remain with your students as they continue to grow as musicians. Inviting a guest clinician to work with your ensemble will help you obtain these goals. Plan ahead, be prepared, work hard and achieve success.

    Amy M. Knopps is a second-year instrumental music educator in the CenterSchool District of South Kansas City, Mo., where she is the Director of Bands at both CenterHigh School and CenterMiddle School.

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