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What to Do on the First Day of Rehearsal

Mike Lawson • Performance • August 5, 2009

The first day of rehearsal can be the most stressful day of the year for directors and instructors. There are the new students who have to get acquainted, paperwork that needs to be handed in, drill to be handed out, music to be memorized, and so much more. The first day is also one of the most important days of the year, as it sets a standard for the rest of the season and lets the band members know what to expect. There are many considerations to evaluate when planning the first day of rehearsal, including:

  • How late into the summer should we start?
  • How many returning members will be there? How many new members?
  • How long have the students had the music to work on if any time at all? (Music should always be handed out by the end of the previous school year!)
  • How much time is there before the first performance of the season?
  • What level of performance will the students be at?

These are the five main things I consider when planning a first rehearsal. My main rule of thumb is that earlier in the season, more time should be spent on basics and fundamentals of technique (visual or musical). Later in the season, spend more time on show aspects drill, show music, et cetera. Of course, foundations of technique must be applied and reviewed all season long. To further examine our considerations, let’s go over the details and corresponding results for each one.

How late into the summer is it?
The later it is in the summer, the more pressure there is to get moving with the show. The first football game could be in as little as three weeks! At this point, teach your students everything they need to know to execute drill, and start teaching drill as soon as possible.

How many returning (and new) members will be there?
This factor is important, in that it will dictate how much time needs to be spent teaching foundational concepts, such as mark time, attention position, forward marching, backward marching, and so on. I have found that the more experienced performers there are, and the fewer new members there are, the less time I need to spend on these new concepts each year; the newer students watch the older members and catch on quickly.

How long have the students had the music to work on, if any time at all?
If the students have had their music for a significant amount of time, or enough time to learn the material and begin the memorization process, more time can be spent on basic technique, such as proper breathing or tuning. If it is mid-August and the students are reading the music for the first time, you might need to jump right into the music and catch up on basic technique studies at a later time.

How soon is the first performance of the season?
That first football game always seems to come upon us too soon! And, realistically, you need to hit the halftime field with something presentable. If the first performance is sooner than later, it might be necessary to concentrate on more show-oriented tasks, such as learning drill and memorizing the show music. While most of us would rather have a really clean opener than a mildly dirty half of the show, we know the school administration will come knocking on the door if the halftime show is only three minutes long.

What is your students’ level of performance?
Hopefully, this level grows each year. If you’re in the situation where you are a new band director building a program, or it is the program’s first few years in existence, more time should be spent on foundations of a good program, such as rehearsal etiquette, musical and visual technique, and so on. If your students are at a higher level, they will be rehearsing well by themselves and executing proper technique already, allowing more rehearsal time to be spent on show-oriented tasks.

Here a few examples of possible first rehearsal scenarios:

  • It is the first week of July, the band members have had the music for a month and a half, and we have two months until the first football game. We have not received any drill yet. We have a three-hour rehearsal scheduled. In this case, I would begin with the usual stretch and brief run, and then hit the basics block for an hour or so. I would cover parade rest and attention positions, mark time, and give a brief introduction to forward marching. Following that, I would break off into woodwind and brass sectionals and work on warm-up exercises and basic technique. Towards the end, I’d briefly go over the show music.
  • It is the third week of July, the members are just getting the music, and we have a month and a half until the first football game. It is a three-hour rehearsal. We have drill for the opener. Here, I would begin the rehearsal with the usual stretch and brief run, then a fast paced basics block to explain standing positions and forward and backward marching. I would then go to music block, which would include a semi-brief warm up, and jumping right into show music. We would start learning drill at the next rehearsal, after basics block.
  • It is the middle of August, the members have had the music for three weeks, and we have three weeks until the first football game. We have drill for the entire show. It is a nine-hour day, and the first day of band camp. At this point, I would begin with the usual stretch and brief run, and a two-hour basics block to introduce standing positions and marching in all directions. Although we go through this much more quickly than we should, we must perform at the football game. I would then teach everyone how to read a drill chart, and begin drill rehearsal. After lunch, I would continue with drill, followed by two hours of music rehearsal at the end. For the rest of the week, I would continue with the same schedule. After we finish a part of the show drill wise, I would put music to it, then move on to learn more drill.

Obviously, the later in the season the first rehearsal is, the less time there is to spend on the necessary foundations of visual and musical technique. While in a perfect world summer rehearsals would begin the week after school is over, and we would have numerous hours of basics and warm-up time to instill great technique in our students, reality does not always work with us. The school may not want to pay custodial staff to have the school open for your summer rehearsals; students go on vacation and miss all of the basics; the music arranger you thought you had bailed out and now you need a show fast! These are all scenarios that lead to a late start to a season, and can even ruin a program if not handled correctly. It is important to remember that no matter what the situation is, there must always be some time spent on foundational techniques, and never allow a rehearsal to feel rushed or out of control.

Even with a late start to the season, it is still possible to instill great foundations of technique in your students. It will take a little bit longer, but with careful planning and proper teaching techniques, it is certainly achievable.

Rob Stein is the owner of “Standing ‘O’ Marching” (www.standingomarching.com). He currently lives in Lake Geneva, Wis. and is also the brass/percussion product manager for Dynasty. He has worked directly with over 20 high school music programs across the country. Prior to his current position, Rob was the assistant band director at Sterling High School in Summerdale, N.J.

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