Including Literacy In Your Rehearsals

Mike Lawson • MAC Corner • February 13, 2017

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Literacy can signify a diverse intention and, in fact, our rehearsals can provide us with opportunities to teach literacy in every sense of the word.

For purposes of this article however, literacy will refer to “artistic literacy” rather than literacy in the other academic areas. Created by the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards and released in 2014, the National Core Arts Standards (NCAS) cultivate a student’s ability to carry out the four (4) “Artistic Processes of Creating, Performing, Responding and Connecting.”

If we think back about our most rewarding musical experiences, many of us would be able to clearly articulate the specifics about the piece, the conductor, the location of the performance and where we were in our lives at that time in general terms. In fact, a question that I used to ask prospective music educators in the interview was, “tell me about the most rewarding performance experience you ever had.” The reason for this inquiry was to ensure that the candidate could specifically communicate what it takes to provide this type of experience for others. In almost every case, interviewees would respond that the reason they had this significant “experience” was because they were thoroughly prepared musically and also possessed a deep understanding of the work being performed. Think about it. . .shouldn’t every rehearsal lead to a performance where all of the music­-makers are confidently prepared both musically and intellectually?

Yes, but the concern often arises that directors just don’t have the time to work with those “other” processes. Performing is what comes easiest however it also goes without saying that high-­quality performances come about as a result of in­ depth study and preparation. The Teaching Music Through Performance series published by GIA has provided a model to emulate. Each work presented provides a Teacher Resource Guide made up of specific units as follows:

Unit 1: Composer

Unit 2: Composition

Unit 3: Historical Perspective

Unit 4: Technical Considerations

Unit 5: Stylistic Considerations

Unit 6: Musical Elements

Unit 7: Form and Structure

Unit 8: Suggested Listening and

Unit 9: Additional References and Resources

Having this type of comprehensive information at our fingertips provides us with the depth of knowledge required to fully prepare our students for studying, and eventually performing, a specific work.

But what about creating, responding and connecting? (The music standards consider connecting to be embedded in the processes of creating, performing, and responding) the ideas provided below are from directors who have found a way to incorporate these artistic processes into their curriculum.

1. Creating. Today’s young people are creating their own music more than ever and the vast majority of them are not in our ensemble classes! What is it about creating that leads so many young people to experiment with and dabble in this process? Have a conversation with your ensemble about the creative process then encourage them to come up with their own creations (compositions/arrangements). The end result could be a video recording of the students performing their works. Students could create their own solos or they could be encouraged to work in groups – duos, trios, quartets, etc., in preparing their composition. For example, during marching band season, challenge each section to come up with their own musical “cheer.” They can arrange contemporary songs or compose their very own. Another idea I learned from the band program at Foothill High School in Henderson, NV, is to have students arrange or compose their own “Musical Holiday Cards” to send to former music teachers, parents, and school staff. Students will be energized by the idea of creating such a special gift for those who have helped them along the way. Finally, you could schedule a special concert where students from your program can join with students from the school’s other musical ensembles to perform their works. Creating also means coming up with new instruments. I’ve seen students play compositions on percussion instruments made with PVC pipe. Through the use of technology, students have generated compositions and arrangements performed on their computers. Think Eric Whitacre’s series of Virtual Choirs or Jacob Collier’s unique and inspiring videos like “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” or “Isn’t She Lovely.” The key is to give your students guidelines to work within so that they have a framework for their composition. They will be excited by the challenge and you will be amazed with the outcome.

2. Responding. Encourage your students to think about how the music they choose to listen to while not in rehearsal makes them feel? Can they come up with cognitive reasoning for their choices? Is there a common thread to the music that they choose? Is there a cultural significance to the music and does it elicit a specific response? (joy, relaxation, locomotion, etc.) Ask students to make an on­-paper playlist of 20 musical selections that they chose to listen to over a specific 24­hour period within a given “Let’s Listen” week. Provide them with a spreadsheet to complete that requests the following information. 1) Artist name 2) Song title, 3) Song style 4) Response. Lead students to discover if there is a common thread – do they choose one artist or style over another because of how the music makes them feel? Next, ask students to explore and consider how this relates to the creative process? In other words, do composers create music to elicit a specific response from the audience or even the musicians themselves? Finally, ask students to relate their own responses to the music being refined in rehearsals. Do they see a correlation between how they feel about the music to how the audience thus responds to it?

Music is used to create all sorts of responses intentionally which is why it is used, for example, in commercials to encourage purchasing, in themed performances (4th of July, etc.) to elicit feelings of patriotism, and in movies to influence the audience in some way. It is thus important for us guide them in developing their ability to perceive music and analyze it, to interpret the intent and meaning of the work and finally, to apply some sort of criteria to evaluate it.

In the big picture, these are the same processes that music­-makers have followed for generations as they connect through music to themselves and their societies. Our student music­-makers also need to have experiences in creating to be successful musicians as well as successful 21st century contributors. Finally, they need to respond to music as well as to their culture, their community, and their peers. Our rehearsals provide the optimal intersection for all of these processes so let’s stretch out and try something new to enhance the musical experiences for our students.

Marcia Neel is president of Music Education Consultants, Inc., and was appointed educational advisor to the Music Achievement Council (MAC). She also serves as Senior Director of Education for the Band and Orchestral Division of Yamaha Corporation of America.

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