Preparing the Perfect Performance

Mike Lawson • MusicEd: Mentor Minute • March 3, 2020

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There are some things you already know when it comes to crafting your perfect performance, and it’s nice to have a quick review and validation.

There’s also ways you can take what you’ve already been doing and enhance it to create something truly unforgettable for your students and audience members alike.

Pick the Right Music

When it comes to building our program, there are few things so helpful as picking good music. By the same logic, making bad repertoire selections can actually be harmful to the morale of your ensemble. Some of the things you should take into consideration when making music selections are:

Difficulty Level – Try to select a few songs that I know the ensemble will be able to prepare quickly and perform at a high level and use those to teach the more nuanced qualities of performance: dynamics, phrasing, interpretation. Then mix in a couple of more difficult songs to challenge technique, and keep them interested.

Diversity – Having an entire concert of the same time of music is boring. Switch it up.

Entertaining – Music should touch an emotional nerve, and a concert should try to hit several. Go through the emotions you want your audience to feel and try to program something that will provoke them.

Reflective – Are you programming music that reflects your students? Have you explored diverse composers? Music from backgrounds that aren’t your own?

Memorable – Think back on your own experience over the years. Which songs have stood out the most for you? Why? If you can pinpoint the reasons songs stuck with you, then you can look for the same qualities in the music for your own ensembles.

On Theme – With the vast amount of quality literature out there, I like having a theme to help narrow it down. Having a theme also helps your audience connect to the story you’re telling.

Prepare Well

If you start music too soon, you and the kids will get tired of it. If you wait too long to start rehearsing, it may not be to the standard you want. Pull out a calendar and map out what your rehearsals might look like between when you hand out the music, and when it needs to be ready for performance. Then add two rehearsals to that, as a buffer for mass absenteeism, school activities, and your own potential sick days. If you don’t need the two extra rehearsals to be prepared, you will be able to use them to refine.

Remember to schedule in time to review all of the concert logistics, too, like how to set up the stage, what they should wear, and transitions between ensembles. This isn’t the kind of information you can give once and expect students to remember. They need it again and again. And again. Written. Printed. Emailed. Facebooked. Tattooed. That’s the stuff you already know. Pick good music and prepare it well. Now let’s talk about some things you maybe haven’t thought of that can enhance your next performance.

Tell a Story

Just like a storyteller, you can create a look and feel to your performance. Some of the easiest ways are to add lighting effects, decorations, or accessories to your student’s uniforms. For example, if you have a concert where you are playing sea shanties, you could get a light projector that looks like water reflections and shine it on the wall. You could incorporate sound effects into the music, too, or as your audience enters. Playing love songs? Tie heart-shaped balloons to chairs. Playing hits from Hollywood? Use star balloons instead.

If you’re having your young students come early to the concert, why not set up something for your audience members to do? Create an interactive PDF program that they can pull up on their phones, with links to program notes, or the composer bios. Instead of a printed program, create a looped slideshow projected on the wall. Include upcoming concert dates, celebrations of your student’s recent successes, and webpages where they can donate to your program or learn more on how to volunteer.

The possibilities of engaging your audience before the concert starts are endless. It could be time well spent advocating for your program, building rapport, and inspiring them as stakeholders. Just get creative! If you can imagine it, you can do it.

Engage the Audience

This is one of my favorite ways to make concerts memorable. Fearlessly break “the fourth wall” and make your audience realize that they are part of the experience – an experience they’ll never forget. Some ideas for how to do this are:

• Program at least one song they will recognize

• Invite the audience to clap, stomp, or sing along

• Pull song order from a hat

• Recognize them by attributes: Who has played an instrument? Who has _# siblings? Who loves the ocean? Who has served in the armed forces?

• Hand out objects for them to hold up at certain times you conduct

• Invite them to wave their cell phone lights along with the beat

• Shoot confetti into the audience at the grand finale

Turn your audience into performers and engage them in the music making experience. Any one of these ideas will engage your audience and create something they’ll never forget. So, there it is, my friends. A few good reminders, and a few ideas for you to explore. What have you tried to create an unforgettable performance? Let me know at [email protected]

Elisa Janson Jones specializes in helping music educators build, manage, and grow thriving school music programs. She holds a bachelor of music, a master of business administration, and is currently pursuing her doctorate in education. Elisa is a nationally-recognized speaker, producer of the Music Ed Mentor Podcast, founder of the International Music Education Summit, and author of The Music Educator’s Guide to Thrive.

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