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Repertoire Planning Simplified

Lesley Schultz • July 2023String Section • July 16, 2023

Even though we are in full-on summer mode, predictably our thoughts turn to the school year ahead. That means even though we may not want to, we are thinking about the big “R” in our ensembles, namely repertoire. 

Choosing repertoire is a delicate balance of three things, techniques learned or reinforced, appropriate level for your students and whether you and/or the students like the selection. Ideally repertoire is where you put into practice the techniques and skills that you have been working on in warmups or your method book of choice. This doesn’t always have to be the case, but you should plan for at least one piece per concert cycle to be something that reinforces techniques you want that ensemble to work on. 

Determining the appropriate level for your students is perhaps the hardest one. A criticism I have of a lot of repertoire is that low string parts (viola, cello and bass) are often easier than the violin parts, particularly in the wide ranging “Grade 3” pieces. This is where score study comes in and knowing your ensemble.  Why this may be hard is because you may not know your ensemble, particularly if you are a high school that has several “feeder” middle schools, where you are not the director. It may take you a few weeks to feel out your ensemble and choose something of an appropriate level. 

The third area; do you and/or the students like the selection, can go a long way to having a satisfying concert cycle with your group. As directors we all have pieces we like, composers we like, editors we like, etc. Choosing something that we like will make us want to work on it with our group. Student choice in learning is a big term in education right now, so what you could do is give the students a choice of two different pieces, that both have good learning objectives for your ensemble, and let them choose. That will enable students to take ownership of their learning, and students feel empowered when they have a say in what they are doing. 

Given the areas we have talked about, how do you go about repertoire planning for that first concert often in October? The key is to have options. Choose 5-6 pieces you would like to read. Include one you know is perhaps too easy for the group and one that is perhaps too hard. Choose one or two pieces that feature the technique you want to work on, and the remaining pieces you like or that students may enjoy. Make sure you have a variety of pieces, fast, slow, minor, major, modal etc. to have as wide a variety as possible. If you do this something will stick with you and the students and you will have an outstanding concert!

Everyone, enjoy your last days of summer and happy repertoire planning.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches secondary general music and orchestra at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME (Technology In Music Education) and serves on the National Conference Committee.

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