Concerts: What We Learn (Elementary Focused)
It was that time of year again! When I went to conferences, I could see it on other elementary music educators’ faces. When I logged into Facebook, I saw over hundreds of posts about it from a variety of music educator groups. It was concert season time. Though this time of year kicks into high gear around November and settles down a bit, only a bit, around January before kicking back up again, it is a time of year that can be stressful and rewarding at the same time. It is the time of year when we feel that we need to clone ourselves so that we can accomplish everything professionally and personally. The message boards, facebook posts, tweets, and more, lit up with music educators asking many excellent questions, requesting advice, and feeling a sense of calm once all was said and done. Some of the highlights from these boards and posts I listed below with some resolutions (in time for the new year). I feel that whether you are a new teacher or a veteran teacher, you can never stop learning from other music educators’ experiences. It is for this reason that I find social media in the form of the music teachers facebook group and other groups like this, so valuable.
- Students Baptizing the Risers: Ah, yes. When you have elementary students on risers for concerts, there is bound to be that experience of when a student baptizes the riser through either vomiting or “showering” on it. Resolution? Remind the classroom teachers to take the students to the bathroom before the concert. Also check with the school nurse to see if students have gone home that week with flu-like symptoms. If you have a student who was sent home with a fever the day before your concert and shows up to perform, you might not have the authority to send the child home. However, you can place the child at the end of the riser on the first step to try to combat any situation that might arise.
- Losing Shoes (and or kazoos or foam sticks) in risers/getting heals caught in risers: This year, we opened our K-3 portion of the holiday concert with a foam light stick routine to Tchaikovsky’s Trepak. I found this idea on the music teachers facebook group two years ago. It was an amazing hit. However, I knew that at least one foam stick would fall into the riser. My students knew what to do if that were to happen: they continue performing the routine without the foam light stick. They also know that if their shoes fall through the risers, then they have to perform without them. Resolution? Being proactive does help, especially if you know your students well and can foresee that there could be a problem. If you fear that you bring this up to your students and you know that it will result in many students purposely dropping their shoes, then do not bring it up. In addition, shoewear is discussed during the rehearsals or in classes leading up to the concert.
- What the first row of girls must wear: Now that I am a mom of two young girls, I realize more than ever how important it is for the girls on the first step of the riser to wear tights or leggings and to keep their knees together when not performing.
- Students falling from risers: This one haunts me. Resolution? Beginning about two days before the concert, I check with the nurse to see which students have been there and sent home for illnesses. If that is the case, I will move them to the first two steps of the risers and not have them on the top step. I also tend to keep wiggly jiggly students on lower risers so that they have a successful performance. If you have railings for the back of the risers, use them. If you have no railings, do not use the top step of the riser. In addition, place mats behind the risers as an extra safety precaution.
- Getting off with the recording: Recordings can add another sort of “ear candy” sound to the concert. There are times when I like to use a recorded soundtrack between many live accompanied songs just to switch up the sound. In addition, sometimes the recording has the sound that is needed for the type of song. Finally, sometimes accompanists are hard to find, cannot make the rehearsals, or cannot be covered by the budget, making recordings necessary. When I have had young students get off with the recording, I try a few things to prevent this. Resolution? Can the students hear the recording? If not, then monitors need to be set up, placed in front of them, facing them. That will assist greatly. In addition, if you are performing in a room that absorbs sound (hence, a gymatorium), you might need to move around your singers so that the strong ones are placed throughout the risers, but in close proximity to each other. If that is not working, one hopes that you have prepped them well enough to watch you so that you can silently conduct them back on track. Is that does not work, then find your strongest singers, stand in front of them, and sing at them. They will hopefully hear you and join you. Once your strongest singers are back on track, then the rest will follow.
- Finding an accompanist: This can be challenging if your rehearsals are during the day. Resolution? I try to book my accompanists in the beginning of the school year so that they have it in their schedules early on. I look for musicians who tend to gig at night or retired music teachers who would enjoy the temporary daily rehearsals for the week. Another solution is asking an older student who is seriously studying piano to accompany a song or two. That can be a viable, but challenging, solution because accompanying is a skillset of its own.
- Finding repertoire: Where to find repertoire? Music educators’ groups, Music Express, Music K8, pinterest, teachers pay teachers, reading through best sellers on JW Pepper, looking for reliable composers and arrangers such as Roger Emerson, John Jacobs, Mac Huff, Sally Albrecht, Jay Albrecht, Andy Beck, Cristi Cary Miller, and so much more.
- Mental Health Day/Sick Day – Can’t take the day, so what to do? Resolution? Stay hydrated. Use aspirin or cold remedies to power you through the day. Don’t hug other people. Try to take a sick day or a mental health day if you can. Sometimes, one day can mean so much for your body and mind.
- Etiquette for audience: Try this cute, lyrical poem from MusicPlay (see page 3).
- When is the concert? This question can spur so many feelings because you have tried to get the message out in as many ways possible. My theory is to send the date, time, and dress code out in as many ways possible: newsletter, website, bulk email, bulk text, remind me app, etc. In addition, I send out an email to the parents the day before the concert with a picture of the risers and labels of where the class will be standing for the concert. I have had parents thank me profusely for that picture.
- Transitions when your performers are finished: I have the best classroom teachers who assist greatly with this. In addition, I have learned over the years that transitions need to be rehearsed as well as the actual concert music. This might mean that those involved must be educated about the importance of rehearsing transitions and give you ample time and help to rehearse them in order for them to flow smoothly.
- Utilize any help offered to you and thank them: I cannot pull off a concert by myself. I need help. If help is offered, I will happily take it and utilize it the best way that I can. In addition, I thank them from a simple thank you email, to a thank you note, to a gift card, to a few scratch off lottery games with a thank you note, etc. I try to let them know how much I appreciated their assistance.
- Finally, one of my favorite quotes I read this year and it came from a music educator quoting her young student: “Stressed is desserts spelled backward!” – priceless!
- Trepak from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. We used foam light sticks from http://www.extremeglow.com/store/p/63-Steady-On-Foam-Stick.aspx. We used the red and green ones. The green were wonderful. The red were not consistent and flickered or stopped working. However, this was a huge hit to begin our concert and great thanks goes to the classroom teachers who collected them quickly after they students performed the song. Plus, I used Audacity to slow the recording down so that the young students could perform with it.
- “When O When (Hanukkah Riddle)” Traditional, performed by grades K-1. I found this song on a Mrs. Miracle’s Music Room Blog, who wrote this about it: “I learned this song from my friend Naomi Cohen, at a Jewish music workshop she presented for TRIKE. The song is from a recording by Leah Abrams, recorded in Cedarhurst, NY by Tara Publications. It is also on the website oysongs.com.
- “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” – arr. by Jeff Funk, grades 2 and 3. This song sounded amazing with my young singers and a live three-piece band of piano, drums, and bass.
- “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” Bruce Springsteen Version – Gillespie/Coots, arr. by Althouse, Grades K and 1. The young students loved singing this song with the live band. This time, I added my 8th grade saxophonist who rocked the solo in the middle of the song.
- “Carol of the bells” – composed by Mykola Dmytrovych Leontovych, arr. by Bradley Bonner from Four for December, singers (grades 2 and 3), philharmonic, Class 3MC on Orff instruments, faculty musicians, and the three piece band. I love this arrangement by Bradley. I wanted to use live musicians instead of the recording. I emailed Bradley in October asking if I could purchase the parts. He told me that he lost the score when his hard drive crashed last year. I had permission to recreate it. It also reminded me to back up my hard drive again.
- “Ésta La Vida Navidad” by Mike Wilson from Music k8 18/2, grades 2 and 3. This is a fun, easy-to-learn, crowd pleaser. My students loved this song and learned it in one class.
- “Hine Ma Tov” – arranged by Alan Naplan, grades 2 and 3. I adore this arrangement that Alan created. My students sang this song well. I had class 3C perform the descant on the recorders.
- “Here comes the Snow” – by Jennings, grades K-3. My students loved this piece from singing it, to the recording, to this great riser choreography that Mrs. Ruzin posted on youtube. My students could not get enough of this song. Special thanks goes to one of my first graders, who led kindergarten and 1st grade in their “part one” movements.
Follow my pinterest board of Concert Music 2015-2016 throughout the year to see more music added to it.
Amy M. Burns is an elementary music educator, clinician, author, and musician. She currently works at Far Hills Country Day School in Far Hills, NJ teaching PreK through Grade 3 general music, grade 5 instrumental music, and grades 4-8 instrumental band. She is the author of Technology Integration in the Elementary Music Classroom, Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with a SMART Board, and Help! I am an Elementary Music Teacher with One or more iPads! She is also an author for Online Learning Exchange™ Interactive Music powered by Silver Burdett. She has given numerous presentations on integrating technology into the elementary music classroom as well as being a keynote speaker for music technology conferences in Texas, Indiana, St. Maarten, and Australia. She is the recipient of the 2005 TI:ME Teacher of the Year Award, the 2016 NJ Master Music Teacher Award, the 2016 NJ Governor’s Leader in Arts Education Award, and the 2017 Non-Public School Teacher of the Year Award. You can find out more about Amy at her website: amymburns.com