Are we playing today? What are we going to do for the rest of the year? Why do we still have class? What is the purpose of class after the spring concert? Have you been faced with these kinds of questions from students? Ah yes, the post-concert mentality. Fear not, we directors can be highly influential in reducing these kinds of questions and steering students toward life-long (or at least year-long) learning. Here are a few ideas to consider when being faced with these questions.
Think about the question they are asking, “What is the purpose of class after the spring concert?” The answer to motivating students post-performance is right there within that very question; “What is the purpose of class?” If students do not know that answer then perhaps we aren’t communicating enough before the concert.
If there is one thing we can agree on, it is that we are goal driven by nature. A concert is certainly one of the goals of a performance ensemble, but it is only one goal. I believe each day in our classroom should be special. There should be some spark, some amazing and wonderful moment that serves as positive motivation for students. A concert as a goal is fine and appropriate but when student “light bulbs” go off every day they will soon realize that we are not just there for the big show. We are not teaching to the test. The music room needs to be a culture of learning, for the love of learning.
I often tell students that our concert is like any other day, we just happen to take the wall down and let other people (parents and community members) see what we do in class every day. This concept and idea needs to be introduced to students in the beginning of the year and reinforced often. When students understand that we teach kids, not concerts, they will ask, “Are we playing today?” less often.
This kind of culture takes time to instill, but it is well worth the effort. Does it end the questioning? No, sometimes a student will still ask, “what are we doing for the rest of the year?” after the spring concert, but maybe it will be with a tone of excited curiosity. It is sure nice to say, “We are doing all of the same, awesome kinds of things we have been doing all year, isn’t that great?”
Another strategy that is helpful with the post-concert blues is to plan some extra special lessons after a performance. There is merit to sprinkling some “out of the ordinary” days throughout the year, but I find them especially helpful in keeping students on the learning train after a concert.
Here are a couple of ideas you might want to consider:
Sight-reading is a year-long focus. It is always fun to pass out new music on the spot and see how things go! If your library is like mine, there are some hidden gems that remain untouched.
Our music library is organized by number and during our sight-reading mania days I have a student pick a number between 1 and 900. The one rule is, they can not change numbers and neither can I. I go to the library, get the piece and THAT is what we read. I am sight-reading, they are sight-reading and because a student picked the number, they are always excited for that class.
After the post-concert reflection, consider focusing on a different aspect of being in the ensemble. Let’s assume students look up from time to time from their music. What? It can happen! Anyway, while most students know, others might wonder why you flap your arms in that that special way, or why you are often looking at them and pointing during the music. This is the perfect time to give a group conducting lesson.
Project the first page of a score on a screen and show them how it is organized by instrument, then teach them a couple of basic conducting patterns. Using a piece that was just performed in the concert, rotate student conductors. Let them conduct a couple of phrases. This is often a win-win because students enjoy performing the music again and they also get a whole new experience as the conductor. Students also often gain another level of respect for what you do each day.
Look and Listen
How many super cool videos do you come across in your musical life? There are so many amazingly talented musicians in our world and there are incredible performance videos that float around the internet all the time. Sharing some of these videos for part of a class period can be a wonderful way to expose students to incredible performances they may never see. It can be a technically dazzling performance, interesting and informative, or something funny or cute. It is just another simple way of engaging your students and maintaining their excitement of learning.
Share a Story
Students love to chat, don’t they? This is their chance! This activity can be great any time of the year, but especially after a concert or performance. Have your students come up with their own story about a piece of music, either one you just performed, or any other in their folder. What do they hear in the music? What story does their mind come up with? Let them imagine and share. If they are shy, invite them to write their story.
Whaddaya call it?
Play your students a recording of a piece of music without telling them the title. Have them listen for a minute or two, then ask them to come up with a title! This can be a lot of fun for both you and your students. Again, they are sharing their thoughts which helps them connect with each other and with you. In my opinion, some titles are subjective. My piece, Dancing Kites, might be some student’s Dragon Mountain or Happy River and that is OK! Kids love to talk and this might be an appropriate time to let them.
We always want to find ways to encourage students to try their hand at composition. A great way to start is to have students write unison rhythms, then have the ensemble perform them. Give them some parameters, for example: Write 2-4 measures of rhythm using quarter notes and quarter note rests on the whiteboard. Then you can lead the class in the performance of those rhythms. You can have students clap, stomp, tap pencils, play in unison, play in rounds, any way you would like! You are a creative teacher – design a couple of simple compositional activities for your students that can be used for a portion of your class period. Your activity may be the one that sparks the next composer in our world!
The end of the concert is not the end of our students’ music education. If students understand and believe the purpose of being in band, choir, or orchestra is to learn, connect with, and share musical experiences (as opposed to simply practicing music for a concert) they will realize that every single day in your class is meaningful, right up until the last lesson of the school year.