The first performance for beginning instrumentalists is a topic frequently debated. Some believe it should take place as soon as possible, in as little as eight weeks, while others think beginners should not perform until the end of the school year when the group is more “polished.” I can see the rationale in both approaches, but I don’t think it’s as simple as one being better than the other. Often it depends on the structure of the program. Regardless of these details, the biggest thing to consider is the purpose of the performance. For me, there are two goals for the first performance. One is to give beginning instrumentalists the opportunity to share what they have been working on in a positive environment. The second is for the parents to gain insight into what we do in class and the (potentially strange) noises emerging from their child’s room during practice sessions! An Informance is a great solution.
I think of an Informance as an informational-performance or an informal-performance. About ten years ago I made the switch from a 4th-grade instrumental concert to an Informance. Most years, the Informance took place during the school day, during our regularly scheduled rehearsal, and parents were invited to attend. Other times, the Informance was part of a winter concert.
Structuring Your Informance
I structure an Informance like an open rehearsal. The event comprises demonstrations of everything we would do during a typical band or orchestra rehearsal with the addition of an audience and applause! The band demonstrates breathing exercises, long tones, rhythm pattern echoing, 5-note scale exercises, and some basic songs (rote or from a method book) that we have been practicing. The orchestra does similar things, but with the addition of bowing exercises. Many times I have also introduced a new concept or exercise during the Informance to show parents the process we go through to learn something new. Between each demonstration, I explain to the parents what we are doing and why. I find the “why” is valuable, especially for parents who never played an instrument themselves. The entire event is very positive for the students; everyone leaves with a smile on their face.
One year, the beginning band and orchestra Informance was scheduled as part of the Winter Concert with the chorus, which included an assembly for the school and an evening performance for parents. This was more formal than I typically would prefer. Instead of structuring the informance like an open rehearsal, we turned it into stories: “Adventures in Beginning Band” and “Once Upon an Orchestra.” The ensembles demonstrated all the same concepts, but students narrated the story.
“At the beginning of the school year, 38 students chose to embark on an adventure – an adventure in Beginning Band! Our goal was to perform at the winter concert, but in order to achieve it we had several challenges to face.”
It was a hit! The audience enjoyed it, and the students had a confident first performance. Since my administration is particular about what concert programs look like, I also came up with cute song “titles” such as, “Do I Hear an Echo?” and “DA Dances” to go along with it. It was a great success.
A Student-Centered Informance
Recently, I have worked to make the Informance more student-centered. While that might sound challenging in an ensemble setting, I promise it’s possible. The students decide what they would like to share; which songs, exercises, and activities. They also write the narrative introducing each part of the Informance. It’s informational for both the parents and me – I love hearing what the students want to share about each exercise and activity we do!
Why an Informance?
I think it is important for beginning instrumentalists to perform and share their music-making early in the process. Students shouldn’t have to wait until spring for this to take place. By having an Informance instead of a concert, my curriculum goals don’t have to change and I don’t worry about perfecting three pieces of concert music. Instead, I can focus on teaching proper technique and musicianship the way I would if there were no concert. The students get the benefit of performing in a low-stress situation and the parents get a sneak-peek into the music room. Everyone wins!