Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sharing one of the most popular items I have posted

This particular post from a few years ago has received a lot of hits since I started blogging- it really resonates with folks so I like to re-run it once a year- so here you go (and thanks to Sir Rick Bjella, who now teaches at Texas Tech). As I read through this post again, I also like the fact that Larry Doebler was a contributor to this. I just met Larry this past year when he commissioned me for a piece for the yearly Ithaca College Choral Festival- what a brilliant conductor, teacher, and man.

Over the last three years I have combined elements of these suggestions (with Rick's permission) plus my own experiences teaching at the North Carolina Governor's School as the basic material for choral conference interest sessions I have presented in Hong Kong, South Korea, Nebraska ACDA, North Central division ACDA, and Iowa and Tennessee MEA with great success. There is so much rich material here to ponder.

Enjoy the read and the great ideas:

The three I's that don't include me: involvement, investment, (through inside-out rehearsing), independence...leading to integrity

(compiled by Rick Bjella-- contributing: Randal Swiggum, Nick Page, Larry Doebler, Lucy Thayer, Tim Bruneau, Patty O’Toole)

Reprinted by permission of Rick Bjella. 

bjella




Who or what is at the center of your rehearsals?
Whose opinions are valued most?
Around whom do your structure your strategies for the daily rehearsal?
Student involvement:
  • foster a safe environment ("well, that was creative", “basses I love you dearly...”, “I love the way you truly listen to each other and honor what was said”)
  • share affirmations with the ensemble
  • provide a more accurate, personalized, positive reflection on student efforts in rehearsal. (i.e. "Glenn you are particularly good at dramatic reading of texts, that is a real gift that you have, that is a contribution that you make in a way that is particularly stunning")
  • give the students only the title of the piece ask them “how do you think it will sound?”
  • give short writing moments (in journals, portfolios, 3 x 5 cards, board work, post-it notes
  • have student led warm ups prescribed by the teacher
  • have an improvisation on one note-(the drone has been a powerful musical force throughout the ages-explore different vowels)
  • ask YOU questions (addressed directly to students relevant to personal experiences meant to evoke personal opinions “Have you ever ______? How did it feel? Did you ____?)
  • develop listening squads: students sit out and listen to rehearsal, offering critical comments
  • giving students many opportunities to evaluate both rehearsals and performances (written comments, group discussions, etc.)
  • allow the individual person to react with free movement that reflects the phrasing-start simply and then work towards more subtlety
  • switching parts so that the student is understanding all of the choral parts
  • sing the instrumental accompaniment for understanding of the entire phrase
  • move to the pulse of the music- developing body memory
  • learn parts through solfege (movable or fixed do depending on the piece) Assists pitch memory and independence
  • have singers in positions to be compassionate. (Sing at a nursing home, a soup kitchen, hospital, or funeral, etc.)
  • have student compositions based on one phrase or one word
  • listening with intent (give them a puzzle, a problem, or a chance to share their opinion of something technically challenging - i.e. This Little Babe).
  • fellowship game - sit or stand in a community interview circle (this can also be done in smaller groups as well): a. interview a person in the middle - ask three questions student has a right to ‘pass’ on any question. b. model the activity by being in the center as well.
Student investment and ownership:
  • have students develop their own text interpretations
  • use story telling (composers, personal experiences relating to the text, communing with nature, growing-up, losing loved ones, stories by other artist, authors, poets, visual artist)
  • believe in your story
  • have the students read a letter (that you or they create) from the composer about her intentions for the piece.
  • have the students teach a spiritual, or folk song by rote to the class before passing out the arrangement
  • invite student opinions on an artistic decision (e.g. where exactly the crescendo should begin, which vowel color suits the mood of a particular word best, etc.)
  • have student-led sectionals
  • memorization squads: if the group is having trouble with individuals not memorizing their parts, have a team sit out and check the memorization of individuals in the group
  • have students come up with their own warm ups
  • have them listen to tapes from their own recording sessions and evaluate the relative quality
  • have an anger moment where they allow it to all come out in their singing
  • try student grading of each other and themselves (set up a careful list of criteria - they see much more than you do)
  • have a choir council or officers to meet and discuss issues from the students’ perspective, to act as spokes people, and to plan social events and group-bonding activities
  • use dalcroze activities led by students based upon the music that is being rehearsed
  • moving to the pulse of the note values- freeing the eyes from the score
  • sing silently - owning the score without singing it/ showing it completely through the eyes-check the memory at a predetermined spot.
  • find ways to actively involve them in the drama of the music.
  • have student invested towards nuts and bolt needs (library maintenance, attendance)
  • have touring planned by students- discussing at the ground level objectives and
  • discuss the etymology of words, showing links between one language and another.
  • have a student committee set clear goals regarding students able to sing their part alone with musicianship and understanding
  • have students write reflections concerning a concert
  • consider having student program notes
  • have an open forum -- pose a question on curriculum (i.e. “What makes this a good piece of music?”, “What makes an exciting choir rehearsal?, If you had one wish for this choir it would be..) ask a follow-up question/ journal entries
  • develop abstract expressions - break the choir into six groups, provide them with markers, crayons, finger paints -- ask the them to illustrate a concept you have been working on such as dotted rhythms open vowels, binary form, the heart of the music.
  • run rehearsals of difficult passages in circles (basses, tenors, altos, sopranos) while running the passage have the leader in the middle make suggestions for improvements -- set strict time lines -- change leadership in the middle constantly. (use movement within the circle to solidify different learning styles)
  • have a no limits day -- suggest that they can sing in any manner they think is appropriate and the only thing off limits is the ‘can’t’ word.
  • student independence:
(knowledge=Independence (K=I) and complete imagination)
  • shoot for depicting the text in a synergetic manner not as a result of what the conductor might impose
  • show the score through physical movement reflecting dynamic, dramatic, linear and harmonic elements with complete physical understanding
  • sing one part and reflect physically another part.
  • interact with others through discussion with people not in the choir
  • have students understand the integration of all study with the music that is being performed
Developing Student Integrity [IMPLEMENTATION OF THE DREAM]:
Start small. Just as it is difficult to know what to do with a blank page, it is difficult for some students to know what to do with authority. Don't expect overnight change.
  • model the behavior you wish to emphasize.
  • model them before the rehearsal
  • model them during the rehearsal
  • model them after the rehearsal
  • never stop modeling them
Slowly lead students to independence (i.e. ask students to troubleshoot for a solution to a musical problem instead of volunteering one yourself). This will get them thinking for themselves and eventually, they will think independently all the time and take more responsibility for musical excellence. Know your own musical and emotional interior. If you are not comfortable with the things you are asking students to share, then the students will not respond well.
Constantly invite student input and then LISTEN CAREFULLY TO WHAT THEY SAY. Students have insights into what is going on in the music (or in the group) that you will never have.
Consider the difference between student-centered and student-directed. Is it enough to plan activities around student interest and input? For more adventure, try moving toward student directed activities. Students have many things to teach each other (and you).
Consider these four elements of all rehearsals:
  • time
  • structure of the ensemble, rehearsal room / form of the rehearsal
  • how things are learned and percieved
  • pedagogy: who teaches whom? why?
What can you and your students learn as a result of ‘tinkering’ with one of the above elements?
Moving towards a more student-centered rehearsal (like a new idea) can be messy and not always productive on the short run. HOWEVER, investing in a well thought-out process that encourages students to take charge of their own education will be motivating and exciting for them, and for YOU. 

Special thanks to Randal Swiggum, Nick Page, Larry Doebler, Lucy Thayer, Tim Bruneau, Patty O’Toole for their insights into this document.

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