How do you, step by step, go about assembling a performing group, decide on music, schedule rehearsal time and mount a performance?

Hello Friends!

Just a reminder…submissions for this month’s guest blogging contest should be submitted by November 1.  Read on for Mallory Martin’s submission, followed by one from Emily Quezada.  Thanks for sharing ladies!  The idea is to get lots of ideas out there!  You can email your submissions to me at doremi9642@aol.com or doremi9642@gmail.com, or you can type your submission right into the comment box.

The prize this month is…..(drum roll)…..

Favorite Folk Songs by Peter Yarrow

From Mallory:

You asked for step-by-step, so you got it!

Assembling my performance group is pretty straightforward.  My performance group is a 4th and 5th grade extra-curricular choir.  I write an invitation letter every fall and distribute it to all 4th and 5th grade students.  Children must return the permission slip before the first day of rehearsal.  The permission slip contains the child’s name, grade, and home room; the parent or guardian’s name and signature, phone number, and email; and a check box for how they will get home after rehearsals.

There are no auditions; I accept every student who wants to join.  At this age, I think turning students away causes a lot more harm than allowing a weak singer into the group.  I have heard too many horror stories of people who gave up singing or music for life because of one music teacher who told them they were bad.  Plus, I am a music TEACHER!  It’s my job to TEACH them to sing well!  I usually get about 50% of the students to sign up for choir.  This number increases when there is a performance scheduled at a major venue such as a Twins game or the Mall of America.

Choir rehearsals are after school, once per week.  The two grade levels rehearse separately because my classroom is too small to house all of them and there are no other available rooms in my building at that time.  Last year, rehearsals were 45 minutes.  I found that was not enough time to really go into the music, so I extended it to 60 minutes this year.  I feel like we can learn a lot more.  And, although it’s a high-energy group, I can take a minute to wait for them to be quiet without feeling like I’m wasting precious time.

Since our performances are in the gymnasium (we have a stage with curtains, lights, and sound system in our gym), we do rehearse on stage the week of the concert.  I set up the stage myself (big big job!) on Tuesday, then we start at the beginning of the concert and get as far as we can.  The next day, we pick up where we left off and go back and work transitions, solo parts, wordy songs, or anything else that needs special attention.  On Thursday morning, I pull kids from class for 60 minutes (thanks to the classroom teachers’ flexibility!) for our final rehearsal.  We eat lunch together then perform for the entire school (and whichever parents show up) at 1:30.  We do not rehearse after school that day, but meet back in the music room at 6:30 P.M. to warm up, go to the bathroom, and line up for the 7:00 performance.

Setting up and striking the stage is technically my job, but luckily I have helpful custodians and students and parents.  And, I try to plan ahead so the job is as small as possible.

I select repertoire as far in advance as possible.  Due to my predecessor’s panache, my school community is used to big, dance-y, costume-y, showy, themed programs.  My principal supports my desire to showcase quality music in a manner that is engaging, educational, and entertaining (which means I am trying to tone it down a bit!).  So, I often select music with a theme, and plan on doing a “big” show once every other year, so each student gets to do a “big” show.  I love dancing and choreographing, so I will often create simple dance moves that are riser-friendly and musically appropriate.  I also think that simple costumes are fun.  Read on to see two of my ideas for simple yet effective costuming.

This December’s theme is seasons.  This way, I get to select quality music and let the students perform some holiday music without making a full-out holiday concert.

Song List

Spring: Shadowphobia, Emerald Isle, and Piney Mountain Home (all Music K – 8)

Summer: Red Dragonflies (Japanese); Love the Summer, and We Go for the Gold (Music K – 8)

Fall: I Like the Colors of the Fall, Do You Recall September (Music K – 8); Skin and Bones (Traditional: I use the arrangement from Share the Music Grade 1.  The fifth graders love it and have no idea it’s from a first grade textbook.)

Winter: Winter Holiday (partner song with “Jingle Bells”) and Holiday Sing-Along (from Share The Music Grade 6)

For decorations, the art teacher is giving me the 3rd graders’ leaves after she takes them down.  In addition, I am going to cut out a huge snowflake, flower, and sun and pin them to the back curtains.  Décor: check!

For flair, we have some simple choreography to “Shadowphobia” and “Love the Summer,” as well as sign language for “Do You Recall September.”  We will add rain, cricket, bird, and frog sounds to “Red Dragonflies.”  I will have students who participate in sports wear their uniforms for “We Go for the Gold.”  I will print off words for the Holiday sing-along and have the audience join us on some of the songs.

My concert next April will be the revue “My Planet, Your Planet” published by Music K – 8.  I have written my own dialogue about some aliens who come to Earth because their planet was overtaken by garbage.  They want our help and end up teaching us about being “green.”  The choir will get T-shirts (paid for on their own unless there is a financial hardship, when the PTO will cover their cost) that are green with alien eyes on the front and the Earth on the back.  Students portraying aliens will wear the shirts normally with sunglasses and students portraying “Earthlings” will wear the shirts reversed with some sort of “Earthly” headgear such as a baseball cap or cowboy hat.

I hate spending money on props and costumes!  So, I try to: 1. Use items students already own.  2. Use items students will be purchasing anyway.  3. Buy items that are versatile and can be used over and over.

My gymnasium has a sound system and I have two fifth graders somewhat trained in how to use it.  Basically, they stand backstage to adjust the gain (volume) and start and stop the CD player.

I have an accompanist for any songs that will not be performed with CD.  She is paid from district funds at a standard, stinky district rate.

I am free to schedule my own concerts, but I make sure not to conflict with any concerts of our “feeder” schools (the middle and high schools that we feed into).

I have not had any negative comments from parents about my performances.  I am very sensitive to the inclusion of sacred music.  I am careful to find a balance between sacred and secular music and always choose sacred music for its educational value.  I am ready with a list of educational merits of each sacred song in case a parent or administrator wonders about the appropriateness of my song choice.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this essay contest!  I look forward to the opportunity to read other teachers’ submissions and glean many new ideas from them.

Mallory Martin

From Emily

My classroom teachers take on grade level performances (this began after we participated in an arts integration grant), so I am only responsible for giving performances with my after school groups. I have chorus (3-5) and Orff (4-5) who meet separately once a week to rehearse. The only requirement to join these groups is to have a signed contract and pay the activity fee. Auditions have their place but for these groups, I don’t feel it is necessary. We usually have 10-13 rehearsals before a performance.

In addition to my after school groups, I like to feature a class from another grade. Last year it was a 2nd grade class who performed Giddy-up My Burro.

My basic plan starts with knowing that my winter concert will always be something holiday/winter themed and my spring is always a musical. From there I narrow it down. When I am planning a winter concert I like to come up with some sort of theme to help narrow my song selection.

For example, last year’s winter concert was “A Passport Through the Holidays”. We performed music from around the world and the kids read a script describing where the piece came from and the celebration it is from. Here’s what we performed:

Giddy-up My Burro
La Pinata
Lo Yisa Goi
Kwanzaa Celebration
African Noel
Sleigh Ride (Recorder)
Christmas Comin’
Jingle Bells (Recorder)
Lion Dance

Once I have my theme I select songs that will highlight each group separately and then a few that feature both. I also like to find a way to incorporate recorder and movement; whether that be dance, sign language, etc. Some of the songs that we performed were simple but I made some tweaks to the arrangement to up it to where my performing groups were.

Emily Quezada