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Music Teachers Need Patience And Laughter

Jun 3, 2008
Picture this scenario. You've just spent a full academic year training your elementary band for a final spring concert. The rehearsal goes well and all systems are GO. Then, ten minutes before the concert, three students lose there music, a bass clarinet breaks and three saxophone players show up with reeds that look like they've been hacked to pieces by Jason in Friday the Thirteenth.

You could follow your gut reaction, which would be as such: "How dare you come to me now, right before the concert. You can't tell me that you didn't see that these reeds were damaged before. What are you trying to do, ruin the concert? Do you want me to wave my magic wand, and make new reeds and a brand new bass clarinet appear? Are you nuts?

Of course, that kind of reaction would most likely get you fired. One of the tricks in this type of scenario to is realize that these students have come to you out of desperation and out of trust. You're the resource person. You are Mr. or Ms. Fix it. Borrowing reeds from other students is the obvious solution. Most responsible students carry extra reeds, and they're usually ready and willing to spare one. As for the bass clarinet, find another instrument. It doesn't have to be in the same grade, and hopefully the brands allow for the broken clarinet's mouthpiece to fit onto a 'healthy' clarinet instrument.

If you manage to keep cool in the above scenario, keep in mind that things could easily go from bad to worse during the concert. In lower grade levels, bands often speed up when confronted with an audience of a few hundred parents. On top of that, maintaining eye contact with the players during the concert is not an easy task when dealing with a panic-stricken orchestra. Here are a couple of golden rules to follow:

Smiling at your orchestra before a performance is of great assistance. If your students seem very uptight, a quiet joke works wonders. When the ice is broken, chances are that the tempo in your pieces will be more uniform.

If something goes wrong, don't think about it during the remainder of the piece that you are conducting. The mistake is over and done with and your students will sense whether or not your mind is in the present or in the past. If you look worried, your pupils will play nervously, which often creates an erratic tempo and a choked sound.

Professional standards are for professionals. If you expect too much from your students, then you will never be happy. It's not a matter of lowering standards, but of realizing the age group that you're working with and bringing the best out of them. Many times, bringing inspiration to students comes from having mastered your curriculum and craft. Hand delivering your curriculum and music skills to your students with humor and patience is the ultimate teaching gift.

So the next time your bass players are playing too loudly during the dress rehearsal and you can't hear the melody, don't scream out: "Would you guys shut up already? Quiet!" Rather, try this: "Hey, it sounds like you are creating your own earthquake back there. A bit quieter please."

Patience and laughter is an unbeatable combination.
About the Author
Come and join Daniel E. Friedman at www.musicmasterstudios.com for assistance in music education and comprehension.
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