Monday, March 13, 2006
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Large Ensemble Sight Reading Tips by Bob Holden
1. Sight read from the very beginning of the year. When the band or orchestra is handed a new selection, play the entire piece or a portion of the piece thru before starting to work on notes and rhythms. I would recommend some instruction from you concerning what you might anticipate being the most challenging passages. This concept should also include marching band, pep band and jazz ensemble music. Challenge the students to continue playing - even when there are problems and if they completely “fall apart”, stop and talk to them about the problems that they confronted and try it again. I do not believe that a director should play a recording of the selection before attempting to play it. Later, down the line, it can be very beneficial to hear a professional performance of a selection that you are going to perform - but allow them to, at least partially, prepare it first. It also is not helpful, in my opinion, to play along with the students on a regular basis because they will continue to rely on your playing and will receive a huge “shock” when you are not playing your instrument with them at a performance or a contest.
2. When actually preparing for the contest, I would suggest rehearsing the process of the six minute instruction period at least once or twice before contest when sight-reading new music. When doing this, pick something that is either a suite of various styles and tempos or an overture that changes styles and tempos. Approach it as if it is a dress rehearsal for the event.
3. Select in advance your strongest four percussion players to handle timpani, snare drum, bass drum and cymbals - in that order. There is almost always a short percussion section solo featuring these players. Also pick your strongest mallet player to be ready in case there is a part for that instrument.
4. Sometimes when I had an inexperienced or young band I would place my strongest readers throughout the sections so that everyone was close to an experienced player during the sight-reading event. For example, the clarinet, trumpet & trombone sections generally have three separate parts. Don’t place all of the strongest sight-readers on the first part.
Whether it is in the rule book or not, your band is really being judged from the moment they enter the room. They need to enter in single file in a quiet manner. There really should not be any conversation other than that which is necessary for positioning themselves in the proper location. There is usually not enough time between the prepared performance and sight-reading to position the chairs and stands as you would on stage. Talking should be held to a minimum and if additional chairs and stands need to be obtained, the students need to do that as quickly and quietly as possible.
1. Once the band is seated, the music in folders is placed on stands generally by student helpers and they should not be opened until the adjudicator tells them to do so.
2. At this point, I would suggest having the group play a scale and tuning note since it had been a while since the last note of their prepared performance. They also definitely need to hear the acoustics of the room before they start.
3. The judge or an appointed person will state the rules concerning sight-reading which really should have already been discussed prior to your arrival at contest (The rules are stated in the MSHSAA Manual under Section 7: Event Regulations).
4. At this point the director may ask for a time warning or two from the judge during the six minute instruction time. My suggestion would be with 3 minutes remaining and 1 minute remaining. This way you can organize your presentation a little better and not run out of valuable time.
When the music is opened and the six minutes have started, I would suggest that the director immediately start talking about the following information:
1. The overall form of the selection in this order:
A. Tempos and styles of the movements (if a suite) - or changes in tempo and style (If an overture)
C. D.C. al Codas or D.S. al Codas - if they occur
2. The general topics
A. Key signatures and any changes that might occur
B. Time Signatures and any changes that might occur
C. Ritards, Accelerandos and any other tempo changes
3. Specific topics that you cannot clap or sing but can discuss with the students.
A. Difficult or “tricky” rhythms
C. Anything that you see that may be a problem during the performance
4. If you are finished by the time the one minute warning is given, allow the students to mention anything that they see and feel could be a possible problem. More than likely you will not see everything in a six minute period of time.
1. Do not stop playing during the performance unless everything completely “falls apart“.
2. If necessary, you can provide “large” downbeats in your conducting at letters and numbers marked in the score - but only if a “togetherness” problem occurs. Let your students know this procedure prior to arrival at contest - not in front of the judge.
3. Conduct as musically as you can to help the band or orchestra play the music and not just notes. In my opinion when I am adjudicating, playing just the notes and rhythms and not dynamics and style will rarely earn a #1 rating.
When leaving the performance, have the students wait quietly for your instructions and exit quietly because the judge is still writing comments and can easily be distracted. No performance is ever going to be perfect - especially when sight-reading - so don’t get upset with a group when they make mistakes. Be positive about their performance because, you as the instructor, certainly know how stressful this part of the activity can be.
The Jazz Educators' Big Band, under the direction of Bob Holden, will be presenting a FREE concert featuring the music of former “Jazz Legend” STAN KENTON on Sunday, April 9 at 2:30 PM. The concert will be at Clara Thompson Auditorium, 900 North Benton Ave. on the Drury University Campus. The significance of the location is reminiscent of the Stan Kenton Clinics that were held at Drury University during the 70s. Bob has put together a program with historical facts about Stan and his band spanning four decades.
Included in the program are:
Eager Beaver - Stan Kenton (1943)
Stompin' At The Savoy - Bill Holman (1955)
Intermission Riff - Ray Wetzel (1956)
La Suerte de los Tontos from Cuban Fire Suite - Johnny Richards (1956)
Jump For Joe - Gene Roland (1958)
My Old Flame - Mary Paich (1958)
Somewhere from West Side Story (1962)
Malaguena - Bill Holman (1964)
Here's That Rainy Day - Dee Barton (1970)
MacArthur Park - Dee Barton (1970)
A Little Minor Booze - Willie Maiden (1970)
Malaga - Bill Holman (1971)
Send In The Clowns - Dave Barduhn (1975)
Granada Smoothie - Mark Taylor (1976)
The members of the twenty-one piece band include Mike Seidner, Bryant Robinson, Becky Wells, Jim Shannon, Tina Claussen, Jeff Nall, John Horrell, Mark Brueggemann, Cathy Coonis, Andy Wang, Carl Yendes, Bob Holden, Bob Swanson, Denny Pilant, Chuck Mahaffey, Bill Gulley, Jerry Schultz, Shane Knoops, Kate Tickner, Paul Davis, Mary Pilant, Michael Cassidy, Ned Wilkinson, Jake Schubert, Jeff Goug
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