Monday, November 6, 2017
IN THIS ISSUE:
Burn-Out Prevention Tips
...the key to survival is to power through the tough times by keeping everything in balance and perspective.
As marching band season comes to a close and the stress associated with the rigorous pace mounts, many of you may be suffering symptoms of career burnout. Most career teachers have been or will be there at some point. The point where you question everything. Why am I still doing this? I don't enjoy this anymore. I'm tired. Those are just a few of the many symptoms. Teaching can be very rewarding and frustrating at the same time. If you find yourself on the down side and asking these or similar questions, try some of these suggestions to get some relief.
Get a hobby. Find something you enjoy that takes you completely away from your work world, work crowd and out of your comfort zone. When you find something that interests you, immerse yourself in it with as much passion and dedication that you can commit to. In the end, this new aspect of your life will take you down new roads and lead you to different perspectives about what and why you do what you do. And no, this hobby can't be music/band related. The goal is to take a portion of your life in a totally NEW direction.
Divide and Conquer. Are you guilty of believing that in order to get something done right, you must do it yourself? If you are, then you know how demanding such tasks can be on your time and how this leads to unnecessary stress in your life. If you have an assistant or multiple staff members, it is imperative that you clearly define the roles of each individual. Not only will this take the load off of you, but the new responsibilities gained by your staff will add meaning and importance to their roles that will show confidence in their abilities. Don't be afraid to assign tasks to student leaders in your ensembles. The trust you put in them will build stronger relationships with them and foster leadership skills that will allow you to ask even more of them in the future.
Prioritize. Sometimes you just have to walk away from what "has to be done today" and realize that it will still be there tomorrow. Many goal-oriented individuals have a strong sense of "checking everything off the list" each day before they can truly relax and feel that they have accomplished all they needed to accomplish. While procrastination can often be a sign of lack of motivation, there are times when it is necessary and healthy. If you have a great deal of things to get done, try writing them all down in one list, then make new prioritized lists with appropriate timelines. This allows you to focus on what is immediate and important and shows you what truly can be accomplished down the road. It will also afford you the opportunity to better organize and manage tasks so that they might be completed more efficiently.
Don't Isolate Yourself. It is so easy to retreat to the band hall or band office and fail to interact with professional peers. Everyone needs a sounding board, a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to bend from time to time. The perspective you will gain from talking with a non-band/music colleague will give you new insight into your frustrations, concerns, etc. Developing friendships outside of the music world will give you the space you sometimes need.
Strengthen Rapport with Your Students. Are you doing this for them? Do they come first? Do you like being around them? Can you understand their perspective on things? Can you relate? I have to admit, I became a band director because I liked band. I didn't become a band director because I liked kids. That was never a factor in my choice to be a teacher! But along the way this slowly changed without me even realizing it. Developing a strong, yet professional relationship with your students will keep you feeling younger, more energetic and more excited about what you are doing. The sense of cooperation that is established when student/teacher "hit it off" and have mutual respect for each other make the job so much easier. It is YOUR job to make this happen. Go the extra mile to build appropriate, meaningful and sincere relationships with your students that will last long after graduation.
Be a Time Manager. Accomplishing as much as possible in as little time as possible is essential to avoiding burn out not only for you but your students as well. Nothing is worse than being involved in a long, non-productive rehearsal/activity. HAVE A PLAN for every event; especially those that involve other people's time outside of the normal school day. Streamline your activities and multi-task. Every activity that takes time should be evaluated carefully to see if it is being completed as efficiently as possible or even if it is necessary. It's easy to fall into the "this is what we have always done before" rut without realizing there is a better, more efficient way.
Get Physical. Find some type of physical activity and do it on a regular basis. Running, working out, walking, swimming, team sports, etc. Find something that challenges you physically. You may not like it initially, but after you get your body conditioned to it you will find that most days you feel better after performing it. There is no other better stress reliever than vigorous physical activity and your body will thank you for it someday.
Family/Personal Time. No one ever said on their death bed "I wish I had spent more time at work." Designate a minimum amount of time each week to spend with your family or if you are single, yourself. You don't even have to have a plan on how to spend the time. Keep in mind that by doing so, you are possibly affording your students and their parents the chance to do the same.
Fake It! Sometimes the enthusiasm just isn't there. We've all been there, but letting that emotion win and sending that type of message to your students gets you nowhere and will become the norm if you let it. In situations like that, I have found the best thing to do is to fool myself into feeling better by faking the energy that I'm not feeling. In other words, pick yourself up by picking up the pace, the energy level and activity of what you are doing until it comes natural. That might be five minutes or five weeks later but sometimes the hardest person to convince is yourself. Regardless of how you feel, fake it for the sake of those around you that are ready to do much more!
Successful teachers all have peaks and valleys in their performance as well as in their individual perspective on what they are doing. Teaching certainly provides more than its share of frustrating moments but the key to survival is to power through the tough times by keeping everything in balance and perspective. If you try some of the things above, it is my belief that you can avoid long term burnout. Best wishes!
Leave the 50 Yard Line Outside!
Our ensemble's depth of expression is exponentially increased when students stop playing notes and start playing melodic lines with inflection, like those found in performances from our vocal counterparts.
Fall is in the air. The days are getting shorter, the temperatures are taking their annual trek downward. And, our days of marching band are winding down. For many of us, the first priority is getting the marching band sound out of the students' heads and replacing it with a warmer, darker sound concept. Additionally, if your marching season extends into November, the need to make this shift in thinking is of greater importance as the winter concert will only be a few short weeks away. Below are a few of the approaches I have used to make this transition in thinking and tonal awareness. As with anything in our profession, there are countless good ways to get this concept across to the students, but here are a few I keep coming back to year after year.
Temperature of Air It seems self-evident to us, but maybe not to our students, that the temperature of air we put into the instrument has a direct impact on the warmth of tone we get out of it. To help students understand this concept, I will ask them to hold their hand out in front of the face, at arm's length, with the palm facing them. I ask them to blow air fast and direct it into their palm. Next I ask them to hold their palm next to their mouth and exhale, much like fogging up a mirror or window. I ask the student to describe the difference in the two approaches, focusing on the temperature of the air as well as how the air flow feels. I ask students to use the second type of air (fogging the mirror) when they play. The improvement is easy to hear and produces a quick improvement in initial tonal output. The next step involves helping the student understand that the first type of air flow they produced is an example of directed air flow, where the second type involves a radiant approach to sound production.
Radiant vs. Directed Sound In marching band, we talk extensively about "where is your sound going?" and getting the sound up to the press box. In the marching setting, we need to focus the students' attention to where the sound is being directed and how it is getting there in order to get the sound to its desired location all at the same time. But, once we move inside, the concepts need to shift to radiating sound instead of directing the sound to a specific spot. I ask the students to think in terms of ripples on a pond. Sound radiates out in all directions. I have found that changing the way I conduct helps the ensemble with this understanding. Using more expansive and horizontal gestures helps open up the ensemble tone as I am displaying a more openness to my physical stance on the podium. I am a firm believer in the idea that our ensembles are really just mirrors of what they see from us, so conducting in a larger, more expansive manner helps to open up their tone.
Taper the Release During the marching season, we focus a lot of attention on releases, specifically on stopping the sound exactly together. One of the primary reasons for this approach is to utilize the acoustic properties of the venue where we perform. However, playing inside, the acoustic properties are quite different and we must physically manipulate the acoustics of where we are playing, not the reverse. I tell my students that the way you end a sound directly impacts the way you start the silence. The same is also true in reverse. Focusing the students' attention on how they begin and end sound helps them understand that even the rests are musical experiences which they must control. Personally, I hate the word "rest". The rests are actually indications of duration for silence and that's how I refer to them. The warmth of an ensemble's tone, or lack thereof, is often most evident in its releases. I like to think about tapering or feathering the release of a chord. To do this, I conduct the release with one hand, assigning instrument groups or voices to each finger on the hand. I ask students to release their specific chord tone, when their finger closes on my hand. Thinking in terms of Francis McBeth's Balance Pyramid, the upper voices are assigned to the pinky and ring finger, where the mid-range and lower voices are assigned to the middle and index fingers. This will cause the release to taper and have more resonance as the lower voices will release their note just after the upper voices.
Playing a Crescendo I have found that once the concepts of control, balance, blend, and pitch begin to emerge, the next stumbling block can be how to execute the crescendo. Bands often play with a good sound, but the crescendo lacks control and often reverts back to the brightness of a marching band sonority. To counteract this, I once again refer to Dr. McBeth's balance pyramid, only I flip it on its side. Once placed on its side, the balance diagram becomes a good reference on how to execute a crescendo, with the larger/lower voiced instruments doing more of dynamic change than the smaller/higher voiced instruments. I have always found this to be a very quick fix for an unruly crescendo.
Use an Analogy I have found that using an analogy that involves a different sense promotes quicker understanding of a concept. For example, I frequently refer to the ensemble's sound in terms of its color or texture. Developing darker tonal concepts is helped along by referring to the sound by a dark color; when the sound should lighten up, I tell the ensemble to change the color. For example, the color in this section will change from dark purple to light blue or dark red to orange. This approach is very beneficial when the band is performing a modulation from a minor to a major tonality or a Picardy Third at the end of a Baroque composition.
Think Outside the Box In order to deepen my personal understanding of ensemble sonority and tone production, I constantly look for new ways to think about how our ensembles express themselves through sound. For me, I like to draw parallels to choral music (Russian male choruses to be specific) and the pipe organ. I listen to choral recordings to develop a deeper understanding of how the vocal ensemble can manipulate texture, timbre, and colorization. Lyrical playing in a concert band is enhanced significantly by deepening our understanding how vocal ensembles manipulate the sound palette. Our ensemble's depth of expression is exponentially increased when students stop playing notes and start playing melodic lines with inflection, like those found in performances from our vocal counterparts. So, start listen to good choirs; you will be amazed how it impacts your understanding of expression in an instrumental ensemble. Another beneficial, yet unconventional resource to consider is the pipe organ. This instrument is wonderful for developing an understanding of how to balance the concert ensemble. On the organ, when you engage a new rank of pipes, the sound profile is consistent from the lowest to the highest note on a keyboard. I find that many ensembles allow the overall balance and texture to change according to the tessitura of the scoring. By focusing on the consistent balance of the pipe organ, you can train your ears to hear the desired ensemble balance in all registers for the concert band. I also find that these recordings are very beneficial for understanding the "halo" effect present in the release. The resonance of a great church or cathedral, where these recordings are made, gives us a perfect example of how the sound should "live" in a space after its release. Once the sound concept is in our ears, we can teach releases more effectively to our ensembles.
These are a few of the concepts I have used with my ensembles over the years. I hope you find at least one of them beneficial. If you have questions about any of the concepts, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. Additionally, if you have practices you find helpful, please share those. I love hearing how others develop their ensemble sounds. All my best for an outstanding concert season.
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