Monday, March 23, 2015
Get On The Level!
The old adage in baseball goes, "When it's going well, don't get too excited...and when it's going badly, don't get down. The game always evens out." It's all about keeping your expectations at a firm and manageable level, while not letting all the little obstacles keep you from achieving your goals. Doesn't really matter if we're talking baseball or band.
Outside, there's melting snow...and inside, melting memories from the fall field show (no matter the level of success) and marching band charts that have turned into basketball band staples. You've enjoyed (or endured) a December or January concert (depending on the fortunes of your local gridders, and the mercies of Mother Nature) and...holy cow, it's festival time. Are there enough hours in the day to deal with all of this? Probably not. Does it matter? Take a step back and think it over for a minute.
If you're a new teacher working in a program that's been needing a boost, you might be seeing the first glimmer of success among students who have been waiting for someone to come in and light a fire. (It's possible that they don't know what the fire even looks like.) You may also feel like you dropped into a pretty deep hole because the same problems keep nagging at your group every day. Frustrations abound as students unevenly respond to your expectations, and they're not making the kinds of "leaps and bounds" type of progress that you'd hoped for. The weather sure hasn't helped!
Relax. You've got this...and you've got lots of help, but only you can make the decision got to get off the rollercoaster first...and, take those kids with you, while you're at it.
You owe your students a consistent, well-planned daily routine...and for your sake and sanity, you owe it to yourself to approach it that way, too. Granted, there will be peaks and valleys in every ensemble's performance year. Every so often, I draw that imaginary horizontal line for my band (and choir, too), and contrast it with a Golden Gate Bridge outline. I tell my groups that my most important goal for them is to take both exemplary and sub-par performances in equal stride and learn from both. They will always be able to find good things in their worst moments and ways to improve even from their best performances.
What usually happens after any performance? There's a feeling of relief, relaxation, and inevitably, that bottomless-pit feeling of "now we have to start all over on the next thing." I was very lucky in my early years at my present school to teach with a veteran choir director. Her daily routine with her singers ALWAYS included new literature (even if it was just a taste) along with the well-rehearsed tried-and-trues, and her groups were consistently ready to take a mini-concert out anywhere and anytime.
Over the years, I've grown accustomed to the philosophy that if I wait on my kids to be ready for a performance, we'll never play for anyone...so we look for even the smallest opportunity. Planning smaller successes for your kids in the short-, middle-, and long-term is the key to consistency. "Happy Birthday" for a fellow staffer or principal? Can do. Choir sings a "nearly-there" piece for the kitchen crew? On it. Your musicians will build up a comfort level about performing in any location, any time. Concerts will still be a special showcase, but both you and your musicians will be confident and consistent. (Works with sightreading, too!)
The most satisfying moments during your time with these students is when you realize that the group has reached a level of consistency and dependability. They trust you to take them to the next level, and you should remind them that YOU trust them to do the work that it takes to get there. Take some credit where it's due because of the standards you have set...but believe me, they deserve your praise for making this happen. It's a huge step toward bigger and better things. Have a great Spring!