Monday, November 18, 2019

Multiple Performing Ensembles From the Classroom

Considering Multiple Performing Ensembles
by Kirby Swinney
Wise Owl

You've stayed at your job for several years now, and the stability and expertise you have offered has led to tremendous growth. What once was a manageable group is now bursting at the seams in all directions, and, for the first time, you seriously ask yourself if you are capable of meeting the musical needs of all of your students. You fear that the most talented players in your ensemble could be doing more, but at the same time you know there are students that may be getting lost in the shuffle. If this scenario sounds familiar, then obviously the time has come to consider forming a second performing ensemble. Before you do, here are a few things to consider.

There are several clear advantages to having multiple concert bands. First and foremost, when done correctly everyone gets better. The students in your advanced group will have the opportunity to move at a quicker pace and play more difficult literature, which, in turn, will make them better musicians. Students in your younger group will benefit even more. Many of them for the first time will sit at the top of their section where they now will develop not only an improved musical ability, but leadership ability as well. These two factors will then allow them to become more invested in your program and take a greater interest in its improvement.

Once you have decided that multiple concert bands are the way to go there are a few "must haves." If you don't have all of these, you should give careful consideration to keeping your group together as one.

Adequate instrumentation. All performing groups must have the potential to be successful. If you do not have the ability to outfit each group with acceptable instrumentation for the level of literature that they will be required then the group is a "no go". There should never be a "scale jail" group. You are basically telling these students that they are not good enough to be in your band program when you do this. Every kid must be in a group that has the potential to make a good ensemble sound. No exceptions. If allowed by your state competition rules, you can always use students in other groups performing on secondary instruments to fill any void you may have.

Eager, Qualified Staff. The easiest way to destroy your program and to foster resentment between groups is to create a group and put a conductor in front of it that doesn't really want to be there and doesn't have any intention of creating a positive and challenging environment. If you do not have a staff member in front of each group that plans to make that group the best it can possibly be, then that group should not exist. Every director should teach each group with equal passion and commitment. Your students deserve the best instruction possible no matter their ability level.

Facilities. You must have a rehearsal venue for each group that is available every day and meets the needs of the group. You cannot place your more advanced group in a nice facility and send your second group to some tiny, inferior room somewhere. All of your students must have an acceptable space.

Equipment. You must have adequate numbers of chairs, music stands and percussion equipment-- the latter being the most difficult to achieve. If you come up short in this area, don't immediately write off the idea of multiple groups. You might be able to find unused equipment that you can borrow from nearby band programs. You can also carefully program what you play to match the percussion equipment that you have. While you might still need to share some equipment from time to time in order to make it work, in the long run it will still be worth it.

Financial Resources. Fielding multiple groups will require the purchase of more music, possibly more small accessory instruments and multiple entry fees at various competitions. Make sure that you have the financial means to support each group.

Once you have determined that you indeed have all of the needed resources, staff, etc., the next step is to determine when and how to get it done. One option is to split into multiple groups as soon as possible after the conclusion of the marching band season. Another option is to wait until after winter break. I personally believe it is best to do it sooner rather than later, particularly if it is a new concept. Students in both groups will need some time to adjust to the challenges of performing in smaller groups (wind ensemble/concert band).This is particularly true with the younger bands. Those students will need time to develop confidence and realize the challenge before them. The early split gives the conductor the time to establish a rapport, develop daily warm-up routines and establish an ensemble sound with the group prior to the pressures of concerts and contests.

Before you form multiple ensembles, you must also decide how you want to structure them. Will it be strictly by ability? If so, an audition process must be in place, and care should be taken to make sure it is done fairly and anonymously. Will you split it by grade level? If so, are you willing to keep your best trumpet player out of your top group simply because he/she isn't in the correct grade? Or will you do a compromise? If you have two bands, you might consider a plan that puts all freshmen in the younger band all seniors in the older band and only audition the two classes in the middle. This rewards seniors for their loyalty to the organization and, even if they possess a bad attitude, keeps them in your group where you can keep a closer eye on them, preventing them from affecting the attitudes of your impressionable freshmen.

In order for this to new plan to succeed, you must clearly communicate how and why you are doing this to your parents. Without an explanation, when parents find that their child is in a younger, less experienced group they may come to the wrong conclusion that you are only interested in the "talented" kids and you really don't have any interest in their kid. You must clearly show them your your focus is on ALL of your students, and that this system will make them all better. You must follow that up with success from all groups. You must insist on high standards across your program from directors of all groups.

Finally, students in each group must support each other. Have the bands play for each other before concerts and contests. Never send a student from one group to the other as punishment--what a terrible message to send to the receiving group and director. Also, it is imperative that the head director maintain a relationship with all students during the year. Find a way to interact even though you aren't the director in front of the group each day. You cannot give the impression that you don't care about any students other than those in your group.

Best of luck! When done right, you will see tremendous improvement in your band program!

Kirby SwinneyKirby Swinney graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 1982 with a degree in instrumental music education and retired in 2014 after teaching band for 30 years in the Oklahoma communities of Weleetka, Dewey, Choctaw and Shawnee. While at Dewey and Shawnee, both band programs earned their first ever OSSAA sweepstakes award and in 2013 the Shawnee Band Program earned its first ever double sweepstakes award when both concert bands earned superior ratings at the state level contest. Kirby's marching bands were consistently rated superior at regional competitions and were also consistent top twelve finalists at the OBA State Marching Band Championship Contest. Kirby joined the Palen Music Center team in OKC in 2014.

From the Classroom - Parsons, KS
Parsons, Kansas

Contact Your Local Palen Music Center Representative
Can we assist you with anything? Please contact your local Palen Music Center school road representative for all of your music education needs.
(417) 882-7000 (573) 256-5555 (816) 792-8301
(417) 781-3100 (405) 896-8111 (479) 464-8877
(918) 286-1555 (636) 229-1904 (417) 882-7000

If you would like to submit material, make corrections, give comments, or wish to be removed from this mailing list, please contact David Gorham.