I have to share a great "Aha" moment I had with my 7th grade band on Thursday that still is giving me shivers. But first, I should explain the title. It is in reference to Prof. Jerry Luckhardt who is the director of the Encore Wind Ensemble, a group that I have had the privilege of playing with the past nine years. Jerry is also on faculty of the University of Minnesota. My students can always tell when I have had a rehearsal the night before because I am that much more in tune with what is going on in front of me. Not only has Jerry pushed me to be a better musician, but through performing with Encore and having Jerry as my conductor I have become a better teacher.
Back to this rehearsal. The focus of the day, or the "Learning Target", was for the students to really listen inwards to the ensemble and pay attention to how they were balancing within their section and the whole group. I reference the pyramid of sound quite a bit in all of my groups and we often review which section goes where. I scheduled the rehearsal so that we would begin with warm-ups (scales, interval studies, articulation studies and chorales in major and minor keys) and our first piece was a slow lyrical piece. I realized through the chorale that I was working much too hard to get them to play the dynamics. Dynamics can be tough for young players to really grasp-especially crescendos and decrescendos-they aren't always gradual.
As we were playing through the chorale and I was desperately trying to get my students to crescendo with my gesture, I starting thinking "what would Jerry do?" In Encore he often says that we make the best music when he stops conducting. It forces us to listen to each other and work together to create music. We breath together, we move together and it is a pretty cool musical
experience. So, I decided to do this same thing with my 7th grade band. After we released our sound I told them that I was going to challenge them. I told them that I would get them started and then I was going to get out of the way. I told them that we needed to do a better job with the written dynamics and that we needed to start using our ears to work together on these dynamics. I told them that they needed to agree without saying anything, but through their playing, the pace of the crescendos and decrescendos.
So, I got them going. And it was breathtaking what they did. I was beside myself in utter disbelief at what was coming out of my 7th grade band. It was some of the best music that they had ever created together. But even better than that was when we released the sound (I helped them with that) they just sat there and they KNEW what had just happened. We all just sat there with these giddy grins. It was so cool.
And then we did it again with the slow piece that we are working on. Their breathing was in time and their musicality was just out of this world.
I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes I am not sure that we give our young people enough credit. I know that I have been guilty of that all too often. But here is a perfect example of a semi-professional group doing something and then I applied the very same idea to a group of 7th graders and it worked exactly the same way.
I would really encourage you to get away from the podium and let the students lead a bit. This gives the students some ownership of what they are creating and the benefits are bountiful to you, the students and the ensemble.
Have a great week!