Monday, April 13, 2015

Districts- Perspective of a music teacher

    I love having my students involve with Districts but it is a lot of work if you take the responsibility of preparing them seriously.
      It starts in the fall, when the audition lists are posted. Again, speaking from the choral side of things, we have a restriction on how many females we can send and we can send as many boys as we can force get to audition. Here are the things that go through my mind when selecting students to audition:
- Who needs a challenge?
- Who are my leaders?
- Who is performing at a higher level than some of my students?
- Who would benefit with working with different musicians/conductors?
- Though sometimes this is a little scary, who do I feel would represent me and our school well?

     Usually I give everyone an opportunity to "sign up." I usually see who comes to sign up and then I actively pursue kids who should be on the list that aren't. If a student that I hoped would try out doesn't want to, I usually just let it go. This year there was a boy that I hoped would try out that didn't want to try out because he was worried he'd be a little overwhelmed.  Knowing him well, his abilities and the requirements for the festival, I was pretty disappointed that he didn't want to take the chance.. but I understood his decision. Unfortunately, over vacation I kept thinking about what a great thing it would've been for him. So, when we got back from Christmas break, I told him the things that had been going through my mind and asked him to think about it once more. He trusted me enough to audition. (He got in and performed last weekend) For the girls, I can only send 9, so I teach everybody the music and then pick the top 3 from each voice part. I haven't had too many years when I've had more than 9 girls interested. My only concern for the girls is if there is a girl who struggles and wants to try out. If there are enough spots, I'm glad to give her an opportunity but I don't want it to be a negative experience if vocally she wouldn't be able to do well. (AKA. I don't want to intentionally set someone up for failure but I do want kids to gain experience and learn audition skills. This doesn't mean I assume all of my students will get into the festival.)
     In preparation for auditions (or auditions for auditions), I practice the piece with each student. Ideally I would say "We're rehearsing on this day" and students would magically show up all together. Realistically, I don't have the same prep time  as any time my students don't have class. This means I'm trying to fit in small rehearsals with each kid with a few group practices. By January, I want their piece learned and them to have the confidence to sing it for me alone. There are some times that I would like to push students further than they want to go. These are usually the kids who could've gotten in but miss it due to needing to practice a bit more- or nerves about singing by themselves.
      In January, on a Saturday, I bring my students to auditions. Many years I ask for a bus but it would have to come out of our music budget. There are a few years when I've had a lot of students and I've been able to get funds from general funds. If they do not provide transportation I usually beg ask them to pay the registration fee. Then I beg parents to carpool the kids. I usually spend some time this day warming the kids up, calming their nerves and hoping that they will do what they are capable of. I'm proud of all of my students for attempting the audition, even if they don't get in.
     After auditions, I anxiously wait to hear which students get in. I know I will have to tell some kids bad news and I look forward to sharing in the joy of the other kids. I like having the score sheets with me at this time since I can give them specific strengths and weaknesses of their audition.
     Once students hear if they get in, the real work begins. Each student is sent a packet of music to learn. It is understood that the child will work independently on their music but it is also assumed that their music teacher will be responsible and help them prepare. I had 3 students get in this year- 2 girls, 1 boy. The girls learned the same music but they are in different grades so they were never "off" at the same time.  Between January and March I am also involved with the production of a musical so between musical rehearsals, after school choral rehearsals and meetings I have had no days of leaving school before 3:30 (or later) since the beginning of 2015. In addition to meeting after school, I have also given up every lunch to work with students.  I have also rehearsed before school. A few important things to point out-1) I don't mind doing this if it's helping students and they appreciate it. 2) This is a free voice lesson. Every day. 3) If you schedule a time to rehearse, I will be angry if you don't show up since I scheduled my time around that appointment.  4) If you have a music teacher who is working with your child, please understand that some of the time they are putting into your child are sacrificial times in their own families so a thank you is always appreciated. I don't expect anything from anyone but I always appreciate a sincere thank you. On a personal note, I also gain some knowledge of different choral repertoire in these rehearsals.
     At Districts, the music teacher position is easy- once you've gotten them there. Again, ideally buses. Second best- parent drivers. Honestly, for the past few years I have driven at least 1 way each rehearsal. In some cases, my students would not be able to go because their parents can't get out of work or can't drive. This is not ideal and if you are a new teacher I would never recommend driving. Since this has been the assumption in my job since I started, I've gotten used to it and it has been fine with administration and parents. If I can avoid driving I do.
     At Districts, as a music teacher, I like to go and learn from other conductors. I enjoy seeing my students soak up knowledge from new people and hearing the beautiful music they're making. I like to assess things I'm doing well in my job and things I feel that I could use improvement on.
     What I like most about involving my students with Districts is collaborating with other music teachers, watching my students grow musically and seeing them push themselves to achieve more than they knew they could. Some teachers have told me they won't involve their kids because it is a hassle for them and involves a lot of their own time. I find that the time I put into preparing my kids seems to be repaid when the kids come back stronger and as better leaders.

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