Sunday, April 12, 2015

"So, what do you actually do?" District festival from the assistant manager's perspective

     Quite a while back, I asked what people were interested in reading about on my blog. A few people mentioned that they would like to hear more about what I do as a profession. Many times, when I first meet someone and they ask me what I do, I tell them that I'm a music teacher and get "Oh! That must be fun!" (AKA- Either- "Cool, that sounds like it would be a good time!" but more often then not "I know what you do!:"
Yeah..... no. What about this?
Music teacher.. what my friends think i do
Okay, this one is a little closer. Though anyone who truly is a friend of mine knows 1) I don't often have time/desire to just chill out on a beach and 2) let's face it... my pale skin is burned just looking at that picture.
    Here's how the rest of the conversation goes. "Oh! That's fun. So, what grade do you teach?" Me: "Middle school. I have students in 5th-8th grade." This is followed by a myriad of responses. Top 3:
1) "God bless you. Ugh. Middle school... " *shudders*
2) "How do you deal with kids that age?"
3) Silently slinks away or excuses themselves since there obviously has to be something wrong with me?
(Disclaimer: I actually truly love what I do. I also like working with middle school students. Also, I chose to work with this age group so you don't have to let me know that I am "good enough to teach at a high school." I am intelligent and I'm certified to teach high school too if I wanted to. It does take "a special person" to teach middle school and the job is not  for everyone. However, I think it's where God wanted me.)
       This past week I served as our Junior Districts Festival Boys' Chorus Assistant Manager. Have you ever wondered what really goes into putting on one of those festivals? I thought it would be fun (and educational) to tell you what goes on behind the scenes. I'm going to give you 4 perspectives. I might even be brave enough to ask my students to give me authentic student thoughts... gasp. Scared yet?
    Where to start? I guess I'll tell you about my official role this year.

A Districts Festival: Assistant Manager's Perspective

     If you are a music educator and you would like to help out at your state's district festivals, the assistant manager is the position that you would most likely start in. This job is not too overwhelming (even if you are a brand new teacher). It can be a great way for you to get to know students and teachers in your area, as well as serving your district. It is also positive p.r. for the district you work in since that is usually publicized with your name. The best thing about this role if you're nervous about jumping in is that you are working directly under someone who did this job last year.  This is more of a helper role than an administrative role.  The only negative thing that might matter to you is that, depending on where you are teaching, it is pretty much an unpaid position, other than your expenses. 
     The most important parts of this job occur at auditions, the rehearsals and the concert. These are my thoughts about my personal experiences this year. I will write about the boys chorus part of this festival but you should know that there is a boys chorus, girls chorus, jazz band, orchestra and concert band. There are 5 assistant managers and managers on the festival committee. 
      At auditions, we had 6th-9th grade singers from about 65 different towns.  The manager and assistant manager usually get to the audition site much earlier than the students in order to set up the audition rooms, talk to the festival coordinator, confer with judges, prepare the waiting area for the students who are auditioning and, if you're lucky, eat breakfast.  The auditions started at 8:30 am this year and ran until about 5, with a 30 minute break for lunch. Auditions for each student were 3 minutes long. When students arrived in the auditorium, I would greet them and check them in by school code. (This is a numbered code. Their school name or personal name are never used in anything having the do with the judging process) Students were sent to their audition rooms and it was my job to make sure that the auditions kept moving- that students checking in had enough time to warm up, that everyone in the room was checked in, that the audition rooms stayed on schedule and that none of the judges were getting a line of students waiting.
      This year the audition process was fun. I love it every year because you get the following privileges:
1) You hear what students from other places sound like
2) You are helping to provide an awesome opportunity for 100s of students
3) EVERYBODY in that room "gets" what you do and the importance of music
4) Most of those same people appreciate you being there.
5) Almost ALL of those people, especially the students, are grateful that you are there and actually tell you that. 
     After all of the students have auditioned, it's time to pick the group. I'll be really honest here. This used to take HOURS. We had to collect about 1000 forms, double check the math on each form-twice!, sort the forms by voice part, organize them by score, figure out the percentage of students you were going to accept and then do the math (again) to decide which students were accepted and which were not.  (I would say that this is tough sometimes if you see the names. It's all mathematically cut and dry but sometimes it stinks to know that your student would've been the next person accepted or other things like that.) So, last year our district switched to electronic submission of scores. So this year the process was more like- open excel file, sort, look for gaps in the score, figure out the percentage of # of students accepted by part, sort again, print. Once the group is chosen, the list is given to the festival coordinator and they send it to the music company who will then distribute the music. (Before, we put together the folders and did a mailing to each school. I'm grateful for technology in this case.) Once your auditions are done, you have a few months "off," meaning that you don't need to really do anything in the asst. manager role. (Which is fantastic since this is where your "music teacher" role picks up again.)
     The next time you are "on" is at the rehearsals. We did 3 rehearsals and then a concert. The 1st and 2nd rehearsals were after school for 4 hours each. The last rehearsal was 3 hours, followed by a concert after.  My main job at the rehearsals was to assist with the administrative parts of the rehearsal- checking in the kids, greeting everyone, answering logistical questions, doing anything the conductor needs, helping the manager and dealing with any behavior issues (this was not really a huge deal since all of these kids supposedly wanted to be there and had earned their spots. With middle school guys, if you lay down the expectations and they respect you, the problems often come when they're super tired or too hungry. lol). 
     Our first rehearsal was pretty good. The pacing was a little slow and the boys came a little less prepared than I was hoping. I mostly watched the conductor and his interaction with the boys. It's difficult to step in with kids who have never sung together or seen you conduct and then make them a cohesive group when you only have 3 days. The boys were fading a bit by dinner. After they ate, things went better. On a positive note, the guys in the group were very respectful, grateful and friendly. There were many different personalities and I think they all felt comfortable just being themselves, which was nice to see. Many of them introduced themselves to students from other towns and to me too, which I wasn't expecting. I was surprised by how many of them came to thank me at every rehearsal, to hold a door, offer help, etc. (Chivalry does still exist!)
     The second rehearsal was probably my favorite. I had been asked to run a sectional, which is a rehearsal with a smaller group rather than all of the voice parts together. When I had been asked, I asked which voice part they wanted me to work with. "Pros" and "cons" of each section (at least as a stereotype) in this group:
Soprano: Pros- usually pretty enthusiastic. Don't challenge things you say. Sound like little angels
Cons- They are usually the youngest so they can get really silly or really tired. Less experience

Alto- Pros- One of the more competitive parts in terms of getting in so they are usually very musical. Their music is usually in a comfortable range for them. Ask good questions.
Cons- Again, can be on the younger side of the group so they can get tired easily. Sometimes lack maturity. Some of their voices have started to change after auditions so they might be dealing with that.

Tenor- Pros- The most competitive. hard-working. Music is usually in a pretty good range for most of them. Want to be good leaders. Respond well to encouragement
 Cons- Sometimes the tenors want to be really cool... in a bad way. Will usually have at least 1 who will make side comments or challenge you about what you're teaching. Sometimes have voice change issues or strain vocally depending on their experience.

Basses- Pros- Usually are the older guys so they are usually have more experience musically. They also like being leaders. They also like thinking that they're the "men" of the group.
Cons- Sometimes they like leading boys to misbehave if they're not engaged. Are less concerned about pleasing someone than they are about having a good time. Sometimes can be rude. Potentially physically giant. 

     Can you guess which one I asked to work with? Tenors. (Another disclaimer- the Soprano, alto and bass sections were all really wonderful and other than getting tired, none of the negative things I said above were there.)  I asked the conductor what he wanted me to rehearse. Unfortunately, I wasn't told until 20 minutes before my prep time was over at school on the day of the rehearsal (with no more free time during the day). I was to rehearse specific notes, entrances and Latin pronunciation on 1 piece. Easy peasy. 2nd piece- 3 themes which were independent lines with lots of syncopation. No problem. I play percussion too so I love rhythmic pieces. Piece 3- Specific notes. Ok. 4 verses of French pronunciation. Huh? Au Sérieux? Tu plaisantes? Confession- I don't speak French. I began to panic and frantically sent my EEK! Help! e-mail to my friend the French teacher. 
     I rehearsed the French with the French teacher and practiced every second that I had free in the day. My poor 8th grade tenor laughed audibly when I told him that I would be teaching the French. (It's okay, he was just teasing.)  I was sick to my stomach.
     The sectional came after the warm-ups at the second rehearsal. As I walked to the classroom, a few gentleman took my music/folder, the keyboard, the keyboard stand and the music stand.. which left me holding the electrical cord for the keyboard- not bad for a group of guys I've just met. I rehearsed the first song. They had a few note problems but responded well to my teaching style. They moved fast and they treated me very respectfully. I had a few great questions and they were enthusiastic. I almost tried to avoid the French piece by putting it last but I knew that I wasn't going to miraculously learn how to speak French while I was teaching another song so I might as well be brave.
     Some teachers feel like they always have to look like they're perfect. I have seen teachers make up blatant lies because they don't know an answer to a question. I have seen teachers deflect questions in fear that they will look stupid. I'm not one of those teachers. I think you can learn from anyone- even awkward middle school boys. I figured I would take the honest route. I said something like "Ok boys, can I be really honest with you?" (Greeted by puzzled middle school boy faces) "I appreciate your hard work and I'm really excited to be working with you. However, I got really intimidated when I found out what I'm supposed to be doing in this sectional. One of my tasks is to teach you 4 verses of French. So, here's the confession. I don't speak French. I'm a singer, so I do know how to get around the language a bit, but I'm not confident about it. So, I guess I'm just trying to ask you to be patient with me and to tell you that I'm doing the best I can while being extremely out of my comfort zone. With that being said, if you're taking French in school and you hear that I'm making a blatant mistake, please feel free to politely correct me." (Greeted by smiles from all the boys who obviously take Spanish and feel my pain.) Then a really relaxed looking tenor in the back row raised his hand. In my head I anticipated "If you don't speak French, why are you teaching us?" but what came out was "Hi. I'm a native French speaker. We speak French at home. I'd be glad to help you out if you need anything." What!?! Score! 
     I put on my brave face and started playing the lines I was supposed to be teaching. I went through a few lines of text until I got a word that I doubted myself on. I looked back at the dapper young gentleman in the back and asked if I was correct. I was, except for the last syllable. Then I thought, I wonder if this kid would feel pressured if I put him on the spot. He looked comfortable. He knew French fluently. Why not? So, I asked after a few more lines of my teaching, if he would mind speaking the text syllable by syllable and having us repeat. "No, I don't mind at all." Hallelujah! I've never wanted to hug a middle school as much as I did in that moment.  To give you a sense of why this was so terrifying to me, listen to the song I was supposed to be teaching. This is not our group but I love their performance. I will warn you that this piece will be stuck in your head and the more you listen to it, the more you'll like it. Listen here. Patriquin- J'entends le Moulin Holy smokes!
      The rest of the rehearsal we spent on the last piece. The boys liked this piece and felt pretty good. I fixed a few things but they were really responsive of my advice. A few of them actually glanced over a few times in the full rehearsal when they did things correctly or to "own it" if they knew they messed up a section. I had such a great time in this rehearsal. Secretly I wish I could've stolen all of them and had them sing for me.. except for the 3 in the back who I anticipate would misbehave if they felt more familiar with me.  Their sound was glorious.
     After sectionals we returned to a full rehearsal where I spent most of my time as "page turner extraordinaire." Again, I just enjoyed listening and managing bathroom breaks. 
     Today was the last day. Thanks for still reading. You're a trooper!  This is where I could relax a little since most of the work is already done. I spent the beginning of the rehearsal page turning, answering questions, checking boys in, and being impressed by how many of them looked really comfortable walking around in a full suit. I ran a few errands for the manager. Oh, and as I was walking back to the rehearsal room, I found a pair of men's suit pants on the floor of the hallway. Figuring that they probably fell off the clothes hanger of one of my boys, I made the unfortunate mistake of announcing that I "found a pair of pants in the hallway and was wondering if anyone was missing them?" I walked right into the smirks and giggles I got. Again, they were gracious and didn't laugh as much as they could have. 
      After the full rehearsal, they had a run through on stage. Aren't they cute?

 Run through was alright, not the best they did but... okay. Then they had lunch- their favorite. After lunch, we had to have them wait in a few classrooms. During this time I awkwardly tied many ties. This comic shows what I was thinking in my head during this time:
 

    The rooms with the younger guys were either all playing games on their phones or acting spazzy. Most of my tenors hung out in the last room and quietly looked over their music or just relaxed. 
Concert time:

    They did great. I was really proud of them. Day over? Nope. After their portion of the concert, we led the boys back to listen to the girls' chorus (and pray that they continue to act like gentleman when they're in front of 200 girls- they did.)  Unfortunately, I spent a lot of this time trying to know where all the boys were since some parents decided they wanted to walk out in the middle of the concert since their child was done.FYI- I know that this is necessary at times but, in general, this is considered really rude concert etiquette. I would say at least 30 families left before the girls performed. When the concert was over, I led the boys back to the classrooms where they sorted their music, got their stuff, said thank you and left to meet their family. After meeting with my own students and making sure they met their parents, I returned to the classrooms to clean up (only a few scraps here and there) and return the music. 
     Next year, I will step up as the manager of the boys chorus.  I really hope most of these students had a positive experience and decide to try out again.  The last time I was involved in the festival, I was the festival coordinator. In my next post, I will tell you what this festival looks like from the perspective of the festival coordinator.  To keep it simple, this will probably be in list format. 



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