Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

Tapering for Performance

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

by Wendy Morgan Hunter

“Practice as if you are the worst, perform as if you are the best.”

When I was a young singer, I struggled with how to prepare for a performance. I had been taught technique, I knew how to practice for hours and hours to perfect a piece, but I had little guidance and knowledge of how to prepare the month of, week of, or day of a performance. I knew how to work hard, but not how to rest! It took years of experimenting to determine how I should prepare to perform.

Over the years I have been teaching I have been experimenting with how to best prepare my students for their performances.

As I prepare my students for their recital performance in the final month before the performance, I drop the breath support exercises, the “woodshedding” and work on building my students comfort with singing through their pieces completely.

I have discovered that as I teach a new piece, my system is roughly as follows:

1) I introduce the piece to the student. We discuss the poetry or text of the song or aria, using the translation if the piece is in another language. We discuss the opera, show or song cycle the piece is from and its relevant history, and the song/arias style.

2) We sing through the notes – learning the chorus and melodies, and emphasizing any patterns we may find in the song or aria – particularly with pieces with coloratura or melismatic phrases or sections.

3) We then begin to woodshed or work section by section. I usually begin the rehearsal by singing through the piece in its entirety and then move to the “woodshedding”, or focusing on trouble spots and phrases.

4) We then begin the final month performance prep tapering.

Performance prep tapering:

When the performance month occurs I usually drop the extra exercises – for example glottal exercises, enunciation exercises, and breath support exercises – are laid aside. All singers must be off of their music at this time. During this month we work on:

1) Dramatic interpretation.

2) Appearance when singing.

3) Completing the song/aria without “self-editing”.

4) A confident and believable performance.

I encourage my students to rest, hydrate, and care for themselves. At two weeks prior to the recital I stop critiquing and begin encouraging the positive aspects of the performance, nudging and coaxing out the performance. Confidence is such a large part of performance! At two weeks for most young singers– the die is cast- and you can rely on the best they can do at that time to be their optimal technical peak for the performance.

This fall I will add a new piece to my performance prep: an instruction sheet for parents of young singers! I had one young singer who did not do her best at this recital due to exhaustion. She swam in a swim meet the day of the performance, and vocally was not up to the piece she performed so well at the two week prior to the performance mark. This I will add to my checklist!

REVIEW: Teaching Band and Chorus in the 21st Century

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

By Andy Zweibel

Republished with permission from

bookcover1While in Washington, D.C. for MENC’s Music Education Week, I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Kriston Feldpausch, one of the Executive Directors of BNC Education. I have had a small amount of interaction with BNC Education before; one of my personal blog posts was featured in the June edition of the Music Education Blog Carnival, which they hosted on their blog. It was wonderful getting to put a face to the name, and get to have some great conversations with Mrs. Feldpausch.

One thing I did not know about BNC Education when I arrived in Washington is that they have published a book! Mrs. Feldpausch, along with Mr. Steve Raybould (the other half of BNC Education) published a book in 2008 entitled Teaching Band and Chorus in the 21st Century: A Director’s Guide. When I informed Mrs. Feldpausch of what I was doing here at, she asked if I would be interested in writing a review of the book here on the site. I, of course, was thrilled with the idea, and this review is the result of that encounter!

The Premise

There are plenty of books that have been published on pedagogical techniques, books that “teach you how to teach.” This book is different, though, in that it is geared towards teaching you many things youwon’t learn in your method’s courses, and some that you will as well. As the back cover explains:

Teaching Band and Chorus in the 21st Century is a practical, common-sense guide to efficiently running a band and chorus program.

Essentially, the authors highlight details of absolutely everything that a teacher could encounter, from ways to structure lessons and organize rehearsal time to advice for how to build your program’s budget. It is really an all-in-one crash course in being a band or chorus teacher.

The Layout

The book is laid out in four sections. The first section is entitled “Your Students” and discusses topics that will involve both you (the teacher) and your students (for example, listening, classroom management, and assessment). This section is the main area that discusses pedagogical techniques; most of the rest of the book focuses on the “extra stuff” that all teachers encounter. Section two is called “Your Program.” This is the longest section in the book, and covers topics such as marketing your program, planning concerts, financial considerations, paperwork, and parent communication. The third section, “Your Place,” is about relating your ensemble to the community. It includes advice on recruiting, collaboration, and administration. Finally, section four is entitled “Your Life” and focuses on your well-being as the director. The three issues covered in this section are getting a job, professional development, and things to do over the summer (a topic that has also been covered here at

In addition to the content of the book, the authors have added small segments, which appear in sidebar format on some pages, or take up full pages elsewhere, to add additional insight. The first of these are called “Technology Tips,” and they include ideas for integrating technology into the music program. The “What if…” boxes anticipate “what if…” questions that are likely to come up based on the content around which they are placed (for example, the “What if” box in the budgeting section is appropriately titled “What if my budget gets cut?”). The third type of section is called “Reality Check,” and appears every so often on it’s own page, with a reminder that as ambitious as we are as musicians, we cannot do everything, and our program is not the center of the universe. Finally, the authors place a segment called “Blogging at North Central…” at the end of each topic. This segment chronicles the lives of two fictional teachers, band director Barbara Ritter and choral director Conrad Wallace, telling stories about encounters they have had that coincide with the topic they follow. The catch is, all the stories themselves are true-the names have just been changed!

The Content

This book will not find its home as a textbook in a collegiate Music Education program any time soon, but it does serve its purpose extremely well. The information and ideas in the book are fresh and exciting, and they are delivered in an extremely passionate voice. The book is written in a more informal voice than a typical textbook, which makes it significantly easier to read. The authors (one of whom is a choral director, the other a band director) do a good job of citing specific examples from both of the concentrations equally, although there are some sections that focus specifically on one concentration where a broader view might be more beneficial to the reader. All in all, though, the book does a great job at doing what it is billed to–providing a practical, common-sense guide to running a program.

In Conclusion

On a scale of 5 stars, I give this book 5 stars! It is an extremely helpful resource to beginning educators, and I would call it a “must-have” for any first-year band or chorus director. The book seems to have less application to veteran teachers than it is billed to, but it does provide the opportunity for revitalization for a veteran teacher who has fallen into a routine and is looking for new ways to go about things. This book by no means is a substitute for a 4-year Music Education degree, but it is a fantastic handbook for being out in the field, and should be on every first-year band or chorus director’s shelf! It is not necessarily cheap at $21.95, but I feel it would be a good investment for a beginning teacher!

Have you read this book or others like it? Please leave a comment with your thoughts or questions about the book, and I will be happy to answer anything I can! Don’t forget to pick up your copy of Teaching Band and Chorus in the 21st Century today!

Failing Our Job as Teachers/Coaches?

Sunday, September 6th, 2009

By Rachel Velarde

What do we as music professionals owe our students?

I just came back from the Classical Singer Convention in Chicago.  I heard some AMAZING singing and some really good singing.  Unfortunately, I also heard some excruciatingly bad singing – from people who are trying to make it in the singing business.  This means that they spent the money to attend the convention (fees, hotel, flights…), they are paying for voice lessons and coachings, and somebody is telling them that they are ready for a professional career.

When I teach, I try to make sure that I am honest with my students about their possibilities.  I can teach anyone to sing.  I cannot make them practice.  I cannot overcome certain physical characteristics.  I do have several students who have potential and might want a career.  I have other students who tell me that they want careers in singing, but don’t practice.  Do I have the right, ever, to smash someone’s dream?  But, I also have the responsibility to let my student know that they might be wasting their time in pursuit of the goal of being a professional singer.  I will NEVER tell my student that they “can’t sing,” as I believe everyone is able to sing (even if just in the shower).  I think, though, that I do need to gently let them know that their goals are possibly not within reach – if they don’t have the vocal strength/stamina, dedication to practicing, physical qualifications.  Many necessary skills can be learned and improved on.  If you REALLY want it, I believe that you should try your hardest.  This, though, includes clear self-honesty on YOUR part.   You cannot make it in this business and be delusional about your flaws or bad habits.

That being said, I think that students MUST be aware of their voice and take responsibility for their training.  Do you record your lessons and listen with a critical ear?  This doesn’t mean being hard on yourself & deciding you are a horrible singer.  Do you just like your teacher and are impressed with them, or are you REALLY improving?  Does your voice, honestly, compare with those currently performing the same repertoire (and getting paid for it & re-hired for it)?  If not, what do you need to do to get up to that level?  Is your teacher guiding you in this path?  Are you REALLY making enough progress to be able to achieve your goals within a reasonable time?

Things to beware of with teachers, no matter their qualifications:

  • If their studio is comprised of only beginning students and you are an advanced student – this possibly means that advanced students don’t feel this teacher is effective (and opera singers MUST be, by definition, advanced).
  • If all the students in the studio sound the same – everyone has their own voice and should not sound the same as anyone else.
  • If there is huge disparity between “advanced” students – some students are amazing & others are not, yet they’re singing the same difficulty of repertoire.
  • If it seems you’re not making any progress and yet others in the studio are progressing by leaps and bounds.
  • If it hurts when you sing.
  • If you “fix” a problem during your lesson, but you can’t reproduce it at home. This is CRUCIAL to effective practice. You must know what you did to improve your sound so that you can practice it and it can become a physical habit.

The most important thing is that when I go to a convention such as the Classical Singer Convention, I should NEVER hear extremely bad singing, let alone singing which I can barely sit through (excruciating, as I said in my opening paragraph).  At a convention such as this one, I would hope that only serious singers would attend and perform.  When I hear such horrific singing, that means that there are some VERY bad teachers out there who are basically robbing their students.  That makes me ANGRY!!!  It is not my right to destroy a student’s dream.  But, it is also not my right to build them up to an unsupportable expectation of performance/career.  At some point that student will be told by someone that they are horrible and that then leads to the risk of them never singing again (which is the biggest DON’T I know of!).

What are your thoughts on the subject?  What do you see as YOUR job as a teacher or coach?  At what point do you discourage someone who wants a career?  How do you word that discouragement?  How do you support the talented student and push them to greater heights?  When helping a student improve, do you use positive or negative criticism (see my post on my solo website “I don’t care what you don’t want“)?  Where is the line to be drawn between our needing to make a living and our responsibility to the student (and therefore to furthering our art)?