Tips on Student Teaching

Digest of Resources for Pre-Service Music Teachers

Acknowledgments: Special thanks for the contributions of Blair Chadwick and  Johnathan Vest, who gave me permission to share information verbatim from their PowerPoint presentation, and to John Seybert (formerly of Seton Hill University), Ann C. Clements, Robert Gardner, Steven Hankle, Darrin Thornton, Linda Thornton, and Sarah Watt (Penn State University), Dr. Rachel Whitcomb (Duquesne University), and Robert Dell (Carnegie-Mellon University).

Photo credits: David Dockan, my former student, graduate of West Virginia University, now Choir Director / Music Teacher at JEJ Moore Middle School in Prince George, VA.

 

a field guide to student teaching in musicIf you are not fortunate enough to own a copy of A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music by Ann. C. Clements and Rita Klinger (which I heartily recommend you go out and buy, beg, borrow, or steal), this blog provides a practical overview of field experiences in music education, recommendations for the preparation of all music education majors, and a bibliographic summary of additional resources. Representing that most critical application of in-depth collegiate study of music education methods, conducting, score preparation, ear-training, and personal musicianship and understanding of pedagogy on voice, piano, guitar, and band and string instruments, the student teaching experience provides the culminating everyday “nuts and bolts” of effective music education practice in PreK-12 classrooms.

Possibly the best definition of “a master music teacher” and the process for “hands-on” field training comes from the Penn State University handbook, Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: A Guide for Cooperating Teachers, Student Teachers, and University Supervisors.

“The goal of the Penn State Music Teacher Education Program is to prepare exemplary music teachers for K-12 music programs. Such individuals can provide outstanding personal and musical models for children and youth and have a firm foundation in pedagogy on which to build music teaching skills. Penn State B.M.E. graduates exhibit excellence in music teaching as defined below.”

“As PERSONAL MODELS for children and youth, music teachers are caring, sensitive individuals who are willing and able to empathize with widely diverse student populations. They exhibit a high sense of personal integrity and demonstrate a concern for improving the quality of life in their immediate as well as global environments. They establish and maintain positive relations with people both like and unlike themselves and demonstrate the ability to provide positive and constructive leadership. They are in good mental, physipenn state university logocal, and social health. They demonstrate the ability to establish and achieve personal goals. They have a positive outlook on life.”

“As MUSICAL MODELS, they provide musical leadership in a manner that enables others to experience music from a wide variety of cultures and genres with ever-­‐‑increasing depth and sensitivity. They demonstrate technical accuracy, fluency, and musical understanding in their roles as performers, conductors, composers, arrangers, improvisers, and analyzers of music.”

“As emerging PEDAGOGUES, they are aware of patterns of human development, especially those of children and youth, and are knowledgeable about basic principles of music learning and learning theory. They are able to develop music curricula, select appropriate repertoire, plan instruction, and assess music learning of students that fosters appropriate interaction between learners and music that results in efficient learning.” — Penn State University School of Music

Making a smooth transition from “music student” to “music teacher” requires a focus on four goals:

  1. Preparation to your placement in music education field assignments
  2. Understanding of the relationships between your cooperating teacher(s) and the university supervisor (and you!) and promotion of positive communications
  3. Adjusting to new environments
  4. Development of professional responsibilities

As mentioned before, details of these should be reviewed in a reading of the introduction to A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music by Ann. C. Clements and Rita Klinger.

Not to “toot my own horn,” but you are invited to peruse my past blogs on this subject:

 

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Observations

“Take baby steps,” they say?  Before your college music education professors release you to direct a middle school band, teach a general music class, or rehearse the high school choir, you will be asked to observe as many music programs as possible.

My advice to all pre-service teachers is, regardless of your formal assignments by your music education coordinator, try to find time to observe a multitude of different locations, levels, and socioeconomic examples of music classes. Do not limit yourself to those types of jobs you “think” you eventually will seek or be employed:

  • Urban, rural, and suburb settings in poor, middle, and upper-middle socioeconomic areas
  • Large and small school populations
  • Both private and public school entities
  • Elementary, middle, and high school grades
  • General music, tech/keyboard, guitar, jazz, band, choral, and string classes
  • Assignments as different from your own experiences in music-making

Ann Clement and Rita Klinger make the distinction between simply observing and analyzing what you see:

“Observation is a scientific term that means to be or become aware of a phenomenon through careful and directed attention. To observe is to watch attentively with specific goals in mind. Inference is the act of deriving logical conclusions from premises known or assumed to be true. Inference is the act of reason upon an observation. A good observation will begin with pure observation devoid of inference. After an observation of the phenomenon being studied has been completed, it is appropriate to infer meaning to what has been observed. Adding inference after an observation completes the observation cycle — making it a meaningful observation.”A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music

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Some tips (from Student Teaching in Music: Tips for a Successful Experience by Blair Chadwick and Dr. Johnathan Vest):

  1. Have a specific goal for the observation in mind before you begin
  2. Make copious notes, but don’t write down everything.
  3. Write down techniques, quotes, musical directions or teacher behaviors that seem important.
  4. Don’t be overly critical of your master or cooperating teacher during the observation process.  Remember, they are the expert, you are the novice.  Your perspective changes when you are in front of the class.
  5. Hand-write your notes. An electronic device, although convenient, is louder and can provide distraction for the teacher and students, and you. Write neatly so you can transcribe the notes later.
  6. An small audio recorder can be very useful in case you want to go back and hear something again.

It is appropriate to mention something here about archiving your notes and professional contacts. It is essential that you organize and compile all of the data as you go along… catalog the information in your “C” files (don’t just stuff papers in a drawer somewhere):

  1. Contacts (cooperating/master teachers and administrators’ phone/email addresses)
  2. Course work outlines and class observation journals
  3. Concerts (your own solo and ensemble literature and school repertoire)
  4. Conferences (session handouts, programs)

Why is this important? Don’t be surprised if/when you are asked to teach in a specialty or grade level outside your “major emphasis,” and you want to find that perfect teaching technique or musical selection previously observed that would be a help in your lesson.

 

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Student Teaching

The success of the student teaching experience depends on all its parts working together. They include:

  • The Student Teacher
  • The Cooperating Teacher
  • The University Supervisor
  • The Students
  • The Administration and other teachers and personnel in the building

First, check out your university’s guidelines (of course), but here are “The Basics.”

  • Punctuality (Early = on time; On time = late; Late = FIRED)
  • Dress and Appearance: Be comfortable yet professional.  Be aware of a dress code if one exists, as well as restrictions on tattoos, piercings, and long hair length (gentlemen.)
  • Parking/Checking-In: Know this information BEFORE your first day
  • Materials and Paperwork: Contact your Cooperating Teacher  BEFORE the first day. Know what you need and bring it with you on the first day.

Teacher Hub in “A Student Teaching Survival Guide” spelled out a few more recommendations:

  1. teachhub.comDress for success (professionally)
  2. Always be prepared (checklists, planner, to-do’s)
  3. Be confident and have a positive attitude (if needed, “fake” self-confidence)
  4. Participate in all school activities (everything you can fit into your schedule: staff meetings, extra-curricular activities assigned to the cooperating teacher, and even chaperone duties for a school dance, etc.)
  5. Stay clear of drama (no gossip!)
  6. Don’t take it personally (embracing constructive feedback and criticism)
  7. Ask for help (that’s why you and mentor teachers are there)
  8. Edit your social media accounts (privacy settings and no school student contacts)
  9. Approach student teaching as a long interview (always, throughout the student teaching assignment: “best foot forward” and showcase of all of your qualities)
  10. Stay healthy (handling stress, good sleep, and other positive health habits)

Common questions that may be asked by the student teacher (Chadwick and Vest):

  • Will my cooperating teacher (CT) and school be a good fit for me?
  • Will I “crash and burn” my first time in front of the class?
  • What if  my CT won’t let me teach?
  • What if my CT “throws me to the wolves” on the first day?
  • Will the students respect me?
  • How will I be graded?
  • Will I pass the Praxis??

 

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Planning

Chapter 2 “Curriculum and Lesson Planning” in A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music provides 12 pages covering scenarios, discussions, and worksheets on all aspects of instructional planning, including the topics of philosophy of music teaching, teaching with and without a plan, long-term planning, and assessment and grading.

If you are unfamiliar with the terms “formative,” “summative,” “diagnostic” and “authentic” assessment, or other educational jargon, or are not fully aware of your state’s arts and humanities standards and the National Core Arts Standards, don’t panic. (Many of us “veteran” music teachers were in the same boat at the beginning of student teaching, regardless of how much material was introduced in our education methods courses.) Do some “catch-up” by visiting  the corresponding websites. For example, in pmeaPennsylvania, you should be a member of PCMEA and take advantage of the research of the PMEA Interactive Model Curriculum Framework. Some educational “buzz words” and acronyms were explored in a previous blog here. It should be noted that, although you won’t be expected to know the full PreK-12 music curriculum while student teaching, when you are hired as “the music specialist,” you would likely be the professional who will be assigned to write and update that same curriculum… so get to know it ASAP. (On my second day in my first job, my JSHS principal came to me and said a course of study for 8th grade music appreciation was due on his desk by the last week of the semester! No, like you, I was not trained in writing curriculum in college!)

From the Penn State University Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: A Guide for Cooperating Teachers, Student Teachers, and University Supervisors, the following criteria are recommended to be used by the cooperating teacher and the student teacher to assess the effectiveness of a long-term course of study. (Sample plans are provided here.)

  1. Stated learning principles are related to specific learner or student teacher
    activities.
  2. The importance of the course of study is explained in terms learners would likely
    accept and understand.
  3. Each goal is supported by specific objectives.
  4. The sequence of the objectives is appropriate.
  5. The goals and objectives are realistic for this group of learners.
  6. The objectives consider individual differences among learners.
  7. The content presentation indicates complete and sequential conceptual
    understanding.
  8. The presentation is detailed enough that any teacher in the same field could
    teach this unit.
  9. The amount of content is appropriate for the length of time available.
  10. A variety of teaching strategies are included in the daily activities.
  11. The teaching strategies indicate awareness of individual differences.
  12. The daily plans include a variety of materials and resources.
  13. The objectives, teaching strategies, and evaluations are consistent.
  14. A variety of evaluative techniques is employed.
  15. Provisions are made for communicating evaluative criteria to learners.
  16. The materials are neatly presented.

It is important sit side-by-side with your cooperating teacher and discuss some of these “essential questions” of instructional planning and assessment of student teaching:

  • What is the purpose of the learning situation?
  • What provision have you made for individual differences in learner needs, interests, and abilities?
  • Are your plans flexible and yet focused on the subject?
  • Have you provided alternative plans in case your initial planning was not adequate for the period (e.g. too short, too long, too easy, too hard)?
  • Can you maintain your poise and sense of direction even if your plans do not go as you anticipated?
  • Can you determine where in your plans you have succeeded or failed?
  • On the basis of yesterday’s experiences, what should be covered today?
  • Have you provided for the introduction of new material and the review of old material?
  • Have you provided for the development of musical understanding and attitude as well as performance skills?

 

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Getting Your Feet Wet… Becoming an “Educator”

[Source: Chadwick and Vest]

Be attentive to the needs of the students and your cooperating teacher. If you see a need that arises that the CT cannot or is not addressing, then take action. Don’t always wait to be told what to do. These situations may include:

  • Singing or playing with students who are struggling
  • Work with a section or small group of students
  • Helping a student with seat/written work
  • Attending to a a non-musical problem (such as student behavior)

Your supervising teacher or music education coordinator will probably instruct you on how much and when to teach, but each school and CT is different. In general, you should start teaching a class full-time by week 3 and have at least two weeks of full-load teaching per placement. (This is not always possible.)

Remember that any experience is good experience, so be grateful if you are asked to teach early-on in your experience.

What the supervising and/or cooperating teachers are looking for during an observation:

  1. The Lesson Plan
    • Lesson organization (components, logical flow, pacing, time efficiency)
    • Required components included
    • National and State Standards Included—and these have/are changing!!!!
    • Objectives stated in observable terms and tied directly to your assessment(s)
    • What the US/CT is looking for during an observation
  2. Teaching Methods
    • Questioning techniques (stimulate thought, higher order, open-ended, wait time)
    • Appropriate terminology use
    • Student activities that are instructionally effective
    • Teacher monitoring of student activities, assisting, giving feedback
    • Opportunities for higher order thinking
    • Teacher energy/enthusiasm
  3. Classroom Management
    • Media and materials are appropriate, interesting, organized and related to the unit of study.
    • Teacher “with-it-ness”
    • Student behavior management (consistency, classroom procedures in place, students understand expectations)
  4. Student Involvement/Interest/Participation in the Lesson
    • Student verbal participation
    • Balance of teacher talk/student talk
    • Lots of  “musicing” (singing, playing, listening, moving)
    • Student motivation
    • Student understanding of what to do and how to do it
  5. Classroom Atmosphere
    • Positive, “can-do” atmosphere
    • Student questions, teacher response
    • Helpful feedback
    • Verbal and non-verbal evidence that all students are accepted and feel that they belong

Student teaching is the opportunity of a lifetime. This is when you get to practice your pedagogical skills, make invaluable professional connections,  and learn lifelong lessons. Sure, it will take a lot of hard work and dedication. As TeacherHub concluded, “Use this time to learn and grow and make a great impression. Stay positive and remember student teaching isn’t forever – if you play your cards right, you will have a classroom of your own very soon.”

PKF

 

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Bibliography

A Field Guide to Student Teaching in Music, Ann C. Clements and Rita Klinger

A Guide to Student Teaching in Band, Dennis Fisher, Lissa Fleming May, and Erik Johnson, GIA 2019

Handbook for the Beginning Music Teacher, Colleen Conway and Tom Hodgman, 2006

Including Everyone: Creating Music Classrooms Where All Children Learn, Judith A. Jellison, 2015

Intelligent Music Teaching, Robert Duke

Music in Special Education, Mary S. Adamek and Alice Ann Darrow, 2010

Partnership for Music Teacher Excellence: A Guide for Cooperating Teachers,
Student Teachers, and University Supervisors,
Penn State University Music Education Faculty Ann Clements, Robert Gardner, Steven Hankle, Darrin Thornton, Linda Thornton, Sarah Watts  https://music.psu.edu/sites/music.psu.edu/files/music_education/pmte-student_teaching_handbook.pdf

Remixing the Classroom: Toward an Open Philosophy of Music Education, Randall Everett Allsup, 2016

A Student Teaching Survival Guide, Janelle Cox https://www.teachhub.com/student-teaching-survival-guide

Student Teaching in Music: Tips for a Successful Experience, Blair Chadwick and Dr. Johnathan Vest https://www.utm.edu/departments/musiced/_docs/NAfME%20%20Student%20Teaching%20in%20Music.pptx

Teaching Music in the Urban Classroom, Carol Frierson-Campbell, ed.

Teaching with Vitality: Pathways to Health and Wellness for Teachers and Schools, Peggy D. Bennett, 2017

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Stress, Burnout, & Stage Fright in College

Resources for Music and Music Education Majors

Increasingly,  in some parts of the country there are new shortages of qualified, experienced, skilled, and engaging public and private school teachers, even in the fields of Performing Arts. (For examples, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/08/28/teacher-shortages-affecting-every-state-as-2017-18-school-year-begins/?utm_term=.c599b1d39405.)

At the same time, although it may not seem to be hustle-and-bustle-1738072_1920_geraltdocumented to a great extent, stress, burnout, and stage fright have become real concerns for music education majors completing their coursework, juries/recitals/concerts, methods exams, student teaching, and other field experiences. This may be affecting statistics on college enrollments, graduation rates, and job placements!

It would seem we should be recruiting more music educators (not losing them as “failed” music/music education majors). Where should we look for answers to this problem?

“Burnout is fatigue and diminished interest caused by long-term stress. It is characterized by emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and lack of personal accomplishment. In the university music atmosphere, stress and burnout are prevalent accepted as part of the culture. Symptoms and causes of general stress and burnout have been well researched, but much less has been presented on college musicians’ burnout, let alone how to deal with it.” — Helen Orzel

 

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The purpose of this blog-post is to share studies, surveys, and articles of research on the causes for stress and “drop-outs” of music and music educator majors, along with proposals of remedies for reducing college student anxiety and recommendations for alleviating the problem of attrition.

An overview of collegiate performance anxiety elucidates numerous emotional triggers:

  1. anxiety-2019928_1920_WokandapixCollege funding
  2. Academic pressures: acquiring new knowledge, understandings, skills, etc.
  3. Competition (both in self-perception of achievement and in relation to peers)
  4. Trends in seeking perfectionism
  5. Coping with being away from home
  6. Sleep deprivation
  7. Challenges with personal relationships
  8. Development of new strategies and systems of personal organization and time management

If you find additional sources or statistics, please pass them on. Click on the above comment link so we can add them to this discussion.

 

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College Student Stress

The best summary I have found on this subject is from the recently released Fall 2018 issue of the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) – PMEA News. (For full access, become a member of PMEA.) Read the article on page 52, “Music Major Anxiety – Causes and Coping” by Kevin Shorner-Johnson, National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Society for nafme_society_research_music_edMusic Teacher  Education (SMTE) PA State Chair and Director of Music Education at Elizabethtown College. He talks about anxiety as “the leading mental health issue among adolescents and college students,” and examines the stressors of academic expectations, time management, “perfectionism,” and amygdala and cortex-rooted stress disorders, as well as cultivating practices of self-care and coping skills.

Shorner-Johnson recommends the book, Rewire Your Anxious Brain: How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, and Worry by Catherine Pittman and Elizabeth Karle (2015).

“Pittman and Karle provide beautiful guides and checklists that may assist students in building coping skills such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, prayer, yoga, exercise, and chanting. Coping strategies can allow us to enter into tension, getting to know origins and triggers, and transforming anxieties into new forms of centered awareness. Like music, coping strategies are skills that can only be cultivated through practice. When we practice self-care, we rewire associated connections and empower new responses.”  — Kevin Shorner-Johnson

 

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For a comprehensive survey on the stressors of music majors, peruse the illuminating thesis of H.J. Orzel (2010) “Undergraduate Music Student Stress and Burnout.” She states that her study has a two-fold purpose:

  • Examine sources of stress and burnout for undergraduate music students, and
  • Examine existing methods of controlling stress and burnout.
  • This information can also be a tool for college music students needing
    help with stress and burnout.

“A college musician’s environment can significantly influence stress levels. Environmental stressors include overworked professors unable to provide support,
competitive peers, lack of resources such as practice space or counseling services,
overburdened schedules, and high standards and expectations set by institutions…
Developing and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the effects of environmental stress, promoting resilience.” — Helen Orzel

In her conclusion, she mentions these possible strategies to alleviate stress:

  1. stress-391657_1920_geraltLearning to “manage your burdens,” class schedules, assignments, calendar, etc.
  2. Improvement of personal time management towards greater work/life balance
  3. Development of coping skills for new environments
  4. Exploration of new practice venues and study routines
  5. Allocation of more time with supportive peers
  6. Learning to make manageable choices, setting of limitations and reasonable expectations for making future commitments
  7. Practice of relaxation, slow breathing, and meditation exercises
  8. Strategies for reduction of performance anxiety and “stage fright”
  9. Reflection on and rehash of personal mission, goals, and motivations, and “what first inspired them to pursue music”

 

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H. Christian Bernard II from the State University of New York at Fredonia offers his research-based article Contemplative Practices in Music Teacher Education, describing efforts to incorporate contemplative studies within a music curriculum (Sarath 2006), mindfulness instruction on the music listening experiences (Diaz 2013), mindfulness-based stress reduction intervention instruction (Shapiro, Schwartz, and Bonner 1998), short-term meditation practices on attention and self-regulation (Tang lonely-1510265_1920_PoseMuse2009), “deep listening” as “a way of hearing in which we are fully present with what is happening in the moment” (Barbezat and Bush 2014), contemplative movement activities including methodologies of Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze, and Gordon adapted for other music teaching contexts (Benedict, 2010), walking meditation, tai chi ch’uan, yoga, and labyrinth walking (Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, 2016), contemplative reading, writing, and other self-help practices.

“Contemplation is not the opposite of thinking but its complement. It is not the emptying of the mind of thoughts but the cultivation of awareness of thoughts within the mind. Through contemplation, the mind is open to itself.”                                               — D.P. Barbezat and M. Bush.

“Utilizing contemplative practices including meditation, reading and writing, movement, and listening can offer students and teachers opportunities for meaningful experiences while simultaneously reducing levels of stress and anxiety. While mindfulness is a prerequisite for all contemplative practices, this secular and academic application goes beyond deepening of awareness and compassion to also include deepening of thinking and learning. Care should be used when selecting resources and activities, as the use of contemplative practices should always serve as an aid to, not a replacement for, effective music teaching and learning.”   — H. Christian Bernard II

Bernard also provides an excellent bibliography for further study, and has also written many other related articles:

 

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Burnout

An outstanding series of YouTube video presentations dives into what “five different research studies have to say about burnout and the undergraduate music education major, and the implications these studies have for students, professors, and administrators when it comes to managing the stress often associated with this degree.” As a requirement for her graduate music psychology class, Meghan Johnson presented “Burnout and the Undergraduate Music Education Major: Surviving the Stress” in 2010:

Additional resources regarding pre- and in-service music teacher burnout:

 

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Performance Anxiety

Dr. Natalie Ozeas, formerly Professor and Head of Music Education at Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU), shares a new local initiative for addressing the problem of stage fright by Anne Jackovic Moskal, a member of the Pittsburgh Benedum Orchestra and solfege teacher at the CMU School of Music.

“The text that I use for my class is Musician’s Yoga by Mia Olson. We work a lot with meditation, especially focused towards the music we are currently working on. We practice by either listening to recordings or simply thinking of the whole work in their mind and how to continuously breath through it. The thought is that they will be able to move past anxious moments in performances and feel the constant breath instead. Additionally, we take meditation walks and practice the same method. Some of these methods are addressed in this book. We also have a physical practice to reinforce breathing through challenges. However, a significant part is to stretch, repair, restore, and strengthen our bodies from the damage of long practice sessions.”                            — Anne Jackovic Moskal

There are a myriad of sources on the web geared to performers for lessening stage fright, including blogposts like “A Few Things Every Musician Should Know About Stage Fright” by Noa K Kageyama from BulletproofMusician.

 

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NAfME members have free access to numerous articles on performance anxiety. Several articles published in the Music Educators Journal (MEJ) include “Stress in the Lives of Music Students” by David J. Sternbach (January 2008), “The Other Side of Stage Fright” by Donald L. Hamann (April 1985), and “Stage Fright – Its Cause and Cure” by Rowland W. Dunham (1953).

“To help your students reduce stress, address the ways they critique their practice and prepare for performance… Excessive self-criticism in practicing can be a predisposing factor for performance anxiety.” — David J. Sternbach

nafme“When musicians think about performing, they eventually think about performance anxiety — ‘stage fright.’ Performance anxiety can be defined as a physical and mental deviation from a ‘normal state’ and is perhaps one of the most misunderstood areas of performance practice… A reduction in anxiety levels especially with musicians with extensive formal training may actually diminish performance quality. For musicians with low mastery skills, the prudent approach would seem to be to undertake more formal training.” — Donald L. Hamann

“Here is the cure for stage fright. If you have strength of mind and a conscientious determination, you can walk onto the stage for a solo with almost the same certainty you have in practicing. There is the added and thrilling incentive now of an audience. By ignoring what you may fancy to be their opinion of you — which does not matter anyway — you have a new angle: giving emotional joy, spiritual nobility, or dramatic stimulation.With an honest artistic outlook, stage fright goes out the window. In its place you have the pleasure of adding something to he lives of your listeners.”               — Rowland W. Dunham

 

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Additional resources on stage fright and other anxiety issues:

 

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Finally, even though there is so much more to cover, a good “coda” on the subject of stress in music school might be to look at the article “Reality 101” by Gary C. Mortenson in the December 1991 issue of Music Educators Journal. Citing the University of Massachusetts student Erin Martin’s column “Real World 101: A Needed Course” in the October 1990 issue of U. — The National College Newspaper, college students could use help in areas not traditionally included in undergraduate curriculum:

  1. hurry-2119711_1920_TeroVesalainenJob placement
  2. Financial planning
  3. Raising a family
  4. Stress management

Mortenson creates several excellent “mock scenarios” fostering critical thinking and problem solving of teacher-student relationships, teacher-parent relationships, and criticism and stress that are issues in every teaching career.

“Life would be much easier if we could learn to handle real-world problems before we have to face them on our own.” — Erin Martin

“Teaching requires the ability to manage a variety of challenging situations. It is as complex and changeable as the society we live in. In college, future teachers assimilate a great deal of information that prepares them to share knowledge with their students. No one, however, can teach all of the skills needed to make complex decisions on all possible future real-life circumstances. These must ultimately be arrived at on an individual basis according to one’s own instincts and conscience. By giving more thought to how the problems and issues that confront students, parents, and colleagues will affect us, however, we can better equip ourselves to respond in an intelligent way to these challenges.” — Gary C. Mortenson

 

UPDATE (January 3, 2019):

Just after the release of this blog-post, the timely article “The Mindful Music Educator – Strategies for Reducing Stress and Increasing Well-being” by Dana Arbaugh Varona came out in the NAfME Music Educators Journal, Volume 5 Issue 2, 2018. (See https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0027432118804035.) You must be a member of NAfME to read the December 2018 issue in its entirety.

PKF

© 2018 and 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

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Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “stress” by TheDigitalArtist, “hustle and bustle” by geralt, “people” by tweetyspics, “anxiety” by Wokandapix, “woman” by Comfreak, “stress-2883638” by geralt, “stress-391657” by geralt, “woman” by Pexels, “lonely” by PoseMuse, “stress-22670” by geralt, “cello” by enbuscadelosdragones0, “trumpeter” by klimkin, “marching-band” by skeeze, “hug” by markzfilter, “hurry” by TeroVesalainen, and “laptop” by JESHOOTScom.

Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter

How You Act During Public Performances Is a Reflection on Who You Are

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Almost 30 years ago, an article I wrote for the Upper St. Clair High School Choral Boosters was a lighthearted attempt to address a growing need in public performances – one of improving our audiences’ listening habits and knowledge of musical “traditions,” as well as raising their overall consciousness and sensitivity. Although it now seems a little “retro” and “dated” (texting was not invented yet and tabloids were the fiction of Star Trek and other Sci-Fi programs), it “hits the nail squarely on the head,” identifying the ongoing problem of inappropriate audience etiquette for student, amateur, and professional music, dance, and drama productions.

 

“Uninvited Guests at Performances” (1990)

The painter begins his/her creation on a clean white canvas, void of any dirt, smudges, or imperfections, so that the final art form is pure and readily convey to the viewer. In much the same way, a musician or singer relies on “a clean slate” – that is, a quiet and attentive audience in the concert hall without any stray noises or interruptions that will distract from his/her extremely delicate art form of live music. However, unlike the painter (or unless the concert is recorded and distributed at a later date), music represents only a temporary art… the effects lasting only a moment, and then forever lost until the next time the work is performed. That is why a tradition of concert customs have evolved to “set the stage” for clear communication of that really wonderful expression of music.

However, we have noticed in school and professional performances in our area, several new trends have been born from our fast-paced life styles, overworked schedules, television viewing, and Walkman listening habits. Several uninvited guests have been seen at concerts, unintentionally making life miserable for performers and audience members alike. Do you recognize these “characters?”

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First of all, there is Gertrude the Gossip and Theresa Talker who spend the entire performance discussing local events or their personal lives. They usually sit in the center section, first row, in order to have the greatest disruptive effect, even though they would be the first to suggest that you were rude for listening in on their conversation. A close relative, Prentice Postmortem, likes to give a “play-by-play” account of the relative success of the concert, with comments like, “Did you hear that wrong note?” and “I wonder why he was chosen for the solo part?”

Then we have several distinguished visitors from the Planet Hypertension, including the “frequent flyers” Leroy the Seat Leaper and Hortence Half-a-Concert and a host of others. Everyone has witnessed spectacular events created by these adults, who have developed the most advanced technique of choosing only the softest or most sensitive moment in the music to jump up and change seats, run down the aisle towards the bathroom or parking lot, or go get something to eat. Somehow, they feel they are being helpful or considerate of the musicians or actors on the stage when they stand up to leave before or during a particular song, often right after their son/daughter performs. Of course, some music directors themselves are contributing to the situation, selling 12-ounce cans of pop and sugar candy at intermission, which are known elements of improving (?) the biochemistry and behavior of young children staying up past their bedtime.

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To add a touch of “color” from a very large pallet of noises, several other guests in the audience feel it is necessary to “perform” along with the singers and instrumentalists. If you sit near the recording or PA microphones or cable TV cameras, you will usually find the boisterous Cyril Cellophane unwrapping candy specially designed to “rattle” everyone’s nerves, along with his friends Velda Velcro and Hildegarde Hum-along, not to mention Winslow WatchBeeper. One of the finest (?) musical moments ever experienced at Upper St. Clair High School was the cacophony of buzzers, chimes, Looney-Tunes™ alarms, and chirps during the slow movements of Handel’s “Messiah” oratorio in the 1987 USCHS Holiday Choral Festival. Performers and conductors have always appreciated the opportunity of setting the exact hour of an ongoing concert using the hourly signals of digital watches in the audience.

And don’t forget those long-time veterans Clem the Clapper, Shouting Sherwood, and Wardella Whistler, who store up their applause for inappropriate moments like between movements, or after the Hallelujah Chorus or Star-Spangled Banner, but leave early so that they missed the curtain calls.

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All sarcasm and joking aside, performers do appreciate the faithful support of the community. Without the public, lavish Broadway musical productions and extensive choral and instrumental concerts could not be featured. Our talented and hard-working students/musicians/singers/dancers/actors need and deserve large audiences in order to exhibit their craft. The “final exam” of every music ensemble and theater company is the public performance. And, nothing is more demoralizing then spending three months in rehearsal and then performing for only a handful of parents and well-wishers!

However, occasionally it is our job as music lovers to remind everyone the need for concert customs which just add up to good manners. With the bad habits of MTV™ and Muzak™ that music education researchers say may have bred insensitivity and inattentiveness in the indiscriminate consumption of music, we have to focus on providing that “clean slate” – a calm, orderly, and quiet atmosphere of an alert, well-informed audience!

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Yes, “manners matter!” I can still hear my mother scold us, “Don’t be rude. Do you think you were you raised in a barn?”

On the subject of “audience do’s and don’ts,” we will leave the “last word” to http://www.fanfaire.com/rules.html. The following are considered their updated and succinct “Golden Rules” of Audience Etiquette:

  1. Go easy with the atomizer; many people are highly allergic to perfume and cologne.
  2. If you bring a child, make sure etiquette is part of the experience. Children love learning new things.
  3. Unwrap all candies and cough-drops before the curtain goes up or the concert begins.
  4. Make sure beepers, cellphones, and watch alarms are OFF. And don’t jangle the bangles.
  5. The overture is part of the performance. Please cease talking at this point.
  6. Note to lovebirds: When you lean your heads together, you block the view of the person behind you. Leaning forward also blocks the view.
  7. THOU SHALT NOT TALK, or hum, or sing along, or beat time with a body part.
  8. Force yourself to wait for a pause or intermission before rifling through a purse, backpack, or shopping bag.
  9. Yes, the parking lot gets busy and public transportation is tricky. But, leaving while the show is in progress is discourteous.
  10. The old standby: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

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Here are several things to add to their guidelines – NO TEXTING, not even turning on your smartphone or iPad for a moment to look at the time or your messages. The light from the screen is very distracting to everyone in the auditorium and the performers on the stage! In addition, flash photography is generally prohibited, and may even be dangerous to the performers (can cause accidents!). Finally, any audio/video recording of the event may be an infringement of copyright law. (Don’t do it!)

In conclusion (from fanfare.com): “Remember, part of one’s pact as an audience member is to take seriously the pleasure of others, a responsibility fulfilled by quietly attentive (or silently inattentive) and self-contained behavior. After all, you can be as demonstrative as you want during bows and curtain calls.”

Here are more links to explore for teachers, practitioners, and supporters of music:

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The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of “Audience Etiquette and Manners Matter.”

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/foxs-firesides/.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits in order from Pixabay.com: “fireplace” by joseclaudioguima, “angry” by Clker-Free-Vector-Images, “lolly” by yossigee, “grandstand” by cocoparisienne, and “smartphone” by SplitShire.

“Creativity Thinking” in Music Education

A Brief Taste of the Research of Peter R. Webster

Peter Webster

Portions reprinted from the chapter “Creative Thinking in Music: Advancing a Model” by Peter R. Webster at www.peterwebster.com/pubs/WillinghamBook.pdf and other sources. For more current research and resources, it is recommended you visit the homepage of Peter Webster, and especially peruse his slides at http://www.peterrwebster.com/Present/keynoteDesertSkies2017.pdf.

 

“When the history of music education is written many years from now, there will be mention made of the time period represented by the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the new millennium as a critical point in the profession’s history. It will be noted that practical, theoretical, and research-based writings focused attention on both product and process in the teaching and learning of music. Rather than just product (largely music performance), the processes involved in the creation of music are becoming import as well. In addition to the nurturing of fine solo and ensemble performances, a more comprehensive approach to music education is emerging which embraces the study of composition, improvisation, music listening, cultural context, and relationships to other arts. In the United States, this trend began in the sixties with the Comprehensive Musicianship Project and the Manhattanville curriculum project and continued by the Yale, Tanglewood, and Ann Arbor symposia in following years. In more recent times, the National Voluntary Standards in the Arts have come to mark a more comprehensive approach. In other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia, attention to music composition as a curricula focus has been long established. It is clearly the case that no longer can a music teacher expect to be successful by only teaching children how to perform the music of others in a dictatorial fashion, paying little attention to the development of aesthetic decision-making and musical independence of students.”

“Creativity Thinking and Music Education: Encouraging Students to Make Aesthetic Decisions” by Peter R. Webster

sculpture-3365574_1920_CouleurAccording to the above study by Peter Webster, Scholar-in-Residence at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California in Los Angeles, “good music teaching” involves the practice and observation of three types of musical behaviors:

  • Listening (most common)
  • Composition (perhaps the least common)
  • Performance: reproduction of music written by others (common) and the creation of music “in the moment” (improvisation)

Several basic tenants are proposed and reviewed in his work:

  • “Music teachers design environments that help learners construct their personal understanding of music.”
  • “Teachers must teach for independent thought” and “…our students can make aesthetic decisions about music… and to develop a sense of musical independence.”
  • “Student decision-making is predicted on the ability to hear musical possibilities without the presence of the sound… think in sound.”

brain-20424_640_PublicDomainPicturesPeter Webster’s definition of “creativity in music” is succinct: “the engagement of the mind in the active, structured process of thinking in sound for the purpose of producing some product that is new for the creator.” Furthermore, this is a thought process and “we are challenged, as educators, to better understand how the mind works in such matters — hence the term creative thinking.” (Webster, 1987)

Creative thinking in literature reveals five common elements:

  1. A problem solving context
  2. Convergent and divergent thinking skills
  3. Stages in the thinking process
  4. Some aspect of novelty
  5. Usefulness of the resulting product

Webster states, “Studies in many disciplines have revealed that creative thinking generally progresses through stages: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification.”

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In 1992, Webster reviewed literature on creative thinking in music education and cited nearly 200 writings. He organized the studies into three major categories:

  1. Theoretical (works based on philosophical or psychological arguments)
  2. Practical (writings designed to inform praxis but not based on empirical evidence)
  3. Empirical (studies of product and process across composition, performance/improvisation and listening, and studies that examined cause and effect and relationship

More recently, he has augmented his research with a bibliography of more than twice that size, including the following references with new trends:

  • violin-3182455_1920_DekoArt-GalleryA heighten interest in the young child and invented music notation and their discussion of it as a window to understanding the child’s knowledge (Barrett, Gromko, MacGregor)
  • New approaches to assessment, including 1. consensual techniques (Hickey), 2. peer assessment (Freed-Garrod), and 3. novice evaluation (Mellor)
  • Attention to the role of collaboration (Kashub, Wiggins, MacDonald/Miell
  • New speculation and experimentation on the role of music technology (Hickey, Stauffer, Ellis)
  • Emergent thinking on the pedagogy of composition teaching (Odam)
  • New work on cause/effect and relationship (Auh, Hagen, Fung)
  • Compositional strategies (Auh, Folkestad)
  • Thought processes while composing (Younker/Smith, Kennedy)
  • New studies on how various musical behaviors (composition/improvisation/listening) relate to one another (Swanwick/Franca, Savage/Challis, Burnard)
  • Developmental patterns of creative thinking (Marsh, Barrett, Younker, Swanwick)
  • Creative performance (Dalgarno)
  • New work on improvisation: 1. empirical (McMillan) and 2. conceptual (Elliott, Kratus, Booth)

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A few of Webster’s thoughts for future considerations

  • We need more work on social context, particularly the role of popular music to frame compositional and improvisational work. Clearly certain popular idioms that are easy to grasp play a dominant role as entry points for compositional and improvisational thinking, but what is less clear is the path toward more sophisticated skills.
  • We need to study the revision process and how it functions in the teaching context. We need to earn how to go beyond the primitive gesturals to encourage kids to think in sound at a more sophisticated level.
  • treble-clef-1132378_1920_deidiRelated to this are the issues of teacher control: when do we step in to change something or suggest a new path.
  • Experimentation with open-ended vs. more closed-ended tasks for creative teaching and research deserves more study.
  • Experimental validity is an issue. How can we make the actual collection of data more realistic and deal more directly with the time constraints and contexts of “school” vs. out of school.
  • When do children start composing music with “meaning.” After age 9, or long before? What does it mean to compose with “meaning?”
  • When we ask children to compose or improvise or listen or perform “in school,” is the result different than if these behaviors were done out of school?
  • When children compose, are they working from a holistic perspective or are then working locally without a plan?
  • Is it fair or correct to evaluate the quality of children’s creative work with the eyes of adults?
  • Are there stages of creative development in children?
  • Is it really possible to study and define creative listening?

 

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References

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1997). Creativity: Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention . New York: Harper Collins.

Finke, R., Ward, T., & Smith, S. (1996). Creative cognition: Theory, research, and applications.

Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Gardner, H. (1991). The unschooled mind: How children think and how schools should teach. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1997). Extraordinary minds: Portraits of exceptional individuals and an examination of our extraordinariness. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1999). The disciplined mind : What all students should understand. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Guilford, J. (1950). Creativity. American Psychologist. 5, 444-454.

Guilford, J. (1967). The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Kafai, Y., & Resnick, M. (Eds.). (1996). Constructionism in pracice: Designing, thinking, and learning in a digital world. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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Mark, M. (1996). Contemporary music education, (3rd ed.) New York: Schirmer Books.

Mayer, R. (1999). Fifty years of creativity research. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 449-460.

National Standards for Arts Education. (1994) Reston, VA: Music Educators National Conference.

Sternberg, R. (1999). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. & Lubart, T. (1999) The concept of creativity: Prospects and paradigms. In: Sternberg, R. (ed.). Handbook of creativity. New York: Cambridge University Press., 3-15.

Wallas, G. (1926). The art of thought. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

Webster, P. (1990). Creativity as creative thinking. Music Educators Journal, 76 (9), 22-28.

Webster, P. (1987). Conceptual bases for creative thinking in music. In Peery, J., Peery, I. & Draper, T. (Eds). Music and child development, (pp. 158-174). New York: Springer-Verlag.

Webster, P. (1992). Research on creative thinking in music: The assessment literature. in R. Colwell (ed.), Handbook of research on music teaching and learning, 266-279. New York, Schirmer Books.

Williams, D., & Webster, P. (1999). Experiencing music technology. (2nd ed.). New York: Schirmer Books.

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© 2018 Paul K. Fox

Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com: “CD cover” by kellepics, (picture of Peter Webster from his website), “sculpture” by Couleur, “brain” by PublicDomainPictures, “brain” by ElisaRiva, “violin” by DekoArt-Gallery, “banner” by geralt,  “treble-clef” by deidi, “cranium” by GDJ, “music” by ahkeemhopkins, and “piano” by allyartist.

52 Creative Tips to “Supercharge” the School Musical

Building Student and Community Support and Appreciation of Theater

Several “Tricks of the Trade” that Have Worked for the Upper St. Clair High School Spring Musical in Pittsburgh, PA. Adaptation of my 1992 article published in PMEA News, the state journal of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association.

GOALS OF THE BLOG: Food for Thought!
  1. Brainstorm “tried and true” techniques that build support for the school musical.
  2. Share shortcuts for adding pizzazz to your PR – better ways to market your show.
  3. Generate discussion and collaborate on ideas… everything from student recruitment to ticket sales.
INTRODUCTION: Let’s examine “WHO and WHY” before “HOW and WHAT”

Multiple-choice question (choose your best guess):

Primarily, for what group of people do you sponsor a musical production?

A) Music students already enrolled in the choral and instrumental classes (and if you have them, drama/dance courses), who are more qualified and deserve the musical as a “reward” for their hard work and loyalty to the Fine Arts program.

Supercharge 1 dancers2B) A small core of the most talented students from the music program, probably those who have studied voice, drama, instruments and/or movement privately outside the school, participated in Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera (CLO) Mini Stars, CLO Academy, or other local professional-caliber performing arts school, amateur theater, dance studios, etc. – the “cream of the crop” – many of whom will continue in theater or music as a career, but will achieve a higher degree of professionalism in performance, and thereby help the musical gain prestige and respect – not a “typical high school show!”

C) The general student body of non-music majors, e.g. a “class play,” which may help to draw some of them into the music program in the future (recruitment), while placing no emphasis on it for the students currently enrolled in music classes since they already have public venues for their self-expression.

D) Members of the community (parents, past drama alumni, amateur performers) alongside the students to share their more advanced skills and provide a higher level of performance and “taste” of realism, while filling the more difficult parts on stage, in the pit, and backstage – in short, building a support base community members by direct participation

E) All of the above with some limitation in using adults as actors

PHILOSOPHY: Sharing a Few Ground Rules for Improving Your Productions
  • Nonlinear problem solving – There are no “right” answers in this business, only ideas.
  • “One size does not fit all!”
  • No one uses “all of this” at one time.
  • Supercharge 1 levels1Focus on your needs and prioritize.
  • Take slow “baby-steps” towards trying a few new things every year, and discard any that do not work!
  • Maintain (and share) YOUR secrets.

Two approaches that drive Upper St. Clair musicals: “bigger is better” and “throw out the rule book!”

SUPER TIPS: Creativity, Marketing, and Professionalism

The following 52 ideas are submitted for your consideration (and adaptation), under the categories of:

  • Encouragement of Larger Numbers of Student Participants (#1-11)
  • Student Leadership and Enrichment Activities (#12-20)
  • Involvement of the Parents and Community (#21-28)
  • Professionalism and Quality Productions (#29-34)
  • Real Promotion of the Show (#35-52)
  1. Supercharge 1 levels3Select a show that allows for large numbers in the cast (e.g. Music Man, Fiddler on the Roof, etc.). Many schools select a maximum of 30-40 cast members, which can severely limit the size and scope of the production as well as the audience. In a few scenes, try to stage bigger groups (up to 100-150).
  2. Larger casts place greater demands on the staging director. Be creative in your blocking. Use the middle and side aisles, and build multi-level sets. (A two story set can support upwards of 150 singers for the “Iowa Stubborn” selection in Music Man! A second floor loft would be perfect for Oklahoma!)
  3. Bring the dramatic action on stage closer to the audience by constructing runways, pit ramps or other stage extensions. This also allows for staging a larger cast.
  4. A simpler solution to open up the space and add levels might be to construct a dozen large crates or benches. A low budget production could camouflage band risers.
  5. Supercharge 4 set projection31Adapt several of the song lyrics in the show for adding large choruses. (“Eloquence” from Hello Dolly, for example, can be expanded to have the entire cast enter and interact with the leads.)
  6. For even more color, choreograph these “encores” with a small ensemble of skilled dancers.
  7. Feel free to have the chorus sing several of the leads’ solo selections during the curtain calls.
  8. Be daring! Display your school’s (full size) marching band parading down the aisles for one scene in Music Man! Or use students in the 6th-8th Grade Chorus to sing “Food Glorious Food” in the opening scene of Oliver!
  9. Actively recruit students to try-out for the musical. Secure help from other school staff. For example, ask the football coach to mention the auditions to his players. Nothing will be more flashy (as well as hysterical) than a chorus line of football stars on the front thrust in Hello Dolly!
  10. Do not place limitations on student participation in the spring musical. Some school programs require the prerequisite of enrollment in choral or instrumental classes. The best recruitment of “outside” students to the Music Department may be their involvement and brief “taste” of a musical.
  11. Supercharge 4 south pacific scene1Offer pre-audition rehearsals on the required music, and/or simplify the try-out procedure as much as possible as to not “scare away” less confident students. Since the musical is geared for the entire student body (some of whom do not sing or act on a regular basis), make the try-outs a positive experience for all! Give the students a choice of songs and/or readings, as well as specifics on how to take an audition.
  12. Adopt an active and expanded Student Staff. The goal of quality education is to encourage students towards self-realization. In other words, the show should be “student run” – although selected, taught, and guided by adults. For example, once the scene changes have been rehearsed, the Student Stage Manager should actually call the cues.
  13. Persuade students who plan to major in communications, TV/radio, or theatre to join the student staff. Also, “get the word out” to other students who are not singers or instrumentalists that you have openings for carpenters (set construction), artists (painting), writers (publicity), seamstresses (costumes), etc.
  14. Develop comprehensive job descriptions for each student leadership position: Student Director, Producer, Rehearsal Assistant, Stage Manager, Crew Head, etc. Assign an adult sponsor for overall supervision of each area.
  15. Hold weekly student staff meetings, with student department reports, idea brainstorming, problem solving, and discussions on group morale. Get the students actively involved in the day-to-day operations of publicity, ticket sales, production schedules, etc.
  16. Supercharge 1 dancers3At all practices, Rehearsal Assistants should be placed at every exit (stage left, stage right, pit left, pit right, etc.), and should maintain script cues and warnings in order to call the actors and direct placement of props and sets.
  17. Present a leadership or motivational workshop for the entire company or the student staff alone. Two to three hour sessions are available on time management, teamwork, communications, personal initiative and leadership. Excellent clinicians in this area include Bill Galvin, Michael Kumer, Tim Lautzenheiser, etc.
  18. Announce a weekly S.M.I.L.E. award (“students most interested in leading effectively”) or other special recognition to spotlight extra achievement of individuals in the musical company. Display the winners (photograph and biographical information) on a public bulletin board.
  19. Reward the student cast and crews by sponsoring an all-night (“lock-in”) company party at the school or local restaurant after the final performance. This could turn out to be real incentive for future participation in the shows – a dance, late-night banquet, awards ceremony, swim party, bowling tournament, or a combination of all of these activities. Parents also appreciate a well chaperoned final celebration, instead of (in some cases) totally unsupervised house-to-house parties sponsored by individual students.
  20. Provide other perks for students. Plan field-trips around the community. Advertise the show by singing several selections at a local Women’s Club meeting or Rotary Club breakfast. Take the leads to the local TV/radio talk show, providing an audience for that thirty second “plug” of your show on the airwaves. Or sponsor an in-school theater production clinic (e.g. a make-up application session, underwritten by a local cosmetic firm).
  21. Try to fill your adult staff positions with school staff: shop, art, and English teachers, etc. Who is more knowledgeable and supportive of the students? You can encourage the integration of drama subjects in their curricula: scenery painting (art), costume design (home economics), set construction (wood shop), publicity (journalism/English), etc.
  22. Supercharge 3 costume angels1Establish a parent volunteer grouptheatre angels—to support the students in working on the production crews (costumes, painting, set construction, etc.). Grant the Angels special privileges (early ticket pre-sale) and “Honorary Thespian” status.
  23. Have the Angels man your box office to offer the public regular and varied hours for ticket sales.
  24. Utilize parents to set-up and supervise study halls for those long staging rehearsals. Set aside one room for absolute quiet and a separate waiting area for group study and socialization.
  25. Because of the large cast size, post hall monitors (parents) to assist during the night performances of the show (first aid, distribution of props, overall supervision, etc.).
  26. Hold sign-ups for the Angels during Open House or work through local PTA.
  27. On Saturdays, sponsor staff “cover dish” luncheons to give everyone the chance to interact socially.
  28. Invite a popular school administrator, public official, local actor, or other celebrity to narrate or assist in the show (e.g. the voice in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).
  29. Set out to achieve the illusion of realism in the scenery. Utilize a large student and adult crew of carpenters and build substantial backdrops, wagons, and book pieces to support your larger cast.
  30. Supercharge 1 levels5Rent professional set drawings from theatrical houses (e.g. New Wilmington, PA firm Sceno Graphics).
  31. Ask for help from local professional theater companies (hand-me-down sets, props, or just advice).
  32. Always seek professionalism from the students on the stage. Are all of the actors consistently in character? Adolescents have short attention spans, and as a large chorus, must be coached in displaying real enthusiasm, self-discipline, and accurate characterizations one hundred percent of the time! Nothing is worse than an inanimate or lackluster chorus, talking on or backstage, or other noises that detract from the dramatic action portrayed by the leads.
  33. Be imaginative with special effects! Melt a witch (Wizard of Oz) using a trap door and smoke effects. Exaggerate their sizes—a ten foot Fruma Sarah in Fiddler on the Roof can be created by putting your lightest girl on the shoulders of an athletic boy; use a ladder on wheels to present a 14 foot giant (Ghost of Xmas Present) in Scrooge—all hidden by the costume.
  34. Supercharge 4 melting witchSet a fast pace for the show. Avoid those periods of inertia, especially the Act II “doldrums!” Always execute smooth set changes and transitions. Never give the audience time to talk or lose their concentration.
  35. Use theater P.R. firms (e.g. Package Publicity in New York) to buy official logos, posters, buttons and publicity packets.
  36. Design an official show t-shirt and button. Announce musical t-shirt days and give out random cash prizes to students who remember to wear their t-shirt and serve as a walking billboard!
  37. Sponsor a musical trivia contest. Create a crossword puzzle and publish it in the PTA newsletter.
  38. Type-set and distribute a special musical issue of the school newspaper (e.g. an “Anatevka Times” for Fiddler on the Roof) in order to devote space on the background of the play, local historical “splash-backs” in the time period of the musical, and a picture album of the cast and crews.
  39. Insert a theater flyer in the school district or PTA newsletter mailed home to residents. Print informative articles about the play (Hammerstein anecdotes for South Pacific or Oklahoma, etc.)
  40. Sponsor an elementary school art contest (e.g. draw your Little Orphan Annie).
  41. Supercharge 4 special effect smokeDevelop a partnership with your local merchants. Print pizza box advertisements, restaurant place mats, etc. Place messages on mall marquees, store magnetic signs, and in employee newsletters. In exchange for local business help in promoting your show, sponsor a special “employee discount” on tickets.
  42. Make clever P.A. announcements using the leads and adaptations of the script.
  43. Plan a pre-sale ticket lottery to determine the order students in the cast and crews can go to the box office to purchase their reserve seat admissions. This generates excitement and actually helps to sell additional tickets!
  44. Sponsor a school staff appreciation breakfast (donuts and coffee) thanking everyone for their support of the musical. At the breakfast, pass out ticket vouchers (two complimentary tickets) to the teachers.
  45. Help formulate creative school cafeteria menus using musical themes (e.g. “Wicked Witch” stew, “Jiggerbug Juice,” and “Toto’s Favorite Burgers”).
  46. Supercharge 4 makeup bloody mary1Schedule an in-school theatre education assembly for younger students. Give a short synopsis of the musical and demonstrate several scene changes, technical effects and lighting, application of character make-up, and several dances or songs from the current show (make sure you retain the rights to do a segment of the musical!).
  47. After the final dress rehearsal, sponsor a picture taking session for the parents. Actors can pose in costume and in front of the finished sets. The taking of photographs or audio/visual recording during the show is illegal!
  48. Construct an attractive hall display of cast and crew photographs, “Music In Our Schools Month” materials, etc. Always include a photographic history of the evolution of sets in construction, and the student names in the company.
  49. Designate one performance as children’s night. Offer it one hour earlier (on a school night), and provide a special discount for children ages 12 and under, as well as backstage tours of the scenery, spotlights, soundboard, costume room, autographs from the leads, etc.
  50. Dedicate each performance of the show to a special adult contributor to the school music and theatre program. Invite the Supercharge 4 special effect flyinghonored guest to the pre-show cast meeting, and send him/her several free tickets. Announce the dedication on the P.A. before the Overture, and post it on the hall display in the auditorium lobby.
  51. Find a P.R. “hook” – something that might interest the media – such as sponsoring Annie “dog auditions” or twins casted in dual roles. Send a new press release to the media every two weeks.
  52. Print the musical performance dates on the computerized student report cards and school district payroll checks. Use inter-office mail to send personal invitations to all of the teachers. Be sure to list the names of the cast – teachers will be interested in coming up to see their former students.
SUMMARY: Concepts to Consider—BUILD is the Operative Word!
  • Involvement of greater numbers of students and parents will build audiences and community support.
  • Presentation of a quality production with student leadership and supplemental activities will build student enthusiasm and appreciation of the inherent “value” of theatre in school.
  • Finding the confidence to take risks and build on your own creativity—go ahead and adapt the score, script, set designs and staging to utilize your schools’ resources.
  • The allocation of ample time to publicity and promotional activities will build community awareness, attendance and EXCITEMENT in support of the show!
SAMPLE RESOURCES: Companies, Books, Sites

PKF

© 2015 Paul K. Fox