The First Concert: It's Never Too Early

by Mande Gragg

Date Posted: October 01, 2018

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I love the beginning of a new school year. My most favorite part is seeing the beginner band students enter the band hall for their very first band class. It lifts my spirits to see the excitement barely contained (or sometimes not at all) because they are about to start something brand new. They’re so eager to discover instruments and music that I can’t help but remember how much I felt that same anticipation as a sixth grader! This is when my job is the easiest.

It doesn’t take long before reality takes over, though. After the first few weeks of “house-keeping” responsibilities such as instrument care, waiting for supplies, instrument assignments, etc., it is finally time to get into the real reason that kids sign up for band – playing music. We learn to count, make our first noises, mold those noises into songs and, eventually, try to wrap it all up in a pretty bow for the holiday concert, which is usually the students’ first public performance. But do we really need to wait until the end of the semester to have our students perform in public? I believe that one of the most important things that we can do for students is to have them share their journey with others from the earliest possible moment. No, these early sounds may not be “pretty” but they are definitely a necessary part of learning. The struggles of discovery are equally as important as its resulting success or failure. We all know that public performance builds confidence in our students and so we must endeavor to provide them with opportunities to experience it. Here are a few ideas that both my colleagues and I have incorporated to give our aspiring musicians an opportunity to grow through performance.

Personal Video Performance

I am “that” parent who wants to show everyone pictures and videos of my two boys all of the time, and I know that I am not the only parent out there who does this! One thing that my private lesson parents love to get are videos of the duets that my students and I play, together. There have been countless “thank you” messages, heart emojis, and Facebook video posts from parents who want to share and rejoice in the feeling of success with their child. Depending on your school’s cell phone policy, you can use this idea to have each student complete a selfie video to send home to parents using their personal device. Counting, rhythm, first sounds, first songs – there are so many possibilities! Also, this is a great way to keep parents updated with their very own log of student progress and enables them to go back and see the learning process from start to finish.

“Classroom Concert Day”

One of my colleagues experimented with in-class concerts, last year, and was very pleased with its success. At the end of the first six-week grading period, she scheduled a “Classroom Concert Day” and asked students to invite parents to watch a mini performance during their band period. Wouldn’t it be fun to have students mail a personalized invitation? In our school district, many households are made up of parents who all work during the day but, with enough advanced notice, we were pleasantly surprised at how many of them were able to make arrangements and attend the concert.

"By providing our students with early performance opportunities, we may be able to convince them the sharing of music is one of the best and most rewarding activities that can last a lifetime." - Mande Gragg

On-Campus “Field Trips”

Taking a class on-campus “field trip” to perform for teachers, staff, and students is a really fun way to build relationships between your program and the rest of its school family. This idea works really well for those of us who are able to separate beginners into smaller, like-instrument, classes throughout the day. The students of each individual class come together and find one line or song from their book to prepare for a memorized performance. The group then organizes the performance day and on-campus sites. Students love to play for their favorite teachers, the office staff, lunchroom workers, custodians, and others. Concert day is always so much fun and gives the campus something to look forward to, every year!

Section Features

For those whose classes are combined into full band from the very beginning, it can prove difficult or even impossible to move a large number of students around the campus for field trip concerts. When I am looking for ways to have students perform early concerts in this situation, I have found that smaller, more manageable section performances within the band class are a great alternative. Each section chooses or receives an assignment for a song or line from the book to perform for the rest of the class. This performance day not only allows for your students to perform in front of their peers, but also provides an opportunity for you, as their director, to educate your entire band on concert etiquette. Finally, don’t forget to use this as an opportunity to invite parents, teachers, and administrators so that your students have a chance to share their success with others.

Please share these and other ideas for early concert ideas with friends and colleagues so that, together, we can invent even more opportunities that can help your student flourish. By providing our students with early performance opportunities, we may be able to convince them the sharing of music is one of the best and most rewarding activities that can last a lifetime.

Remember the excitement and anticipation that you felt when you were allowed to hold your instrument for the first time? Know that your students feel that, too. My hope is that we are able to help our students retain those feelings throughout the struggles of the crazy, music-making adventure that they have chosen to explore.

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