PRIMARY SCHOOL CONCERT BAND CONDUCTING AND PERFORMANCE PREPARATION. www.rodherbertbigsoundmusic.com
The NSW School Band and Orchestra Festival is held in late July through August every year since the 1960's.
This is an amazing event held over six weeks where hundreds of primary and secondary Concert Bands, Jazz Ensembles and Symphony Orchestras, perform and are adjudicated by guest conductors and music educators who give each conductor and ensembles valuable feedback into strategies to optimise their ensembles performance skills.
There are many different ensemble categories including beginning, intermediate and highly advanced levels.
We are looking forward to performing at this festival.
My Primary School ensemble consists of kids who have graduated from Beginner Band and been playing more than one year including Year 4, 5 and 6.
We will be playing two great Australian compositions written for Intermediate Concert Band.
These will include Koala Rock by Ed Wilson and Rock 101 by Tim Ferrier.
My students enjoy playing these two works and are highly enthusiastic about playing music!
Our music education team, including the students individual instrumental tutors and myself as Band Director, have spent a long time trying to enthuse the kids into lots of regular home practice routines and also building both their instrumental technique and music sight reading abilities.
Here are some of my rehearsal ideas that I have been using in preparing my primary school Senior Concert Band in the upcoming performance. This is a mixed level band now consisting of Training band students who have graduated after played for one year as well as kids from year 5 and 6 who are my section leaders.
Some of these things are very obvious and hopefully common practice among concert band conductors of all levels.
I have spent a great deal of rehearsal time each week not only working on the major performance items but gradually getting students to read through the band method books as well as sight reading of stand alone compositions.
Many conductors stop using the method books and only concentrate on the stand - alone performance repertoire.
I think it is good to be thorough with repertoire but I think it is our job as educators to foster student confidence and sight - reading fluency through reading and performing as much varied material as we can.
Over the years our budget for purchasing music library repertoire material has been at times quite limited so this necessity has led to myself composing lots of original customised repertoire for all my groups. This would give me opportunity to feature all the positive aspects of each of band member and instrumental sections as well as creating challenges for each student and the ensemble sections.
Have some fun and get creative! Your students will love this!
I try to cover some sight - reading in each rehearsal as much as possible as well as focusing preparing on one or two main repertoire performance items as seasonally required.
BREATHING AND SOUND PRODUCTION
I start each rehearsal with "Breathing Gym" style air breathing.
These breathing exercises originate from the teachings of the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra Tubist, Mr Arnold Jacobs, who taught a generation of the worlds best Symphony brass players.
Based on “Wind and Song” effective breathing with the largest, purest instrument tone for both brass and woodwind players.
I get everyone to slowly blow warm air into their hand and increase to length of time. 4/4 funky groove from the drums.
Breath 1 beat snap breaths.
Repeat 4 beats length.
Repeat 8 beats….
Repeat 12 beats….
Repeat 16 beats….
Repeat 20 beats….
Then all students continually silently blowing air through their instruments accompanied by soft press rolls on the drums.
All these exercises get our air capacity flowing giving more gradual dynamic control, assisting intonation and creating a rich dark ensemble sound.
I have tried doing these exercises using balloons….
Disaster!!! Too much fun for a band too have!!!
ENSEMBLE INTONATION and SOUND PRODUCTION
Tuning note Bb Concert:
Flutes, Oboes, Low brass play long soft Bb.
Alto, Baritone Saxophone play long soft G.
Clarinets, Trumpets, Tenor Sax play long soft C.
Start building up the register pyramid.
Get everyone to blend their sounds and adjust the tuning as we go.
Starting with low brass, low saxes then add middle range alto saxes and clarinets, then add oboe, trumpets and flutes.
I start slowly playing long notes over Bb Concert chromatic scale focusing on blend, intonation and warmth of sound as well as dynamics changes pp to ff on number scale 1-10.
We gradually get faster whole notes, half notes, ¼, 1/8, and then double 1/8th notes then faster moving 1/8th note chromatic scales gaining momentum and speed.
SCALE TECHNICAL DEVELOPMENT
We also start moving the chromatic scale Bb, C, D, Eb and gradually up to F concert as our ranges increase!
We play a game called “Tag Team” where soloists trade fast chromatic scales around the band room in a speed and accuracy competition. It’s great getting the kids wanting to practice fast scales to “win” Tag Team!
I spend a lot of time alternating between playing tutti whole band sections of the pieces and pulling apart difficult challenging phrases.
Often telling the whole band to play some of these difficult sections and telling each instrument what notes to play!
I need to keep everyone active and give them chances to shine as section and tutti ensemble including the percussionists.
Invent drum patterns and timing / “comping” exercises they can use to accompany these exercises.
I am always using long notes on hard complex phrases, then double 1/8th notes on phrases, then playing the highest pitch of the phrase and the rhythms. This then allows most of the students to play the difficult sections with greater confidence and accuracy.
I think this is giving everyone a chance to develop there technical skills.
I also need to constantly use the aural musical terminology metalanguage in discussing aspects of the pieces with the band, often breaking down the composition fragments in simple ways to describe “how” the music works and the terminology that accompanies these musical elements.
PERFORMANCE DAY PREPARATION
One the day of our NSW School Band and Orchestra Festival performance, I will spend a lot of our warm up time doing some of the above exercises.
I will do the long scale warm ups and get the air flowing. I will also tune each kid with the tuner (I usually try not to use this, I sing the concert Bb to the kids then get then to play ) then do more sound exercises. I will then tune up again using the sound pyramid mentioned above getting a warm rich sound with lots of tuba, low brass and bass.
I will focus on starting each piece aiming for clarity and confidence.
I will “top and tail” each piece looking at the challenging sections.
I will then play through each piece.
When the children and their families meet before we go to the warm up session, I will insist that every child sit down with their friends and not run about.
Trying to calm everyone down and harness this nervous energy for good not evil!
We need to check our band seating arrangements, lining up a few key members in each row to sit directly in front of the conductor podium.
I also ask all our band members to adjust and play through the gaps in the music stands allowing greater instrument sounds production.
Everyone needs to be able to see the conductor and the music in a direct line of sight.
All students need to have their eyes in in line with the music and knees facing directly towards the conductor. Correct upright posture to assist breathing and sound.
Breath like you diving under the water!
So I hope that perhaps these ideas may of use for developing your ensemble.
Performances should be fun, not stressful!
What are the best educational outcomes for our students?
It should be all about the students playing at the top of their abilities at that point in time!
Remember a few weeks ago or months or terms ago the notes on the page where dots, dashes and squiggles!
The miraculous is now that the dancing vibrations of air have now organised into musical sounds!
Keep it FUN, FUN, FUN, playing quality music on the way!
Relax, enjoy, stay cool.
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