Preparing Your Students for Solo and Ensemble Festivals

The most wonderful (aka stressful) time of the year is quickly approaching for many music teachers, and if you’ve never attended a solo or ensemble festival with your students you’re in for a treat. There’s nothing quite like having your students stand up in front of a judge to perform a solo or ensemble that showcases their individual strengths and weaknesses. Whether you have a handful of students attending or nearly all of them have expressed an interest in attending, preparation is the key to a successful event. From choosing pieces and grouping the ensembles to filling out paperwork, here are a few things to keep in mind when preparing your students for solo and ensemble festivals.

Choosing Pieces and Grouping Ensembles

Organizing the different ensembles and selecting a piece for each one is one of the most important steps in preparing for a festival. This can be especially difficult if you’ll be attending with a very large program or with a variety of different students of different skill levels. In these cases, less is more. Instead of choosing a different piece for each and every ensemble, consider starting with just three or four pieces. Pick one that’s easy, another that’s intermediate, and one that’s super challenging. Then have the whole class learn each piece. Not only does this introduce the attendees to the pieces they might be playing, but it’ll help you identify the skill level of those who are attending. Once you have an idea who is a beginner, who plays at an intermediate level, and who can handle something more difficult, split them into groups accordingly.

Don’t Forget the Paperwork

Most registration forms require you to provide the name of your piece, the composer and/or arranger, and your name/the names of the people in your ensemble, as well as the name of your accompanist if you’re doing a solo. Generally, the rule is one form per entry, so if you’ll be organizing four or five different solos or ensembles, you’ll need to fill out four or five different registration forms. Keep in mind that there might also be a fee, so be prepared to dig into the funds you’ve raised throughout the year. Be sure to read the rules, and make sure to have your forms filled out and sent in on time–many festivals have strict deadlines, and if you miss the deadline even by a day your group may not be allowed to perform at the festival. So, write the deadline in your calendar and set an alarm on your phone–you DO NOT want to miss the deadline.

Switch Up Your Practicing

Chamber music is essential for the development of your school music program, but the format is different from a regular orchestra rehearsal in that students need to spend longer doing it. As a teacher, make sure your students practice in a way that will make them feel comfortable playing in a small ensemble. One way to go about doing this is to have them set up and rehearse with their newly formed ensembles, even if it means switching up the physical set-up of your music room. A week or two before the festival, have the different ensembles simulate a performance and play for each other. You can even print out sample judging sheets and ask students to write feedback. Some students will feel nervous at first, but it’ll only help them become stronger musicians in the long run.

Get the Uniform Situation Straightened Out

Uniforms aren’t always required, but a band uniform is an easy way for other people to identify which school you’re from. Plus, it’ll make you look more professional and prepared. Some judges will let small mistakes slide if you look good. An alternative to matching uniforms would be to color-coordinate your ensemble i.e., a white shirt, black pants, and red shoes, or you can be really creative and have them dress up in your school colors or as a pattern. If you do decide to stick with traditional uniforms, ask everyone to wear their uniform to a rehearsal a couple months in advance of the performance. This way, you’ll be able to identify which students have grown out of their uniforms, are wearing stained uniforms, or otherwise need an upgrade. Just make sure to do this well in advance of the festival–your students need plenty of time to adjust their uniforms, if necessary.

Get Everything Together

It’s not uncommon for a student to forget a piece of sheet music or leave a tuner behind. For this reason, some music teachers suggest checking in all instruments the night before your group leaves for the performance. The process is simple: ask students to arrive to school with their instruments, sheet music, and anything else they’ll need at a designated time the evening before departure. Having a checklist will make the process quicker, but you should be able to visually spot check that they have everything they need. Place their instrument cases in your classroom, and make sure the door is locked before you head home. In the morning, the only thing the students (and their parents) will need to remember is to wear/bring their uniform, which can help reduce stress levels for everyone involved.

Relax, Breathe, and Have Fun

At the end of the day, solo and ensemble festivals should be something fun to look forward to–not a task to be dreaded. Don’t let tiny mistakes blow up into huge issues, and don’t forget to enjoy your time at the festival as much as possible. Think of each performance and festival as a learning experience, and take some time to reflect and write down notes at the end of each performance. If the festival is in a different city or state (and a trusted member of your staff can be responsible for bringing your students back) consider extending your stay and turning it into a mini-vacation. After all, you deserve a treat for a job well done.”


For more articles just like this, check out the Educator Resources section of our blog.

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