Sunday, November 4, 2018

Planning Music Programs - Grade Level Practices

Planning programs can be super time-consuming and intimidating! Working backwards from the program date has worked well for me - try it and let me know what you think!

To work your schedule backwards, start with the performance date in mind. Write out a schedule with the end in mind, tracking how many days you want to practice in the performance space (Grade Level Practices), how many times you think they need to practice on the risers in your classroom (Riser Week), how many times they need to run through the whole show with special parts and speaking parts (Run Through Week) and beyond.

I'm going to be honest here - I give myself plenty of time with groups that are immature or groups that I don't know well (new school or lots of new students). You know your students' learning styles better than anyone, so you decide how much time you will spend on "program songs."

Side note: While I am a huge fan of using classroom curriculum songs as a performance, and use them as often as I can, I find that it's not always appropriate. Some schools/situations call for a separate set of "program" songs. In that case, I allow even more time to learn the repertoire. Programs with lots of moving parts (speakers, dancers, instruments, etc.) also take more time. If your program has these things, allow more space in your schedule for it. You'll be glad you did!

I try to schedule "auditions" and "sign-ups" for special parts as far in advance as I can, in order to give myself time to cast the show, type up scripts and notes home, highlight their parts, and sort all the papers by teacher to get them sent home. Shew! I'm tired just thinking about it!

Let's start talking through the details by talking about the week of the performance, or as I like to call it: Grade Level Practice Week.

Grade Level Practice Week

The week of the performance is "Grade Level Practice" week. Ideally, an entire grade level has specials at the same time. Work together with your specials team and pull all the classes into the performance space the week of your performance.

Pro Tip: I always try to schedule performances for Thursday (or Friday), to give me a minimum of 3 workable practice days. 

Day 1 Agenda:
  1. Get students into the performance space (risers, stage, etc.). Sometimes we line up by height (tallies to smallies) and sometimes I assign specific spots - it depends on the situation/group.
  2. Briefly go over the agenda with the students: "We will be doing the first half of the show today. If you have a special part in the second half, you will go tomorrow."
  3. Sing/Play/Speak through the first half of the show TWICE, including special parts like welcome, speaking parts, ribbon dancing, putting away ribbons/props, getting out instruments, playing instruments, putting away instruments, etc.

Day 2 Agenda: 
  1. Sing/Play/Speak through the second half of the show TWICE, including all the details.
  2. If you have any extra time, go through the hardest parts of the show again (songs that they like to rush, songs with many verses that they like to forget, etc.).

Day 3 Agenda: 
  1. I like to have an audience for the last rehearsal, so I invite a younger grade level, whenever possible.
  2. Run through the entire show with all special parts. 
  3. No stopping! Treat this as a performance (especially if you have an audience!) and try not to stop. If you have to stop, make a quick adjustment and move on!
  4. Be sure to debrief with kids about that evening's or the next day's performance before they go back to class.
Side Note: In an ideal world, your teammates will help you run the rehearsal, dealing with discipline issues that arise, passing out props, keeping kids on task. I have been extremely blessed over the years with teams that have been amazing at running rehearsals! Shout out to Carol & Amber (& Craig) & Debbie & Jennifer & Megan & Eunice & Belinda & Leticia & Kala & Susan & Jeanne & & Adam & Scott - Thank you!!

I ask the grade level teachers to attend the last rehearsal (or part of it) just so that they will know what is going on. Most likely, they will be the ones helping you the night of the performance or in the assembly (if you do a daytime performance).

By the day of the show, groups generally tend to be more comfortable (and predictable!) in the performance space. There's always a chance for a snafu or technical difficulty, so I remind the students that, "The show must go on," unless someone is hurt!

Special Tips for Weird Schedules

As much as you wish for and hope for an administration and staff that understands what you are trying to do with each performance, you won't always have an ideal schedule. Some years, you will have a class that meets at a different time than the rest of the grade level or a "mixed-up-files" kind of hodgepodge schedule. 

For those times, you have to rely on your relationships with the teachers/admin to get them to agree to switch their normal specials time. This is really tough the first year at a school, but as you prove yourself to them by your professional communication, your being on time, your performances and productions, etc., teachers are more friendly to the idea of swapping their schedule out for you. 

In essence, they are doing it for their kids, but it feels like a giant favor to you personally. I try to bring donuts or make brownies for my staff occasionally to make sure they know that I appreciate their flexibility. And I always write thank you notes after a show to let them know that they were a blessing to me and the students by their willingness to be flexible. A little gratefulness goes a long way!

I schedule these individual class switches way in advance and with the approval of my principal. Only once or twice have I had an impossible switch, and had to have a class come to the gym and sit and watch while I rehearse with a different grade level. In those cases, I provide tons of word finds and coloring pages to keep them busy and spread them out while we practice. 

I will do whatever it takes to have a grade level practice the week before a performance. I don't believe I could do a performance without it (unless I had to!). If that means doubling up classes, teaching during my lunch, or rearranging my schedule with my other school, I will do it! I have to be willing to be flexible, too!

The week before the switch, send out reminder emails and put a copy of the changed schedule in their box, just to be safe. I like to have them write a note in their substitute folder just in case!

Next week, we will work backwards and discuss Riser Week. 

What do you do to make your performances run more smoothly?

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