Directing a school orchestra can be a seriously difficult job. You have 30+ students in a room, with an exciting sound-making device at their finger tips, and a bunch of black dots in front of them. Rehearsals can often be at the end of a long school day. Students come with varying ability levels and learning needs. Pulling all of these variables together to make a cohesive sound is quite the challenge! Often, issues during rehearsals or concerts with a school orchestra are due to some common mistakes:
1) You haven't planned your rehearsal or set goals.
It is a fundamental principle of effective teaching to ensure that you have planned each session. This can be as simple as jotting down the order in which you will be rehearsing your pieces, some intended takeaways for the session or an outline of how long you'd like to spend on each piece/exercise. Furthermore, it is imperative that you have some goals or targets in place for each rehearsal, term and year. Articulate these goals to your students and support staff. You can then work together towards achieving them throughout the year. Without goals your rehearsals can lack direction and focus.
2) Scores and parts are not organised.
I've seen orchestra directors walk into rehearsals and spend 10 minutes organising their music. Meanwhile, the students are going wild. It's not a great scenario. Taking time to organise music into folders or stacks can be a massive time saver and help things run smoothly. Have sectional leaders help you to hand out music and keep spares organised too.
Make sure you have an effective filing system and stick to it religiously. Taking 2 minutes to organise your music at the end of a rehearsal can save you 10 minutes at the beginning of rehearsal the following week!
3) The rehearsal room is not set up effectively.
Rehearsal spaces for school orchestras come in all shapes and sizes. It is important to think carefully about how to setup your space for effective learning to take place. Here are some ideas:
- Ensure that you have plenty of space as the director. You may need to move around the room, so make sure you can exit your position easily (i.e. don't physically back yourself into a corner that you cannot leave once your students have entered the space).
- Yes, there are traditional setups for orchestras, but this doesn't mean you must be limited by them. Think about your students and what would suit them best.
- Remove items from the room that don't need to be there. Taking 5-10 minutes to remove some items that are taking up space (classroom instruments, whiteboards, extra chairs etc.) can make such a difference!
4) You're trying to do it ALL!
Orchestra directors can be notorious for trying to do everything! Finding music, printing and copying, setting up the rehearsal space, planning concerts, conducting the orchestra, playing demos, repairing instruments, arranging and designing t-shirts, designing programs etc etc. Yes, some of us simply must do it all due to lack of support or funding. However, if possible, try to seek some support from caregivers, students or volunteers to help with one small element of your program. This could give you that little bit extra time to help things run much more effectively!
5) You're talking too much.
We often see orchestra directors talking more than the students are actually playing! Think about the ratio between how much you're talking and how much time the students get to play. Try and keep instructions short and concise. For example, if you'd like the group to improve a bunch of things, think about addressing them one at a time. i.e. identify issue, then rehearse it, identify next issue, rehearse it, identify next issue, rehearse it, then recap all three issues and rehearse it.
Also think about speaking to specific sections rather than the whole group all of the time. This can help students to focus on specific things that they need to work on, rather than trying to interpret more general ideas that you are putting forward.
~ Well, we hope this gives you some food for thought! Any other ideas or common mistakes you find? Please share them below.