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Thomas J. West Music

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Going To Work: Students Experience A Glimpse Into Professional Performing

Posted on May 24, 2011 at 4:38 PM

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Recently, several of my instrumental music students have gotten a glimpse of what it is like to be a professional performing musician. Professional musicians are expected to have complete mastery of their performance repertoire no matter how much (or how little) time to prepare they are allotted.They are also expected to display the utmost professionalism on stage and off.


A small group of my more experienced middle school students are serving as a swing band for a musical theater presentation of American culture of the 1920's and 30's. They sit on a "band stand" (a raised platform on stage right) which is about five feet in the air and accessible only by a set of stairs in the back. Because it is tight quarters, it takes two to three minutes minimum for them to get safely in position without knocking metal music stands off the platform onto the baby grand piano below or damaging their instruments. Because of this, there is no easy way to get them on and off stage for the show, so they take the stage at the beginning and remain there throughout.


During our dress rehearsal on Monday, they had to sit on stage as part of the action for about two hours. Being middle school students, they were naturally antsy and shifting in their chairs. They did a good job of refraining from talking for the most part, however. When it came time for them to play, I took my place on the podium and cued them to play their first tune, George and Ira Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm".  They were not successful - the woodwinds had let their reeds dry out and they did not make the tempo transition from the slow opening verse to the familiar refrain.


We had to stop and try it again, and they learned an important lesson: musicians in a pit orchestra for a show have to "always be on" and flip the switch in an instant, ready to perform.


A few of my high school students are performing tonight for our annual Senior Recital. In the recital, one of our graduating seniors wrote an original setting of the Walt Whitman poem "As I Ponder'd In Silence." His composition took longer to complete than anticipated and left the performers an abbreviated preparation period.


The work is for solo tenor voice, solo acoustic guitar, solo violin, and solo cello. In other words, there is no room for error on anyone's part. Add to that a half-dozen or so fermati in the piece, all with a slightly different release and interpretation, and you have a challenge! They have done an admirable job of adjusting quickly and making it work.


I really enjoy the fact that my students are exposed to these kind of "risky" performing situations. It makes them stronger, more independent and professional musicians.



This article (c) 2011 Thomas J. West. All content on ThomasJWestMusic dot com is licensed under a Creative Contributions Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. Please contact the author before publishing on or off-line.

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2 Comments

Reply Robert Woody
8:15 PM on May 24, 2011 
Thomas - This sounds great! I love the fact that your students are getting to put a little more real-life" context to their music making. Also, you've got students composing and performing in small group settings. Like you say these kind of things contribute to independent musicianship. Just great!
Reply ★ Owner
9:16 PM on May 24, 2011 
Thanks, Robert. I've had a chamber music program since my first year teaching - it's the best way to develop individual musical skill. I am only now beginning to incorporate student composition into the mix. Looking forward to some fantastic music-making next school year.