Reply To: Changing Concert format – Ideas? Help!

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Wow! This is a great forum topic–and one that I have a lot of ideas on. Just wish I could sit down with you over coffee and spill all of the ideas that are out there. Let me tell you what I do and why…it may get your wheels spinning more and hopefully help you determine what will work best for your situation.

I teach music the entire year…content rich lessons, games, dance, instruments, etc. I never think about programs as I teach, instead I follow solid benchmarking and spiral teaching. Come March, I begin to look back at the year and the students and I find the favorite pieces that also have great content in them and we put them into a show that I creatively title each year. This year it was “Bright and Colorful Music”–generic term but I can include anything in the concert. This is on purpose–so we don’t have to shove music down kids throats just to match a theme–it is more of an educational experience for the parents to see what the kids have learned over the year (much like the standardized tests show us what kids know…we are doing the same in our concerts at my school).

I pair all of my 1st graders with 3rd graders for the first concert that is in May (March is when I start planning…end of April we begin learning where to stand and how to get up and down off the risers for the movement & instrumentation parts and May is performance).

1st and 3rd is great to pair because we see the greatest growth between these grade levels for it not to be too vast of a difference. The 1st grade performs for 20 minutes (the 3rd graders love seeing what they remember from 1st grade…even though the concert changes each year they will remember doing the pieces in class or on stage sometimes). Then the 1st get off stage and the 3rd perform. The 1st graders get to see all of the exciting things to come–multiple verses, more complex instrumentation, games that include dances that look quite intricate, etc.. Plus the parents also get an education on what the students learn. I do not talk during any part of the concert except at the end when I thank the parents for coming, staff…etc.

1. The kids sing an opening piece together.
2. One class gets down off the risers to demonstrate a game/dance/instrumentation we did to a song in class (the rest of the kids sing and do hand movements)
3. The kids all sing a piece together again (each piece demonstrates a different musical concept–rhythm, beat, AB Form, etc)
4. Another class gets down off the risers to demonstrate instrumentation to a song (the rest of the kids sing along)
5. The kids all sing a piece together again (still more concepts being demonstrated)
6. Another class demonstrates another movement activity on the stage (while the rest sing)
7. Closing piece for the 1st graders

Then we trade grade levels. The kids each introduce the pieces and explain to the parents what was learned. The 1st graders and 3rd graders perform independently after just 4 practices–it takes a bit of work but they learn that they can do it. After the 3rd graders perform, I have all of the 1st graders come back on stage and we sing one final number. It may be America, Let’s Go Fly a Kite (getting ready for summer), our state song Home Means Nevada, but it is different each year. That keeps parents around until the very end. The program is 50 minutes long and we average 250 parents in attendance with 80 first graders and 100 third graders.

Then I do a 2nd and 5th grade concert. Again in May–I do them back to back now….used to space them apart by a week but I like doing them one after the other. Again…HUGE growth difference between 2nd and 5th. Same format, but 5th grade follows more of an Americana theme–but I never choose pieces and then discover the standards that it fits (that’s backwards)..I find the standard I have to cover and pick the piece to teach it. The 5th grade always closes with 50 Nifty…it has become tradition at my school and the students have all of the state flags to put up and down as they sing the song–it’s pretty cool to see if I do say so myself (even if they do miss a beat here and there).

I do a Kindergarten Celebration in June before school gets out. We sing 10 cute songs, again I always tell the parents what the students have been learning so they can see that we teach high/low, fast/slow, and that we are starting to lay the foundation for future years in music class. I also show how it connects to science with vibration, math with counting skills, PE, etc. It is important to always advocate for our subject as an academic area–and the parents LOVE to hear what their kids are learning about and that it isn’t just a “dog and pony show” as the saying goes.

My 4th graders do an Informance in March (Music in Our Schools Month). This is held in my room and parents come in where the students have a more intimate setting to show off their skills. We perform 15 minutes of recorders and 15 minutes of games and dances plus our Nevada stuff (That is classroom curriculum integrated). At the end of the performance we get the parents up and involved and the kids teach their parents one of the movement activities. That is the BEST part of the performance as parents light up when they work with their student. The tough part is when a student’s parent is not present. I always talk about how we can “borrow” our parents out and the kids giggle at this–so we try to make it okay if some parent isn’t there. Teachers will sometimes fill in as well.

I do all of my concerts during the day. They used to be at the end of the day, 2:30-3:20, but this year I moved them to the morning. The morning is the BEST! The kids were so energized and the teachers loved it because they could actually teach for the rest of the day. Doing them in the afternoon the teachers said the kids were wiggly all day long excited for the performance. I give my parents plenty of notice–they get notes that go home at the 4 week mark before the concert and again at the 2 week mark. We send notices home in the parent newsletter which is about 5 times a year. So, they typically can make it to the performances and we haven’t had much of a headache over it. The problem with doing night performances in my community–so many kids are involved in sports, choir, private lessons, karate, etc. I can never count on everyone to be there for the performance. And if you are doing a movement activity or instrumental part that requires 4 students per group or whatever it messes everything up.

Feel free to write me back with more comments or questions and I’ll see if I can answer them. FYI–My 5th graders LOVE singing–as long as they get to move and show off some really cool stuff with the singing. I do lots of dances and some that are VERY silly–if you do Going to Boston you can have the kids get really silly with that one doing dances. I know some kids don’t like doing that, so instrumentation can be a key ingredient. My kids are so used to it now since they’ve been doing dances, games and instruments since 1st grade–by the time they get to 5th they don’t think anything of it…it’s just “what we do.”

I am excited for you–trying something new is always exciting and with good planning you’ll find it very fulfilling if you are able to find the right balance for your community and your students. My recommendations are not a fix-all solution. It is what works for me. FYI–I used to do programs every other month at a different school and I was completely worn out by the end of the year–I much prefer doing them all in May and the parents love seeing how much progress they have made.

Good luck!

Bridget James
Western Division Representative
Council for General Music Education, NAfME