Extra Curricular

Is this the hardest part of the job or what!

I can’t believe it is nearly half term – so much has gone on. I have led countless rehearsals, taught numerous lessons and I think I have just about to got to grips with my week.

In this new series I am going to be looking at some of the hard parts of the job – well, hard in my opinion. We all find different challenges in our weeks and probably all have our own solutions. I want to share some of my challenges and also some of my solutions. I hope that you might be able to offer your ideas as well.

This week I am focussing on Choosing Repertoire.

I don’t know about you, but every year I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with repertoire for my various groups and choirs. It is something that I have a Love/Hate relationship with. I love finding that perfect piece or song, but I hate the frustration of not quite finding what I am looking for. Unfortunately time is precious for me and so I don’t have the time to arrange music. I have so much respect for teachers who find the time to write music for their groups, but I just really don’t have the time for that in my week.

And the thing is I want to keep the music fresh and interesting, I don’t want to play too much stuff from last year, but also want the new students to hear the sound we can make with stuff we know. Choosing repertoire for me is all about ensuring that students are catered for, inspired and excited to be involved in a group. There is nothing worse than forcing students to sing something that they don’t like or that doesn’t work. It isn’t just about my tastes and what I like, but it is about what the students want to perform.

But I guess I also have to think about the final performance and getting the concert programme sorted in my mind. I have already started on Christmas music and I am keen to make sure that the stuff we perform is fresh, new and interesting for the students and audience a like.

I am always looking for new ideas and I am always try to keep music fresh. But I also rely on some classic arrangements and parts that I fall back on every year. My carol arrangements are all sorted and I always use the Salvation Army Carol arrangements for my orchestra and brass band. Only word of caution is the nasty keys for the C instruments –  but that is only on a few carols and it is good for them.

But I guess there is no real way of truly knowing if I get it right until the concert. If the performance goes well and people like it, then I have succeeded. But it is always risky and I just hope that I am doing a good job so far this year.

So what are some of my solutions, thoughts and go to websites:

  1. I have started to get students to arrange music more and more.
  2. I rely on http://www.studio-music.co.uk.
  3. Out of The Ark has become a lifeline for music for my First School choirs – http://www.outoftheark.co.uk
  4. I now ask reliable students to find repertoire for me and ideally find a website where I can buy the music.
  5. Facebook groups are great for getting ideas and ultimately stealing ideas! I love it when someone shares a piece that they have worked with and that has worked well for them.
  6. I have started to look for repertoire a few weeks in advance of me needing it. I then have time to work on it and make sure I know what I am doing with it – obvious I know, planning and all that!
  7. I have also started to just jump in the deep end and take a piece or song to choir just to see if students like it. Planning is good, but I don’t want to waste time if they don’t really like it.
  8. I am ensuring that I don’t over-do it and rehearse too much. 3 or 4 pieces with Big Band per half term seems about right and I need to just be okay with that.
  9. Every now and again I bring out something we have done before to ensure that we are ready for performances that may come along. Last week was open evening for example, so that orchestra were out to entertain parents as they arrived. They just played all of our stuff from last year as that is ready and playable with little preparation.
  10. I just search. I jump on iTunes or Youtube and I just hop from piece to piece trying to find what I am looking for. I look at top ten sheet music downloads and I looked at other items that are commonly purchased with pieces I have done before.

There is no right or wrong way to go about this and ultimately we are all in different situations. But sometimes finding the right music and then the funds to buy it, can seem like the hardest job in the world. But getting it right is crucial and I hope that this half term and this festive season, I find the right music!


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