Inevitably in the coming months, most school band directors will be preparing to have their concert and/or jazz ensembles evaluated in some way. A probable facet of this “season of evaluation” is the opportunity to engage with guest clinicians either in preparation before the performance evaluation or immediately after the evaluated performance. Hosting the Chicagoland Invitational Concert Band Festival at John Hersey HS for the last 14 years, as well as 22 years of observing the Music for All National Concert Band Festival, has enabled the privilege of observing some really powerful and impactful clinic experiences, as well as the misfortunate of watching some mediocre and even discouraging experiences for students and clinicians alike. Based on my observations, here are some suggested steps to ensure a successful clinic or guest conducting experience in the coming months: 1. Mentally prepare the students in advance for the guest and/or the clinic experience 2. Prepare the guest in advance for the students and ensemble, taking advantage of as much time as possible to explain strengths, weaknesses, goals, etc. 3. Prepare yourself to be open to new ideas and take every advantage of the opportunity for maximum affect Preparing students: Before the guest clinician arrives, make the time to talk with students about proper etiquette with a guest. Regardless of how often students work with guests, they always benefit from a reminder before the guest arrives. The guest does not know the idiosyncratic personalities of the students in front of them and he/she can not read the visual and body cues of students that the host band director reads and reacts to naturally each and every day. We know our students very well and instinctively react – a guest does not have this luxury. It’s important that we talk to our students about maintaining positive body cues such as eye contact with the guest, nodding in agreement if they agree with a comment, not talking out of turn for any reason, not answering rhetorical questions and staying engaged for the entire clinic (especially the last portion of the clinic) to promote a positive experience for all. We want the guest to feel encouraged by the student’s response and this will bring out their best. In addition, make the time before the guest arrives to tell your students about the background of the guest and why you have invited that person to work with the band. If you had no choice in the guest (common in a festival setting), you can speak about the quality of all of the clinicians and why they were chosen to be a part of this particular festival. In addition, speak with your students about performing twice in a festival setting – on stage and in the clinic. If you know the guest well, warn the student musicians about any pet peeves and what rehearsal environment they might expect. The more you build the guest “up” to your students before the experience, the more curious they will be about the guest when they arrive and the more likely the experience will be positive. Preparing the guest clinician: In most cases, guests will not know anything about your ensemble, especially if a festival performance does not precede a clinic (i.e. a guest coming to your school). It’s important that you make as much time as possible to discuss the band with your clinician. Make the time to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the band, the obstacles you are trying to overcome, how long you’ve been rehearsing the music, what you are preparing for (are you done with the music after this performance or is there another performance in the future?), as well as tempos and style decisions that you have made. Be open to suggestions if the guest has other ideas and warn your students if the guest wants to try something new. All of these items will assist the guest in preparing the best possible experience for you and your students. Of course, there is a fine line between “making excuses” and informing your guest about ensemble challenges – be careful…. In a festival experience, time is limited between performance and clinic, but it is still ESSENTIAL that a discussion happen albeit brief. Prepare yourself: The last part of this equation is how you act in the clinic and how you use and respond to the information presented. Take notes!!! You will be modeling for your students and you are showing them that you value this process and learning, similar to your expectations for your students. One of my favorite stories is the band director that introduced a clinician and then sat in his office with the door closed drinking tea for the entirety of the session – true story!!! It is essential in the rehearsals following the clinic that you reinforce the major points from the clinician and that you discuss what you valued from the clinic with students, in order to garner as much value from the experience as possible. In addition, you coerce and cajole your students to be open to your ideas every day; it’s important that you are also open to new ideas from your guest and that you grow in this process, as well. Good luck as you prepare for the growth of your students, your ensembles and yourself in the coming months. Take advantage of every opportunity!
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