Going back to in person rehearsals? Congratulations! Here's how to plan for success, manage challenges and be realistic in your expectations.
If you're going back to in-person rehearsals after the "joy" of online rehearsals you might be feeling a whole range of things. Excited. Anxious. Nervous. Concerned. Exhausted just at the thought of it.
I have felt all those things (and more) in the six times we've gone back to in person ensembles since our first lockdown in March 2020. (Yep, we've had a LOT of lockdowns and a LOT of online ensemble!).
In this series of four posts I'm going to unpack the musical, psychological, personal and planning consequences of going back to in person and what you can do to manage them.
Today we're diving into planning.
I'm normally a meticulous planner, especially when it comes to repertoire and what I plan to get done in rehearsals. Going back to in person threw of ALL my plans and I had to completely re-calibrate what was reasonable. Here's what I learned:
If you do ONE thing going back, do this. Your ensemble will be starting the year at a lower level than they normally would be pre-COVID.
We want them to feel successful, sound good and have a good time right off the bat. Easier music is how.
If you give them the old stuff they will struggle, have a bad time, and it will sound bad. It will be gruelling and unpleasant for all of you.
The need for easier music might not last long, but it will happen. You might find they only need a few weeks of easier music before getting back in the groove. Or it could be longer. This will depend a lot on how often you rehearse and how long your rehearsals are. More contact time = quicker bounce back. More experienced students = quicker bounce back.
When my middle school band started back I put LOTS of music in the folders. We normally start the year with Grade 2-2.5 and introduce 1-2 Grade 3 pieces by the end of the year.
Post-online I started with only Grade 1, 1.5 and 2 music in the folders. They ate up the 1.5 faster pieces and quickly moved onto a grade 2 then an easy 2.5 within about 5 weeks (we rehearse once per week for 90 mins). I kept the easier ones in the folders to use for sight-reading and warm ups.
The Grade 1.5 ballad/slow piece was another story. This was a real challenge for them and we ended up working on it for a good while and performing it in our first concert back.
Things can be slow to get back on track. That's normal. Accept it - ragging on yourself or your musicians about it won't help anybody.
Yes, you read that right.
We teachers so desperately want it to be good. We want it to be good for our students. We feel so much responsibility toward them! And while we do have responsibilities, we are often really deluded about where those responsibilities begin and end (if they ever end!).
The most important thing is to know what you can and can't control. Be really honest about this with yourself. The only thing you can change is you, your actions and your responses. You can't change students, parents, colleagues, administration or the weather.
If you're getting mad at something you can't change, take a moment to breathe and consider changing your response. Staying annoyed at something you can't change is a recipe for burnout.
Just like in online learning, things probably won't go to plan. When they don't, it's up to you to work out what you can and can't control and how you can respond.
It mightn't be musical things you have to be flexible about - it might be your school not communicating, last minute changes, things being cancelled or added.
We conductors can be quite the perfectionists! Now is not the time for that!!
Enjoy going back to rehearsals - it is such a privilege to make music with others!
Read the other articles in the series of Tips for Returning to In-Person Rehearsals
How will I feel? Managing Yourself
An edited extract from my new book Planning Effective Rehearsals: Tools to Boost Learning & Engagement
A simple approach to instantly approach every piece with more musicianship, storytelling and emotion - for us, and our ensembles!
Being told to play louder or softer is okay. Being told why is better.