By now, rehearsals for winter concerts are well under way. Typically, these rehearsals progress in stages which begin with sight reading, continue through error correction to musicality and expression, and finally on to “polishing” as the concert date draws near. If all goes as intended, everything comes together in time for the concert. If we stop and think about it, we often conclude that the concert is ready to present when the concert date arrives. We may make a dash for the finish line with extra rehearsals, but at some point we know that what we hear is what we’ll get. The time factor, what we can get done from start to finish of the rehearsal schedule, determines what the audience will hear. In this sense, the answer to my question, when is a performance ready to present, is in practice somewhat open ended.
It doesn’t have to be open ended, and that last minute rush can at least be minimized by changing the way we plan concert preparation. Like most things in education, excellent results come from excellent planning and excellent planning comes from setting clear learning objectives and effectively and regularly communicating them to students.
According to the National Arts Standards, repertoire is selected based on student ability, knowledge, interest, and performance context. This is a good place to start conceptualizing objectives that, when met, will indicate that a performance is ready to present. It should be noted at the outset that even when a work is selected with a learning objective in mind, not every objective based selection should be performed publicly; some will be rehearsed solely to advance mastery, which is then transferred to the correlated concert work.
The criteria of ability, interest, knowledge and context are not mutually exclusive. For example, it is not sound teaching to slog through a work in order to teach a certain style or genre if ability does not permit the work to be recreated with reasonable accuracy. So we select music that is at a desirable difficulty level that introduces or builds on targeted knowledge while being interesting to students and while being appropriate for the intended audience and performance space. If the context criteria cannot be met both the others are, the work is a good candidate for rehearsing for instructional purposes but without the intent to perform in public.
Finding works that are a good match to student knowledge and interest requires assessment. What are your students’ interests? What do your students know about the style, composer, genre and so forth of the work being considered? At the same time, the teacher should share their knowledge and interests with students. Many times students are interested in what their teacher enjoys, and are open to explore things new to them that their teacher has shared an interest in. Selecting repertoire, when done well, is a collaboration between teacher and students.
Once works are selected in this way, everyone knows what interests are being pursued, what and what learning is being attempted. It then becomes a small matter to collaboratively decide when that learning has taken place, and when those interests have been satisfied. It is at that point that the work has served its educational purpose. That purpose has been realized through an objective driven process that has also coincided with skill development encompassing the usual error correction procedures of preparing an accurate and musically sound performance.
Error correction is not the focus of rehearsals, it is a natural consequence of meeting the objectives of pursuing interests and obtaining knowledge. We are correcting mistakes for a higher purpose than to get it right for the concert. We are correcting mistakes because the objectives demand the errors be gone in order to reveal the interest and knowledge being sought. This deeper level of understanding which is built in gained and transferred knowledge, leads to other desired musical results, including greater and a more rewarding experience for the musicians and audience alike.