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Buckle Up! Getting Into Performance Mode

We've been back from Thanksgiving Break for a week now. If it hasn't happened to you yet, we all know it's coming: Concert Season! Here's a quote from an interview with Stephen Colbert a few years back that I think accurately sums up this time of year for me:

He was obviously talking about hosting the Late Show, but I identify with this on a deep, personal level.

It's one thing to show your kids the date on the calendar, and remind them (again, and again, and again, and AGAIN) of the upcoming performance dates. But, I try to do things to really help my classes get into the "concert mode" mindset. Here are some of my hot tips:

If Possible, Switch Out Your Chairs For Risers

I have the luxury of having several sets of nice Wenger risers...the kind that roll around, and easily fold down. So, set-up is actually pretty painless. My students stack chairs at the back of the room, and help me set-up the risers for classroom use in the weeks leading up to a performance. My classes generally prefer singing on the risers, and it just makes everything feel more “real.”

Tweak And Finalize Your Standing Order

For my classroom, three rows of chairs has always seemed to work best. But we perform in 4-5 rows once we move to the risers. I start by blocking everyone out, and then tweaking and refining the placement over a week or so. It's an intricate combination of who's voice works next to who, can I see everyone (or is there a shorty behind someone much taller), and who can handle being next to who without talking and goofing off the entire time.

Solo Auditions

Ok, so I actually did this the day before Thanksgiving break, but it still totally helps get you into the right mindset of "oh, crap...this is really happening." I like to hold solo auditions 2 weeks to a month out from my concerts. That way, I have plenty of time to work with each soloist, and give them opportunities to practice in front of their class. We have two types of solo auditions:

  1. Snippets- Solos or descants within a larger piece

  2. Premier- Spots in between group pieces  where small groups or soloists are featured. These students choose their own song to audition with, and chosen students work to clean and perfect their pieces to perform on the concert. I typically place these solos during set changes. Students sing in front of the curtain, so that the audience can focus on them, instead of the 100 person set change happening behind them!

Go Over Your Game Plan

During the first 5-10 minutes of class the first day after Thanksgiving break, I go over all of the details of the upcoming weeks until winter break. Rehearsal and performance dates are posted on the board. I go over how everyone earns their grade. I remind everyone what to wear, and what they need to remember to purchase if they haven’t done so black dress shoes, and BLACK DRESS SOCKS for my guys. I always warn them to never wear WHITE TUBE Socks with their formal, black uniforms!

Record And Reflect

The Monday before Thanksgiving break, we ran-through and recorded all of our group pieces in concert order. After we did this, I let everyone listen to the recording we made, and had them take notes about what we needed to work on between now and the actual performance. We then shared and discussed together, and I made a master list on a document on my screen. This gave us something to dive right into on the first day back from break.

Post Your Set-List

I make the most obnoxious set-lists on my board. They are currently in coordinating colors of red and green. I want everyone to know the concert order like the back of their hand. No guessing games the night of the performance!

Send Home Those Uniforms! (If You Haven't Already)

uniform picture.PNG

This picture of our dresses on's website cracks me up.

I’m a slacker on this one. In a perfect world, formal uniforms would be sent home before Thanksgiving break. My goal is to get them sent home this week. I measured everyone before Thanksgiving, so I get brownie points for that, at least...right? The good news is that I took the time to sort everything fairly well during uniform turn-in last May, so everything should be easy to go through and distribute.

Checklists Are Your BFF


We make our checklists together, like I said earlier. Using said checklists gives us a trajectory, and helps us use our time wisely. Today, I put up the checklist for the piece we were focusing on, and we breezed through it! . Once we finish a checklist, we revise and make a new checklist and get pickier every time.

So Are Run-Throughs

Give them the mindset of” If we were performing this at the concert right now, how would we do?” Let’s face it, nothing is ever going to be completely perfect, and we have to learn how to not sweat the details in the moment, and still remember to make music, and find joy in our performance.

Alter Class Structure To Provide More Focus On Performance

Leading up to a concert, I alter class structure by removing bell-work, and  minimizing theory and sight singing. This gives us more actual rehearsal time throughout the week to make sure we feel as secure as possible about each piece.

Reinforce Performance Etiquette

Students need to understand proper behavior during a performance. So we practice:

  • Being a good audience member (and discuss what that means)

  • How to walk on and off risers the correct way.

  • How to act professionally at all times

  • Standing in the correct posture without fidgeting

  • Body expression and movement during performance.

Good luck, friends! Enjoy the flaming toboggan ride.

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