We're Making A List, And Checking It Twice

That’s right! Today, I’m sharing how I use checklists to prep and clean for performances. (It is adjudication season, after all).

I love lists. Grocery Lists, To-do lists, reminder lists. Lists help keep my life on track. When we are working on getting repertoire performance ready, I make checklists to reflect, keep rehearsal on track, and provide feedback to my classes.

The Process

I normally wait until basic notes and rhythms are down before I make my first set of checklists. Once we get to that point, I will video classes singing through each piece, and we will sit down immediately after to listen to the performance, and make a “to-do” list. And here’s the crucial part:

 

INCLUDE EVERYONE

 

When I say “we” make a list, I mean the whole class makes the list together.

 

I’m trying to teach my students to hear, and make constructive critiques on their own. When they can do this, they can usually figure out a strategy to correct whatever isn’t quite right. This also gives everyone a little more ownership in this sometimes tedious process.

 

The first video below is of our initial run of Je le vous dirai,  arr. Leavitt. Pre-checklist. It certainly isn't pretty yet! Under-tempo, tuning issues, a rescue mission to save the Soprano 2's... the works:

While listening to the playback, everyone made their own lists on their Chromebooks. Then, we shared them and discussed what needs to be done as an entire class. Many of my students created shared google docs by section, and openly collaborated on their lists.

 

While discussing as a class, I typed out what they were saying onto my checklist for everyone to see. At the end of the day, I went back and made the lists more specific with measure numbers, etc. Here is my final checklist for the first recording:

Btw, I did this for all four CPA pieces (2 for Men's Choir, and 2 for Women's Choir)

Don't Get Carried Away!

When I’m working on minute details, I can easily let myself get stuck on two measure for 20 minutes. To keep myself out of that deep dark hole, I told the kids that I wanted to divide our time evenly. I set a timer on my iPad (5-8 minutes per piece, usually) and write an order on the board. When the timer goes off, we move on to the next piece. Students all have copies of my final checklists, so while I’m working with the other group, they are supposed to be studying the things we said we were going to address.

 

CHIP AWAY AT YOUR LISTS A LITTLE AT A TIME

 

I review what we’ve accomplished, and what we plan to accomplish at the beginning of each class. The lists above took 3-4 days to go through, and then we celebrated by working on something completely different for a little bit!

 

After that, we recorded again. Rinse and repeat!

 

Here is a video after we went through our first round of checklists. Not perfect yet, but still a good improvement in less than a week.

There are two immediate differences in this video:

1. My friend Pam, who came to work with Women's Choir after school, is conducting!

2. This is the entire Women's Choir group that will be attending our adjudication. Normally, they are split into four different classes. They always sound better together.

We listened to this video last Friday, made a new list, and trudged right along this week.

Sidebar: One of the best things I've done to help prepare my students for this time of year is bring in other people to work with them. Trade off with your choral friends, offer to buy them a coffee, etc. if you can't necessarily pay them. I'm happy to come hang out with my friend's choirs after school! Skype sessions, and Google Hangouts also seem to work well.

In case you're wondering, our CPA (Choral Performance Assessment) is on April 11th. My students have a preview concert scheduled for next Monday night, and the week in between preview and CPA is Spring Break.

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