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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Teacher Tuesday: organized concert prep

Well, it's that time of year again. While others are starting to get that warm fuzzy feeling as they anticipate the holiday season, music teachers around the world are hunkering down, trying to visualize 500 children walking on and off the stage in various configurations while holding props and percussion instruments without dropping anything, making large noises, or falling off the stage. Concert season!

While there's no way around some amount of pandemonium *cough* I mean flurry of activity, thinking through everything in advance and planning out as much as possible has made a huge difference in my concert season stress level.

Here are some of the things I do to stay organized, and a general timeline for when I do them. I have done everything from "informance"-type presentations of class material, to formal ensemble performances, and full-scale musical productions. The basic ideas for how I prepare have been the same.

1. Date, time, venue, and repertoire
I try to have the dates, times, and venues for all of my performances set and on the calendar before the school year begins. I'd much rather have the other events planned around my concert than the other way around, and it makes the rest of my planning much easier when I know what my timeline is.

I also pick out my repertoire/material/script before the school year begins, or at least before the semester when I will be teaching it begins. Again, having the repertoire picked out ahead of time makes all the rest of my planning so much easier. I have often had to make adjustments to my choices after I start teaching (and either realize the material is too easy or too hard), but it is easier to make changes to a plan than to have no plan at all!

2. Long-range teaching plan
Once I know the date of the concert and the material I need the performers to learn, I can plan backwards to see when I need to start focused rehearsals on the material. Going backwards from the performance, I add a dress rehearsal and 2 more "run-through" rehearsals. That gives me a little buffer to work with, but also gives the students time to make sure everything is memorized and work out the logistics of performing (like bowing and transitioning between groups or songs). From there I plan out each rehearsal backwards to get to that end goal to find my starting point.

3. Logistics planning
This is where the planning depends greatly on the type of performance. When I am planning a full-scale musical, there are a lot of logistics that need to be worked out as close to the start of the school year as possible: costumes, acting rehearsals, set and prop pieces, sound and lighting tech, etc. For ensemble or class performances, the logistics tend to be much simpler and I start planning out the logistics a few weeks after I have started teaching the material- usually 2-3 months before the performance.

No matter what I'm planning for, though, I am a big fan of writing everything down. I organize all of my information into categories and keep it in my planner:

(I've put these performance planning sheets in my TpT store if you are interested!)

Some of the things I make sure to plan include sound and lighting needs, the written program (if there is one), costumes or dress code, publicity, stage setup and flow (transitions are key!), and people to contact. Which brings me to my next point...

4. People to contact
One of the most important things I have learned from experience is that if something goes wrong, it is usually because I did not communicate enough with the right people about the right information. With all the coordinating I am doing myself, it's easy to forget that other people don't have instant access to all the information swirling around in my brain, and it's often hard to keep track of whom I have told what. Add in the complexity that comes with the blessing of various helpers- whether from parents, staff members, or the community- and communication becomes an even greater challenge.

I always include two things in my performance planning to help me keep track of communication: a list of contact information for anyone helping with the performance, and what their role is (costume sewing, sound tech, moving risers out of storage etc), and a checklist of who I need to contact and the basic information I need to communicate. As the performance gets closer, I can go through my checklist every now and then to see if there is anyone I need to email or talk to that week. It has really helped cut down on communication gaps and helped me get more people on board with supporting the program because they feel more connected to the process.

I think that's it! Whew! After all that planning, all that's left to do is ride the wave... :D Best of luck to all my colleagues entering the performance season! Share your tips for staying sane in the comments below!


  1. As always, wonderful ideas for organization! Thank you for always being willing to share your thoughts!