Middle school and high school percussion classes, ensembles, and programs are becoming more of the norm throughout the United States, and anyone who has attended a recent PASIC knows that some of these programs are exceptional. Beyond the level of performance in an ensemble setting, however, the objective of any academic institution is to develop the individual. Be it through large ensembles such as concert band or symphonic orchestra, chamber music with percussion or mixed ensembles, and solo literature in a class or private lesson setting, seeing all percussion students progress from the first time they walk on campus until the day they graduate is the ultimate desire of every educator.
What are some of the strategies that might allow that desire to be fully realized? This series of short posts over the next few months will address a few tips, tricks, thoughts, and ideas from percussion instructors in a few of the finest programs from around the country.
Much of what is done in large ensembles (concert band, marching band, percussion ensemble) is conducted and instructed from the podium. However, many college and professional opportunities are performer driven. How do you incorporate and utilize chamber music opportunities to enhance student excellence within your program?
Josh Torres (Center Grove High School): Most of us have very active percussion ensemble programs, but it is powerful to let students provide input into what and how we play. It is critical to encourage them to work on trios, duets, quartets, etc. that they put together. Our program dedicates the final quarter of the school year to the students putting together a chamber piece that they prepare as a playing test. I remind the students that this empowerment opportunity is intended to be fun. Why should the percussion instructor have all the choices about what should be played? Maybe you’ve always wanted to play a trio or a duet; find the time to put it together! Personally, I consistently let my students substitute a duet or trio for solo or etude if it is of appropriate difficulty level; I would presume that most percussion instructors or band directors would agree. For students, improving as a chamber player will have immense benefits for large ensemble and solo playing!
Adam Wiencken (Broken Arrow High School): It is so important to balance the number of full ensembles with trios, duets, quartets, etc., giving the students some ownership and responsibility—even if it’s not as strong at first! Especially with younger students, they need to learn they can’t be hand-held through every concert prep. Doing it on their own with little to no coaching from the director can be the most beneficial lesson the students will learn. I agree with Josh that getting the students to buy in on what the program is doing by allowing them to choose their own chamber literature is fantastic!
Josh Torres: I also recommend searching out public performance venues: nursing home, coffee shop, or in your school’s or local library for these chamber performances. It allows the ensemble to move off of the stage or out of the gym to a wider variety of spaces and audiences.
Adam Wiencken: Along with that, search out a wider variety of music opportunities: steel bands in the summer, jazz trios at the coffee shop, sitting in for a cover band, Bach duets at the museum, etc.