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First time guest conductor at a middle school festival

I'm 2.5 weeks away from my first guest conducting gig for a county wide middle school choral festival.  It is a two day affair with a concert the evening of the second day.  The students come from about 6 different schools/districts and we have 6 pieces.  I have a lot of experience with middle school students but am a bit nervous about figuring out ways to keep things interesting and fresh for very long rehearsals without wearing the kids (and myself) out.  I hope to incorporate listening, movement, etc. into the rehearsal process.  If you have pointers of any sort in regard to rehearsal prep, teaching tools, etc., please send them my way.  What do you wish someone had told you prior to your first festival gig?
Thank you!
Replies (5): Threaded | Chronological
on March 25, 2014 3:19am
My biggest words of advice:
Talk less.  Do more.
Following those guidelines will help you tremendously.
For future reference...When I plan my work for festivals like the one you described, I also make sure I pick at least one piece of music that fun.  For example, I like incorporating a song that has some movement in it.  Picking at least one pice that is a bit crazy and non-traditional helps the rehearsal process with this age group in this setting.  For example, I chose "Coffee Break" from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  They loved it.  I also like to make sure the rehearsal periods aren't overly long and are planned with sufficient breaks, and if I feel that I'm losing them, I am not afraid to break early.  Continuing a rehearsal that has lost energy sucks the life force out of this age group.  Feel the energy and don't be afraid to respond to it.
Good luck!
Dale Duncan
My blog for middle school teachers:
My Middle School Sight Singing Program:
My YouTube Channel with Teaching Tips:
on March 26, 2014 8:58am
Thank you Dale! Your comment regarding breaking early is especially good to hear as I am someone who tends to plow on.
on March 25, 2014 3:44am
Hello, Emily -- congratulations!  I wrote an article in Music Educators Journal for just this situation.  I hope you find it useful . . . it was based on my first experiences as a guest conductor of middle school honor choirs:
Freer, P. K. (2007).  Guidelines for Guest Conductors of Honor Choirs.  Music Educators Journal, 94 (1), 30-35.
Take care,
Patrick Freer
Georgia State University
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 26, 2014 8:56am
Fantastic! Thank you. I look forward to reading it!
on March 26, 2014 9:59am
With 6 pieces, do a little bit from each piece. Don't be afraid to "get to that part later." Keep the rehearsal experience changing, and they'll keep their interest.
For our All County Middle School Festival, we follow the following schedule, (Just to give you ideas.):
Day 1 - Extended Warm up, this really gets the chorus to get aquainted with the new sound of the mixed group.
 Quick run through of all pieces, to check for preparation, and get an overview of the  needs of the ensemble.
Break into sections, and hold sectionals. Not to learn music, but to solidify parts, and make minor corrections. Also to align pronunciations, sometimes different teachers have different nuances to foriegn languages.
Reassemble, and begin with the big glaring needs for improvement. That way, by the time you....
Run All music again, it sounds like it's on its way to the finished product.
Day 2 - Warm Up - Keep it fun. And bring specifics to meet the needs of the sections being worked on today.
Run pieces, and begin work.
"Borrow" Sections to try out for solos or descants. Meanwhile, work on specifics with the other sections.
Line up on Risers
Work on risers.
Practice getting on and off.
"Dress Rehearsal."
Incidentally, we usually have a third day, but that's mostly tweaking, and running down the concert.
Hope this helps!
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