Monday, February 15, 2016

Elementary Orchestra Solo/Ensemble Festival, Part 1: Description and Additional Repertoire

Elementary Solo/Ensemble additional repertoire

For the elementary orchestra students in our district, we create our own Solo/Ensemble festival each spring.  Since it's not an "official" Solo/Ensemble festival, we can create our own list of repertoire choices suitable for first- and second-year players and really customize the event to make it work for our students.

This is a big unit for us in orchestra, and it's a great experience for our beginners on many levels.  They get to prepare a solo and/or ensemble (duet or trio for first-year students; up to a quartet for second-year students), so the outcome of this performance really hinges on how much individual effort each student puts into it.  Performing alone is a really different feeling compared to performing as a full orchestra.  During this unit, we take a look at the whole process of selecting and learning a piece, getting it ready for performance, and then performing it for an audience.  Once students are in middle school and can participate in the "real" Solo/Ensemble festival, they already have an idea of what to expect.

Students take time to try out lots of pieces from the list of choices before settling on their repertoire, and I give time during full orchestra for students to form ensembles.  They enjoy getting to play with students who play different instruments than them.  The month before Solo/Ensemble, I form small groups based on S/E ensemble groups, which generally includes some mixed instrumentation.  We do a dress rehearsal during small groups, where each student introduces what they're playing and something interesting about the piece or something to listen to or watch for, and this is when I do my formal assessment and give last-minute tips.

The next week during small groups, we go on tour around their school.  I create a google doc with available times for teachers to sign up on, and then each small group gets to perform for one classroom.  If it's a time slot I'm having trouble filling, we can always go perform for the people in the office.  This is an authentic performance experience, and students get to experience what it's like actually performing for an audience.  The audience members always have great questions for our performers afterwards, and it's great school-wide exposure for the orchestra program.  I make sure to bring a camera and get pictures of each solo and ensemble performing to post in the orchestra room and on the orchestra website.

Then, that Saturday is Solo/Ensemble.  Since it occurs outside of the school day, not all students are available to participate.  That's another reason we all go on tour at school--everyone gets to do that, and then the Solo/Ensemble festival is the icing on the cake.  We alternate each year between the two high schools in town so students get a sneak peek at the music wings where they will be attending school in the future.  Performers dress up, families are welcome to listen, and area teachers and musicians serve as our adjudicators.

Adjudicators fill out a rubric with comments for each set of performers, and they have a few minutes to work with each student too.  These one-on-one teaching moments are so valuable for our students, and they really reinforce what we're working on at school too.

It takes a lot of planning to get all the registrations turned in, the schedule created, performance rubrics printed, the sites set up, all the instruments tuned etc. but I'm glad we do it.

Most students perform music either from their book or from this "Additional Repertoire" sheet.  "Sweetly Sings the Donkey" is the popular ensemble choice with the beginners--they like the musical "hee-haws" in the last line :)  Feel free to use or update these sheets to make them work for you:


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