What is your band director podium personality? The very second you step on the podium are your students stationed and ready for the slightest non-visual cue for immediate music making? Do you have a more relaxed, and laid back demeanor? Or does it seem like every time you stand on that 1 foot high podium you seem to be transparent and the only way you can seem to get the attention of your students and pull things together is to become that drill sergeant you always dreaded becoming? Worry not because we are going to reflect on the great insights that Ray Cramer has included in his collaborated book, Teaching Music Through Performance in Band, volume 3 about the band director podium personality.
It is often contemplated – what exact elements a conductor brings to the table that influence music making on stage. Perhaps it is his or her demeanor, maybe an inspiring speech or even better yet the preparation and leadership used to influence the hidden potential of the student musician. In Cramer’s literature he identifies significant contributing elements that might paint a clearer picture.
A sense of anticipation, excitement and expectation fills an auditorium as a crowd awaits a live performance. As a result, the power of an audience triggers the student musician’s elemental desire to perform. The performing ensemble has worked on the music tirelessly and knows what the music seeks to communicate. All they have to do is exhibit this artform through their musicianship.
The audience will be able to come to a conclusion on the success of a program based on the leadership of the conductor. Since the audience hears and sees this concert as a snapshot in time, they will either criticize or praise the conductor as a result of his or her leadership. Ultimately, it is the job of the music educator to prepare everyone for the concert.
Band Director as the Conductor
First impressions only come once and it is the responsibility of the band director to make sure every impression is a positive one – even before the music starts. This could include everything from when audience members enter the building, whether or not the director addresses the audience or even how the director interacts with the musicians on the stage.
This interaction the conductor has with the audience, student musicians, and even the school staff communicates volumes about his or her personality.
Cramer recommends that conductors should:
Walk with a bounce in one’s step. Portray yourself as confident and poised to depict a perception of positive control.
Make eye-contact with the audience. Set the scene and let your audience know that you appreciate their attendance and support.
Recognize your student musicians by having them stand. They should face their bodies toward the audience and smile.
Show appreciation of your student musician by shaking the hand of your concertmaster or concertmistress.
There are so many obstacles to overcome even before the downbeat occurs. Breakdown these barriers for your student and audience members by making them feel as comfortable and appreciated as possible.
As a veteran musician it is important to recognize that your students often hold different expectations of the concert that is about to take place. The young ones may need to use the bathroom before they truly experience what the upcoming concert is all about.
Typically younger musicians get nervous more often, especially before a concert, and sometimes the flighty feeling gets in the way of their best efforts. Cramer recalls a college band director he had that would say, “If the music is well rehearsed and basic fundamentals are carefully observed, then the performance will be maintained at a high level of proficiency.” Reflecting on this I would have to agree that if a young student feels confident that they have prepared well at their own level, then this confidence will overcome their nerves and anxiety.
Cramer recommends following principles just prior to a performance:
Allow warm-up time for the entire band
Use the same warm-up and tuning procedure you use in a regular rehearsal
Keep your ensemble focused but without tension
Make sure members don’t have a lot of free time just before entering the stage
Don’t allow your student members to sit on stage prior to its start time for a prolonged period of time. This creates unneeded stress and tension.
As a band director, help your students feel at ease by displaying confidence and having a goal driven, positive attitude in the warm-up room.
Minimize the time between when it takes to acknowledge the audience till the opening downbeat.
Provide the band a confident smile before you give the downbeat.
Continue to maintain eye-contact with the band throughout the first phrase of the music.
In your mind visualize, sing or hum the opening phrase to yourself before you give the downbeat.
The Personality as a Gateway to Productivity
The band director and student musician relationship is one that takes work. Students need to know your expectations, as their teacher, you also need to know their expectations of you. Finding the common ground is one objective that might take more effort for younger directors.
In order, to find this common ground start by stating your objectives. These goals may be long term or short but need to be accompanied by explanations on how you plan to attain these goals. It is important to be honest and reasonable in these expectations. Be sure to consider your students age, potential and abilities.
Most importantly, truly consider that how we program our concerts must be realistic so our students can achieve success. Often, for one reason or another, directors convince themselves that their small band programs can handle literature that is beyond what the students can successfully achieve. Cramer reminds us that the key words are “successfully achieve.” Consequently, there should be a sense of musical satisfaction at each benchmark in order to move to the next level.
The idea of having a well prepared rehearsal suggests the director will have greater production. At the end of the day you want everyone to feel that the intended goals had been met. You do this prior to the rehearsal by having studied the score, made decisions on balance, phrasing, tempos, and blend. You anticipate potential technique problems and how to solve them. By keeping your plan hyper focused from beginning to end, will you truly feel satisfied with your rehearsal.
In addition, it is so easy to forget about the bad habits, the likes and dislikes of younger musicians. You may feel like you prepared better than anyone ever could and then all of it seems to go to pot when you start working with these younger musicians. Don’t let the negative energy get to you. If you do, then you’ll start rehearsing in a negative culture.
Can you say your students view you as a persistent director with a working sense of urgency? Often students will emulate this sense of work ethic. One that is timely and always drives toward positive results. In order to observe positive growth in your program it is important that you set-up your rehearsals so that there is a regular sense of accomplishment. No matter the size of your program. Success breeds success. Be sure to be patient because quality programs take time to develop.
Allow your students to see you work diligently. Encourage your students to develop these traits you model well. In time your student will come to appreciate your positive attitude, hard work and motivation. As a result, your students will be inspired to share the same work ethic.
If your class is full of chaos and lacks classroom management, you will never run a productive band program. Ultimately, without control, learning cannot take place. Many educators have commented on those who have ruled with an iron first and have been successful. In contrast, in this day and age of education many others have tried this technique and failed. As a result, a large sum of these educators have dropped out of the profession.
The idea of classroom discipline is very personal. Band directors with an iron first or are somewhat relaxed have found success. However, studies have found that directors who tend to be highly organized, focused, have a clear set of classroom expectations and procedures have good classroom discipline.
Regardless of the approach you take to improve classroom discipline the key is to communicate that you care for your students. When students know they are respected and are part of something special, they will work to be part of a special team. As a result, this will pay off huge in the future.
There are a variety of things a goal driven band director should avoid doing or saying in order to keep the focus in the program. Many times we don’t realize the negative impact certain things we say have on students until it is too late. It is very easy to lash out and cause pain to others. This can negatively shape a student’s self image and cause harm rather than reorient them. Try to avoid these types of overreactions.
Consequently, if you do over react as a result of some error it is highly recommended to go over to the student and apologize. Most of the time, students will understand this and accept your apology. Be sure to be sincere. Remember that sarcasm, name calling, and unkind behavior will only produce ineffective results.
Cramer points out that, like many music majors, he didn’t pay attention in his psychology class as well as he could have. Believe it or not some music students don’t take heed to the value of non-music classes as being important. If they did many would be spared embarrassing moments in front of students or wouldn’t need an occasional ego adjustment.
It is important to limit what type of negative, sarcastic, or demeaning attitude you might exhibit in your classroom. Students will take note of it and if they see you use it, they will feel that it is okay to act that way too. People want to feel respected and appreciated. Choose your criticism wisely and sparingly. Ultimately, you want to make use of several positive comments for every negative one.
Most directors, even if they don’t say it, want to be liked by their students. However, be cautious to not get too relaxed with your students to the point where they start calling you alternate nicknames. You’ll find that in these situations that student control and attention become a much bigger issue. Rather, you should strive to acquire their respect – which is a two-way street. This respect can be acquired through the vested interest in your students, demonstrating passion for the musical arts, sharing your knowledge and providing the necessary guidance required to ensure the success of your students.
Positive Action Through Personality
Great band directors possess the power to motivate and inspire their students. These students, as a result, will perform at higher levels. Ultimately, when a student musician looks at the podium they are looking for a knowledgeable and confident music educator to lead them.
One major factor in motivating our students is our ability to utilize a desirable and personable attitude. Students must know that we are sincere and that we share the same goals. Most importantly, even though we work hard to instill and encourage determination and diligence, it is the heart of the matter that our positive attitudes create a strong drive in students.
One of the more important aspects students strive to attain is the need for more self-esteem and social emotional well-being. Self-esteem can easily be damaged in a day when working with a student. The goal of every music educator should be to be able to read their students on a day-to-day basis.
If students are having fun they generally work more effectively. In addition this usually keeps students in your program longer and they will eventually achieve high levels of accomplishment. If students like your sense of humor then they’ll consider rehearsal more like fun time rather than work time.
Cramer reminds us that we need to stand up straight and sit tall. Ultimately we want to have good posture habits. This often leads to developing a positive image rather than a negative one.
Cramer continues to say that he uses his body and face to express different emotions without saying a word. This enables him to get more done, with his students, from a musical standpoint. Having a strong physical presence says so much to your audience. Be sure to stand tall to exhibit the power you have as a conductor.
Face and Eyes
A band director’s face and eyes communicate subtle overtones of feelings and emotions. It is important for directors to take full advantage of this communication tool. However, be careful not to use facial expressions that may humiliate students in front of their peers. Ultimately, be sure to smile frequently and show the group how enjoyable making music really can be.
Throughout history people have stepped up who have demonstrated heightened levels of character, confidence, and integrity. The strength of leadership originates from these qualities within one’s personality.
Great conductors are significant not because of their title but rather the qualities they possess inside. Cramer goes on to quote students who responded to this question, “what makes a great leader. “ Some of these answers included, “they supported me,” “ they had the courage to do the right thing,” “ they challenged me,” and “they listen to me.”
In conclusion, we must remain devoted to being life-long learners if we want to be great leaders. Our personality and character traits will only magnify the effectiveness our presence has on the podium. Students need our professionalism, attention and most of all love. Most importantly, they need you to stay in the profession so that they can benefit from your many skills, talents and wisdom.