The Show Must Go On!

Jul 01 2010
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Performers! Have you ever found yourself in a position where you thought perhaps that show was not going to go on? I experienced this for the first time last week, just minutes before a Debbie & Friends concert for 200 families with young children in the Greater Boston area.

The band and I were set up and ready to perform as a major thunderstorm rolled through the area. Minutes before the downbeat, two telephone poles in front of the building were struck by lightning and fell over. As the families started to arrive, we heard a loud “POP” and the power went out in the entire neighborhood! The theater became dark and the sound system was down for the count.

The event coordinators talked of rescheduling, but as each minute passed more and more families arrived. We knew we had to figure something out. We couldn’t disappoint all of those kids. (Many our devoted fans wearing their Debbie & Friends concert t-shirts!)

Thankfully, we found a large classroom in the building with a piano and some natural light. Our guitarist grabbed his acoustic, and we all squeezed into the classroom together for a fun (and sweaty) sing along. We all had a great time and the families were most appreciative.

I related this story to my good friend and colleague Jonathan Feist, and he shared a simiar experience:

I was once at a wedding where they lost power, but the band was ready with a whole set of unplugged songs, including some accompanied by just clapping along, with no instruments. It was great. They were total pros.

Do you have a story related to this as a performer or concert goer? What are some things bands should do to make sure “the show will go on” when lightning strikes, or some other unforeseen circumstance gets in the way?

Three “M”s to maximize the experience!

Do you remember the very first concert you attended as a child? Whether it was a symphony orchestra, a rock band, or a sing-along with your favorite children’s artist, your first-time concert experience was probably a memorable one. There is nothing like the sound of a live musical performance, the excitement of the crowd, and the connection felt between the performers and the audience. If you are getting ready for your child’s first concert, here are some fun things you can do—before and after the concert—to help make it an even more meaningful experience.

Prelude
Three “M”s, to focus on before the concert: Music, Milieu, and Manners.

1. Music: Getting to Know You!
The best way to maximize the concert experience is to listen to the music several weeks before the show. Buy the artist’s most recent CD and actively listen to it together. Familiarity is bliss! Although the saying isn’t an elegant one, it’s true. (Can anyone say “oldies” collections?) Take some time to help your child get to know the music she will be hearing at the concert. Dance to it, sing with it, and discover your favorite pieces together. Read stories or articles about the band or composer. Draw pictures of what the band might look like on stage performing. Your child will feel more connected to the overall concert experience if she’s gotten to know the music ahead of time.

Talk about the band, the musicians, and their instruments. What kind of group will it be? Is it a concert band, orchestra, jazz band, folk group? What are the names of the instruments will you be hearing? What instrument families do they belong to? What styles of music will the band be playing? Do you have other recordings in those styles? Listen to them together and compare.

2. Milieu: Here at last!
What is this place going to be like? Talk about the concert/theater setting. It is a very different place for first-time concertgoers. Explain that there will be musicians on stage. They will be playing and singing through microphones that are connected to a sound system with speakers. Explain that the sound system enables vocalists to use their regular singing voices and still be heard by everyone in the audience; even the ones seated way back in the last row.

In addition to the sound system, talk about the show’s lighting system. The lights will project different colors on stage to support the songs. Speaking of lights, be sure to share that they will probably flicker on and off when it’s time to be in your seats, and they will dim as the show begins.

Talk about who you will see on stage. (conductor, instrumentalists, singers) Who will you interact with before the show? (ticket-taker, the usher, the snack vendor) Explain that there will be other people there to see the show sitting in front of you, behind you, and on either side of you. Being aware of the surroundings ahead of time will help your child to relax and enjoy the show.

3. Manners: Excuse me, Pardon me, Excuse me…
Talk to your child about concert-specific manners known as “concert etiquette.” The time to clap, for example, varies by the style of music being performed. Some of us have learned the hard way that you don’t clap in between movements of a classical piece, but in a jazz concert, you clap in the middle of the song each time an instrumentalist finishes a solo. Talk about what’s appropriate for the concert you’ll be attending. There are other concert etiquette considerations such as when it is ok to talk and move about. Will there be an intermission? What is a standing ovation? Why does the band come out and play another song after they’ve already said goodbye? The more your child knows about the rules of the concert game, the more comfortable she’ll be, and the better the overall experience.

Postlude: The Reviews Are In!
Once the show is over, it’s time to put on your critics hats and review the performance together! Talk about your favorite part of the show. Was there a least-favorite part? Were there any surprises in the show? Would you recommend the concert to your friends? Why or why not? Compare/contrast the concert to the recordings you listened to at home weeks before the show. How was the live performance different from the recorded version? Which did you like better? Why?

I hope these tips help you to maximize your child’s first concert experience. Studies show that experiences in music are important to developing the whole child. Attending musical performances are an important part of those experiences, and so much fun to share together.

Enjoy the show!

The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities

Debbie and Friends, Halloween Sing Along

Throughout the course of my 25-year career in music and music education, I’ve been a music educator, choral director, arranger, author, publisher, and college administrator. I recently entered the world of children’s music and have added children’s recording and performing artist to the roster with Debbie and Friends. The rewards, challenges, and opportunities are among the greatest I’ve encountered in my entire musical career.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards of a children’s music artist are incredible. The feedback from your audience is real; children have not learned the fine art of being “polite” when they don’t like something. So, if they don’t like your music, you will know right away. But, if they are into your music, it’s real and they will relish and participate in the musical experience with reckless abandon!

The other reward is fostering an environment where parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children engage in musical experiences together. I’m often told stories of how my songs are an integral part of a family’s routine and they enjoy singing the songs together.

The Challenges

Performing music for children and their families has some inherent challenges. Here are some practical tips to ensure a successful program.

1. Know Your Audience!
Don’t ask a group of two year olds what the opposite of “hot” is, or the opposite of anything. It’s beyond their skill level. For audiences with a mixture of age ranges, I have something for everyone and tend to dedicate a song to a given age group and invite the others to join in and help the younger ones, for example. This seems to work very well.

2. Attention Span
No matter how well your show is going, there will come a point where the “natives get restless” and the meltdown begins. You can postpone the inevitable for a while by keeping everyone actively involved and participating. Be sure to have a great deal of variety in your set…mix it up. Some songs standing and moving, some songs sitting, all songs should contain active participation. Any combination of movement, dance, call-and-response, and lots and lots of singing will do! Young children love the variety and they need to be free to move!

3. Boundaries for Safety (The Baby Mosh Pit)
If you lay the ground rules from the beginning, kids and parents will follow them. During set up, I place a line of colored masking tape on the floor in front of me, parallel to my keyboard and my percussionist’s set up. I usually start the program by saying, “We have just one rule. Please don’t cross the “safety line” (pointing to the tape) because there is a lot of equipment back here and things could topple over. We sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! Parents, thanks for helping to make sure everyone stays safe. Now let’s have some fun!” Setting this one rule enables you to remain focused on the music and interaction with the children, and puts responsibility on the parents to help. Before I had a safety line my shows were often filled with me having to redirect kids throughout the performance.

4. Logistical Considerations
Movement activities can be a challenge in a tightly packed room full of kids and adults. Provide verbal cues that help to keep things safe. For example, when you need everyone to stand up or sit down, try saying: “Stand up right where your feet are.” Or, “Sit down right where your feet are.” For songs with gross motor cues, ask them to run in place, walk in place, carefully do the “hokey pokey” and turn themselves around without bumping into anyone. Also, give fun verbal cues: “When you hear me clap three times, “freeze like a statue.” Another device that works is to describe what’s coming up with a very soft voice. This makes everyone work hard at listening. The key to logistic considerations is anticipating what effect your activity may cause, and create strategies that provide a safe environment.

Opportunities: Show “Business” Tips
Performing is your best opportunity to establish a relationship and make long-lasting connections with the parents/caregivers in your audience. In addition to putting on a great program, you should tend to two very important aspects of your business: 1. Promoting your CD(s), and 2. Adding families to your email/mailing list.

1. Sell Your CD(s)
Mention your CD throughout the program. Point out that song you all just had so much fun singing together is on your latest release. Tell a quick anecdote about the recording project. Did neighborhood kids sing on some of the recordings? Are there lots of different styles or instruments represented? Did something funny happen on the way to the recording studio?

Have a table set up with copies of your CD prominently displayed. Mention you will be selling the CDs after the show, price and the form of payment you’ll take. Cite quotes and endorsements from parents and kids. You have a captive audience and if they are loving the program, they’ll want to recreate that experience for their family at home.

Be sure to have some sharpie pens handy for autographs!

2. Build Your Mailing List
Your fans are your lifeline. It’s important to grow and maintain your email/mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet at your program and mention it a few times. Be sure to tell parents that you will not share their email address with anyone, and that you will only be sending out email updates once a month regarding shows, CD releases, and related news. Send an email later that very day, thanking them for being at the show, and for signing up. If you have anything special you can give them, do it! Examples include: a PDF coloring page based on one of your songs, an mp3 of a new song in progress, music activity page, etc.), and a reminder of where they can buy your CD.

Of course, everyone has to find their own way and some of the suggestions contained within may not suit your personal style. Please take what works for you. Performing music for children and their families is one of the most rewarding musical experiences I’ve ever had. I encourage anyone interested in exploring this wonderful genre to give it a try!

The Rewards, Challenges, and Opportunities

Debbie and Friends, Halloween Sing Along

Throughout the course of my 25-year career in music and music education, I’ve been a music educator, choral director, arranger, author, publisher, and college administrator. I recently entered the world of children’s music and have added children’s recording and performing artist to the roster with Debbie and Friends. The rewards, challenges, and opportunities are among the greatest I’ve encountered in my entire musical career.

A Rewarding Experience
The rewards of a children’s music artist are incredible. The feedback from your audience is real; children have not learned the fine art of being “polite” when they don’t like something. So, if they don’t like your music, you will know right away. But, if they are into your music, it’s real and they will relish and participate in the musical experience with reckless abandon!

The other reward is fostering an environment where parents, grandparents, caregivers, and children engage in musical experiences together. I’m often told stories of how my songs are an integral part of a family’s routine and they enjoy singing the songs together.

The Challenges

Performing music for children and their families has some inherent challenges. Here are some practical tips to ensure a successful program.

1. Know Your Audience!
Don’t ask a group of two year olds what the opposite of “hot” is, or the opposite of anything. It’s beyond their skill level. For audiences with a mixture of age ranges, I have something for everyone and tend to dedicate a song to a given age group and invite the others to join in and help the younger ones, for example. This seems to work very well.

2. Attention Span
No matter how well your show is going, there will come a point where the “natives get restless” and the meltdown begins. You can postpone the inevitable for a while by keeping everyone actively involved and participating. Be sure to have a great deal of variety in your set…mix it up. Some songs standing and moving, some songs sitting, all songs should contain active participation. Any combination of movement, dance, call-and-response, and lots and lots of singing will do! Young children love the variety and they need to be free to move!

3. Boundaries for Safety (The Baby Mosh Pit)
If you lay the ground rules from the beginning, kids and parents will follow them. During set up, I place a line of colored masking tape on the floor in front of me, parallel to my keyboard and my percussionist’s set up. I usually start the program by saying, “We have just one rule. Please don’t cross the “safety line” (pointing to the tape) because there is a lot of equipment back here and things could topple over. We sure don’t want anyone to get hurt! Parents, thanks for helping to make sure everyone stays safe. Now let’s have some fun!” Setting this one rule enables you to remain focused on the music and interaction with the children, and puts responsibility on the parents to help. Before I had a safety line my shows were often filled with me having to redirect kids throughout the performance.

4. Logistical Considerations
Movement activities can be a challenge in a tightly packed room full of kids and adults. Provide verbal cues that help to keep things safe. For example, when you need everyone to stand up or sit down, try saying: “Stand up right where your feet are.” Or, “Sit down right where your feet are.” For songs with gross motor cues, ask them to run in place, walk in place, carefully do the “hokey pokey” and turn themselves around without bumping into anyone. Also, give fun verbal cues: “When you hear me clap three times, “freeze like a statue.” Another device that works is to describe what’s coming up with a very soft voice. This makes everyone work hard at listening. The key to logistic considerations is anticipating what effect your activity may cause, and create strategies that provide a safe environment.

Opportunities: Show “Business” Tips
Performing is your best opportunity to establish a relationship and make long-lasting connections with the parents/caregivers in your audience. In addition to putting on a great program, you should tend to two very important aspects of your business: 1. Promoting your CD(s), and 2. Adding families to your email/mailing list.

1. Sell Your CD(s)
Mention your CD throughout the program. Point out that song you all just had so much fun singing together is on your latest release. Tell a quick anecdote about the recording project. Did neighborhood kids sing on some of the recordings? Are there lots of different styles or instruments represented? Did something funny happen on the way to the recording studio?

Have a table set up with copies of your CD prominently displayed. Mention you will be selling the CDs after the show, price and the form of payment you’ll take. Cite quotes and endorsements from parents and kids. You have a captive audience and if they are loving the program, they’ll want to recreate that experience for their family at home.

Be sure to have some sharpie pens handy for autographs!

2. Build Your Mailing List
Your fans are your lifeline. It’s important to grow and maintain your email/mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet at your program and mention it a few times. Be sure to tell parents that you will not share their email address with anyone, and that you will only be sending out email updates once a month regarding shows, CD releases, and related news. Send an email later that very day, thanking them for being at the show, and for signing up. If you have anything special you can give them, do it! Examples include: a PDF coloring page based on one of your songs, an mp3 of a new song in progress, music activity page, etc.), and a reminder of where they can buy your CD.

Of course, everyone has to find their own way and some of the suggestions contained within may not suit your personal style. Please take what works for you. Performing music for children and their families is one of the most rewarding musical experiences I’ve ever had. I encourage anyone interested in exploring this wonderful genre to give it a try!

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John J. Mahlmann, executive director of the National Association for Music Education, was recently quoted in the Washington Post as saying he is tired of having to defend the importance of music education. He often finds it necessary to rattle off statistics about how music improves the lives of people who study it. The sheer joy of playing and understanding music isn’t enough, he said.

So he has an unorthodox response to educators: “Why is math so high on the priority list?”

His answer: “Because we can test for it.”

The thing people forget, he said, is that musicians are assessed every time they play an instrument. “If you went to a concert and they only played 80 percent of the notes correctly, you wouldn’t like it,” he said. “Musicians strive for perfection. Lots of people don’t mind 80 percent on a math quiz.”

Here are some more “reasons” why music education matters, as collected and presented by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post.

1. Schools with music programs have graduation rates of 90.2 percent, as compared with a 72.9 percent rate for schools without music education, according to a 2006 Harris Interactive poll of high school principals funded by the National Association for Music Education and International Music Products Association (NAMM). The poll also found that schools with music programs have attendance rates of 93.3 percent, compared with 84.9 percent for those that don’t.

2. In 2006, SAT takers with course work or experience in music performance scored 57 points higher on the verbal portion of the college entrance exam and 43 points higher on the math portion than did students with no such experience in the arts. Scores of those with course work in music appreciation were 62 points higher on the verbal and 41 points higher on the math, according to the College Board’s 2006 Profile of College-Bound Seniors National Report.

3. A November 2007 Harris poll found that 86 percent of college graduates had some music education when they were in school, compared with 65 percent for those who had not completed or completed only high school. Eighty-three percent of people earning $150,000 or more had a music education, the poll found.

For more “reasons,” there are many helpful resources such as musicforall.org, amc-music.com/ and schoolmusicmatters.com.

To me, the sheer joy of music making, for people from 0 to 100+, is reason enough! The rest is gravy!