Back in the 1990s, Gary Race worked with the National Symphony’s Education Department to assist NSO musicians in devising quality educational and outreach programs for in-school and community performances. In 2006, Polyphonic asked Gary to write a series of articles, explaining his approach to creating innovative, interesting and informative presentations.
Gary’s set of articles, “Getting the Show on the Road,” remains one of the best resources available to symphony musicians who must put together a short presentation for school children or community venues. Over the years, I have seen many ad hoc presentations given by musicians as part of their symphony contract, and many are pretty lame and fail to attract and hold the attention of the children. Indeed, most of us have no specific training in putting these programs together nor in how best to present the material. Gary Race can help your ensemble come up with a top-notch “show” that will make you proud and captivate your audiences.
The first installment, Ideas, lays some ground rules and describes the first meetings, where players take on various roles (such as the Idea Stimulator and the Conversation Director) to get those ideas rolling. He goes on to present a list of questions the group can discuss to help put together an agenda. The goal is to generate enough ideas that, at the second meeting, the group can write a script for their performances.
In the second installment, Preparation and Scripting, Gary explains the process of selecting the specific pieces that will work with your theme, and then writing the script that will connect all the pieces together. He describes several techniques you can incorporate into your “show,” such as directed listening, audience participation, and visuals. He has some interesting advice about how to do instrument demos and the dangers of trying to “wing it.” Following his directions, you should finish your second meeting with a list of repertoire and a draft of a script in hand.
In the third installment, Rehearsal and Performance, Gary discusses what you need to know about actually performing your presentation in front of the students. Three sessions should get your presentation polished. The first involves practicing the script itself, and getting all the details in place. The second involves blocking the show – getting the stage directions figured out. Gary recommends making a diagram and even using a rubber ball (in rehearsal) to identify who has focus during different parts of the show. The third session is the dress rehearsal, preferably with a test audience. Finally, Gary discusses all aspects of the performance itself: how to set up your space, how to introduce yourselves, what to wear, and how to handle Q & A sessions, as well as how to continually assess your own performance from all angles.
If you want to create an outstanding ensemble performance, I cannot recommend any resource more highly than these three articles by Gary Race.