Preparation and Scripting
Reviewing the Situation
SO, you have had a meeting or two. You have a theme or have focused your educational / musical goals for the program. Members of the group have been assigned various tasks for this session, and now you are ready to organize the material and write a script. As you proceed, here are some important considerations:
- Everyone in the group should review the material from the last session, and be prepared with whatever homework they were assigned. It is a waste of time and energy, and a real ensemble killer, to “rehash” the previous meeting(s). Sheet music in playable form for repertoire that was suggested at the first session(s) should appear for this meeting. Specific repertoire choices will focus the group and help to form a structure for the program.
- Again, assign someone to take notes. In trying to organize and script the program, it is helpful if everyone in the group can see the outline as it develops. A flip chart or a black board is helpful here. For those who are able, a computer with a Power Point program and a projector work well, as will a computer connection to a large TV monitor. This method also makes quick work of recording and printing out material for all to take home, and facilitates quick script revisions.
- Everyone is not equally talented at scripting, arranging, speaking, or creating visuals. Figure out who has what talents or interests, and divide tasks accordingly.
- Remember that the music is the center of your program and it must be well-chosen, well-ordered, well-rehearsed and well-performed.
- This will take some time. The meeting to script and select repertoire takes, on the average, three hours with a healthy break or two. This meeting can include reading through sections of repertoire, but it in no way should include rehearsal.
- Remember that a bad program is worse than no program at all. We do not want to confirm the suspicion held by many of our youth that symphonic and chamber music is dull.
Developing the Program
Everyone will need a list of the suggested repertoire, and some version of the notes from the first meeting. It is helpful to state out-loud the central theme or objective of the program – “We want to help the kids cheer for chamber music… We want them to get passionate about Purcell… We want them to feel the beat of Beethoven…” Also, recall the ideal audience age and size that you decided upon at the last meeting.
It is not always necessary, but I feel the best way to start a program about music is to play music. (Later, we will discuss the script for the speech that will introduce you.) AND it also helps to focus a group of musicians when the first discussion centers on selecting the first music to be played. Don’t worry if the discussion ends with two or three good selections for this slot – you can narrow it down later.
As you proceed, the personality of the group will determine the direction. Some groups like to plot out the order for the rest of the repertoire and develop the dialogue around that. Others will take on the subject matter and fit the repertoire into it. Either (or some combination of the two) will work, as long as you keep your eye on the ultimate goal of the program, and keep your audience in mind!
In general, slightly more than half of the total time of your program will be music.
You may wish to plan more music for older audiences or those who are predisposed to enjoying your repertoire. Some general rules (there are always exceptions and other creative solutions) for selecting the order of repertoire:
- The first piece should be intense – even startling, with an ear toward grabbing attention. It should be no shorter than 1½ minutes and no longer than 3 minutes, and should somehow set the tone for your program.
- The second piece should keep the energy high, and not last more that 3 minutes.
- Assuming that you have engaged your audience, the third selection can be more challenging – more introspective and quiet.
- Depending on the subject of your program, the fourth piece is often a good place to either extend the attention span (perhaps more than one movement of something) or break apart a piece for closer examination.
- If the fourth selection was extended, the fifth selection is time for fun. This could be the place for a piece with audience participation of some kind. (See the Audience Participation section below.)
- Depending on your audience, your timing and your theme, the sixth selection is a place for a “tie it all together” piece, best preceded by a “listen for this…” section of the script.
- The seventh selection is the “play out” number that ends the program and follows the Q & A session. You may choose to allow teachers to take their students back to class with this number.
Warning: This “formula” can be hazardous to creative thinking and should be used only as a suggested outline!
It is more difficult to provide a generic formula for the script. Each topic and each ensemble provides the opportunity for a unique approach to the spoken content of the program. But here are some guidelines, some cautions, and some ways of thinking outside the box:
- Brainstorm on the general topic, and produce a list of smaller points that the group would like to communicate in the program. Then prioritize them. Usually there are too many ideas and they must be edited. Be prepared for controversy, and to defend your favorites!
- If you have selected some or all of the repertoire, consider the points that are best illustrated by that repertoire.
- Explore the alternative talents within the group. This includes other instruments that people might play. A song with a guitar or an accordion solo can make a point and add variety to a program. Even the addition of a simple tambourine or drum beat can enhance a musical point and add color. I have heard a woodwind quintet have great fun playing a selection on kazoos. AND there may be someone who rollerblades, juggles, draws cartoons, sings, tap dances or… You get the point. All these talents can provide opportunities for the creative presentation of ideas.
- In reference to #3, avoid the gratuitous use of alternative talents. These should be used to enhance the program, not water or dumb it down.
- Your script should connect ideas. This takes some thought and careful editing. Think of your program as a journey or a road map. You talk about something, you play something, you talk about something else, you play something else. Decide where you are headed and take steps toward that goal.Beware of jumping around:“So, that was Beethoven; now here is Bernstein.”“So that is the sound of a trio; now here is how the violin works.”“How many of you have been to a live concert? We are now going to play a piece by Bach.”It is not that these ideas cannot be connected, but your words must lead your audience from one idea to another. (It can be helpful to think of the frames of a comic strip. If there is an illogical jump, the story is lost.)
“So that was Beethoven. In his time, he was experimenting with the way that the sounds of our instruments work together. He was interested in trying new things. In our own time, the composer Leonard Bernstein did the same thing when he wrote this music…”
“So that was a trio. Each of the instruments in this trio had a unique voice that contributed to the whole sound. Let’s start with the violin. Sasha, would you play us a section of that trio with just the voice of the violin? How do you make those sounds?”
“How many of you have been to a live music concert? [Hands.] Do you remember what kind of music was played? [No hands.] Was it rock music, or singing, or classical music? [Selected hands – it was singing.] Well, none of us here are very good singers, but we would like you to hear a live concert selection by a composer who wrote music for lots of singers. His name was JS Bach, but this piece he wrote for our combination of instruments.”
I am sure you get the point. We will encounter a similar issue when we discuss the connections between the visual presentations of the program.
- Avoid in-jokes, and personal humor. They are like static in a radio broadcast.
- Do not worry at this point who will say what. That can be sorted out when the script and the repertoire are complete. A logic will reveal itself!
Specific Program Components
The following components are often part of educational programs. They are not all necessary, but they should be considered as you develop your script.
This is the good, old, elementary music teacher plan that you may remember from school. If there is a musical concept or idea you would like the audience to observe in a piece that you are about to play, mention it in the introduction. Then follow up after the piece is played.
EX: “…Now you know some of the words we use to describe dynamics. In the piece we are about to play, there are many extremes of dynamics. Listen and maybe you can keep track of how many times we shift from fortissimo to pianissimo.” [Following the piece:] So, how many heard the shifts in dynamics? [Many hands.] How many shifts did you hear? [Select several hands; there will be several answers!]
Remember that the most important kind of audience participation is their rapt attention to your music making! Directed or guided listening exercises like the one above are among the simplest ways to involve the audience. Beyond this, the amount and style of participation is dependent on your program content, your educational objectives, the size and age of your audience, and your comfort level with this sort of work. Some guidelines that may seem obvious:
- The larger the group, the more general the participation must be.
- The older the group, the more sophisticated the participation can be.
- Always select a willing volunteer(s), never force.
- Always introduce and then thank your volunteer(s).
- When selecting volunteers, your selections should be sensitive to and reflective of the diversity of the audience (e.g., age, academic level, gender, race, etc.).
- Always explain the task clearly. It might be wise, after introducing the volunteer(s), to pass them to another group member. They can explain the task clearly while you continue to address the audience.
- Never “set up,” embarrass, or play jokes on the volunteer(s). AND, all audience participation activities should have a clear purpose, never a gratuitous one.
EX: “Now, Jona and Elise, hold these charts while we play this piece.” [Use an easel!]
- Audience participation with on-stage volunteers takes careful planning. It is best to practice it with real children!
Applying the above guidelines, here are some types of participation arranged, more or less, from simple to complex. Please remember, they must relate to the content and goals of your program.
- Clap the beat along with our playing.
- Clap on 1, stomp on 2, silent on 3 (waltz time).
- Here is that theme again. When you hear it in our music, silently raise your hand.
- It is sort of silly, but we wrote some words to this melody, and we would like to teach it to you so you can sing it (out-loud or silently) when you hear it in the piece.
- We’d like three volunteers to come up and help us with this piece. Each of you will have a rhythm [kazoo, recorder, string] instrument to play, and Barry will cue you when to play.
- Does anyone here take lessons on the instruments we are playing? Did anyone bring them today? [This can be a wonderful component and can be enhanced by contacting teachers ahead of time.] Everyone who has his or her instrument, bring it up and we’ll play together. [A two- or three-note pattern can be constructed and taught to complement something you play.]
- When we play in the orchestra, we have a conductor who controls the tempo that we play. Has anyone seen a conductor at work? Would anyone like to come up and conduct us? Here is a baton, and I will teach you the way to hold and move it. Then you can try conducting the piece. [Play something short, and perhaps pick another volunteer.]
There are many, many more. Rehearsing audience participation will be addressed in more detail in Part III.
Warning! The Deadly Instrument Demo
This component is often expected in an educational program and can be very interesting and educational. However, it is also the segment that many musicians think they can handle without planning or rehearsal. They think they can “wing it,” so to speak. NOT SO! I have seen string players successfully put us to sleep taking 12 minutes to explain all the parts and sources for parts, and the historic and geographic origins of the parts of a viola. I have heard a brass player arrive at the mouth piece and start to explain how the vibration makes the sound, and slowly hang himself up on the science of acoustics! You MUST at least outline and then practice all instrument demos. Again, some guidelines:
- It may be possible to share the demo among the instruments, if they are all of one family.
EX: All of our instruments have four strings. You can see them very clearly on my cello. Each one is tuned to a different pitch. I will pluck each one. Now listen to the strings on the viola, the violin, and the bass. The strings start with different pitches. We all change those pitches by placing our fingers on the necks of our instruments like this and moving them. Here is what it sounds like. Sally, now you do the same thing on the bass. You probably noticed that this time I made the sound using my bow, but John is going to talk about that later.
- Whenever possible, relate your demo to the themes and ideas in your program, or to a piece you are playing.
EX: We just played a piece for you that was arranged from some very old songs that are still sung today in Cuba. As a matter of fact, Herb has brought with him a drum that was made in Cuba just for this kind of music. You’ll see it makes sound in the same way that most drums do, but it has a unique sound. Show us, Herb.
EX: Probably the best instrument in our group to demonstrate dynamics is the piano. In fact, the instrument used to be called the forte-piano! Lisa, can you explain why?
- It may be possible AND even the best choice to use volunteers while explaining the instrument. Remember to plan this carefully, explain clearly what you would like the student to do, and do not plan to embarrass them in this demonstration.
- It can be educational and fun to bring into the demo “domestic” versions of the instrument – pots and pans for percussion, garden hoses for brass, etc.
Unless your program is about the way instruments are made or make sound, you should decide whether the instrument demos are really necessary, or plan to keep them very brief.
Again here, the most important visual aspect of your program is you and the way you look. If your program might be enhanced by some visual aids, there are several things to consider:
- Though it is true that the current student population is visually oriented, their expectation of the quality of visuals is very high. If you are not able to produce good quality visuals, don’t bother. Projected PowerPoint slides are best (be sure they can be seen in a well-lit school room). Professionally- or carefully-executed hard visuals can be effective. If you’re not sure what the standard is, look at the bulletin boards in a classroom, and make yours one notch better!
- Remember that whatever visual tools you decide to use, you will have to plan to transport, set up, store, and maintain them.
- A black board and chalk, or a flip chart and markers when available and when well-situated in a space, can be very effective. Though you may need to practice your board technique, the issue of quality is less important when you are producing the visuals on the spot.
- Visual objects that relate to your program can be very effective: conch-shells for brass; pop bottles for woodwinds; or bells, whistles, and alternative or old versions of the instruments used by the group.
- Costuming can be done, but here too the audience expectation for quality is high. I do not recommend it unless you have a talented member of the group who is also willing to take care of the maintenance of the pieces.
In Part III, I will talk specifically about the set up and visual presentation of the group itself. I will also set up some guidelines for the Question and Answer segment of the program.
At Last, a Script!
No doubt creating the script will take time, discussion, and experimentation. But if you started by sorting out the issues raised in Part I, and the ensemble members have done their homework and looked over Part II before this session (or sessions), you should have the outline of a script in hand. Everyone should leave this last session with the same outline of the program, listing all the repertoire and segments in order. At this point, it is also a good idea to assign the talking segments. Remember, though it is advisable for each member of the group to say something during the program, there are usually one or two members who are particularly good speakers. Others can take on other responsibilities. For example, there may be visuals to produce, or music parts to find or arrange.
Obviously, all music should also be in hand. The next meeting may need to be exclusively for music rehearsal, and parts should be distributed as soon as possible. Music is the core of your program and must be prepared with all the talent and care you devote to all your performances.
Some Outside-the-Box Examples
As stated several times, the above guidelines are useful to begin your thinking, but a “wild idea” can sometimes liven up a program or be an engaging way to make a point. An exploration of the group’s other talents and hobbies can inspire these kinds of ideas. But be warned against “clever ideas” that have only entertainment value and are not connected to the theme or ideas. This kind of event can set the wrong tone, and even de-rail the performance. That being said, here are some outside-the-box examples that did work:
- A program about the senses and how they inspire our imagination that began with the smell of popcorn from an unseen microwave. The sense of smell combined with imagination brought up many responses from the audience about popcorn, and movies, and friends. It was a fun cross-over to talking about music and imagination.
- A program on listening skills, that used the “One of these things is not like the other” game. The ensemble played excerpts from three Mozart pieces and one Bernstein piece, and asked the audience which one was different and why. This led to a basic discussion of the elements of music.
- A brass program that began with the members of the group spread out around the audience, calling to each other with conch shells and other horns. This led to a discussion of how the horn as a communication tool evolved into brass ensemble music. The pots and pan percussion ensemble program was along the same lines.
- A program on rhythm that focused on dance rhythms, and featured members of the group and audience members dancing in various rhythms.
- An as-yet-to-be-completed program for older audiences on “Banned Music” (the pun is part of the fun), featuring music that has been banned and censured throughout history.
- A program for young children that used puppets for audience volunteers to play characters in a music tale.
- A program that utilized the classroom teacher to read the “narration” to a story to which the group played a musical score.
Part III: Rehearsal and Performance