Unnecessary Rehearsals and the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

I have decided to come here and discuss a pet peeve of mine that has bothered me since middle school and high school. Unfortunately, this still occurs in university and I don’t understand sometimes.

I remember being in elementary/middle/high school bands, choirs, or orchestras. In those kinds of groups, you get a wide variety of skill levels. There are students who are very dedicated and likely to go into music, students who have no intention of pursuing music but still are just as dedicated, and the students who just don’t care and are there because “My parents said I had to”. I always found in those groups the people who needed to practice the most were the ones who didn’t. The more dedicated students, or students that took music lessons outside school tended to practice regularly and could play their parts very well, even on the first reading. Despite the teacher’s best intentions to teach the kids that rehearsals are not substitute for individual practice, many students treat it that way all the way from elementary school to the end of grade 12. Honestly, if you’re not planning to pursue music in university or you don’t take private lessons, it really only takes maximum of 20 minutes a day to just run over all those difficult passages in band/choir music (perhaps more like 30-45 minutes for orchestra music). It won’t be better right away, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and improvement will happen over time. Improvement will not happen by showing up to rehearsal every week playing the passages over and over again in a sloppy manner, it only reinforces bad habits.

I’m definitely not suggesting that all high school band kids are like this by any means. When I was that age, there were plenty of students who were very dedicated to the band and really wanted to be there. I could tell they took the time to practice things that they couldn’t play and even if it wasn’t perfect right away, there was improvement each week. It’s unfortunate that even one person who doesn’t have this simple, fundamental skill of being in a music ensemble will bring the whole group down. What ends up happening is the band/choir/orchestra director will panic when the concert is coming up and the pieces still aren’t ready and schedule an extra rehearsal or sectional. Nobody in the group wants this. I remember being in a group in high school where we rehearsed only once a week. The teacher thought that would be fair as we’re all busy and it would give us more time to practice. Unfortunately, people weren’t able to take that initiative and we had to go back to rehearsing twice a week. High school kids aren’t adults, but they still have things to do; homework, other music groups, sports teams, clubs, jobs, etc. and don’t need to worry about extra rehearsals on short notice. These rehearsals are added solely for the benefit of the people who do not practice, the people in the group who took the initiative to learn their music are being unfairly punished. Essentially, these rehearsals are put in place as a substitute for practice, which is just unacceptable in my mind. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy; if you treat students like they don’t practice, they won’t. I remember in high school choir, our song wasn’t sounding so great and people hadn’t learned the words yet and just as we were leaving rehearsal, the teacher said “We’re rehearsing tomorrow at 7:30am” and expected everyone to be there. I remember that same teacher expecting us to come into school on days off or holidays if we needed that time. That would never happen in a professional orchestra. Yes, it is for the benefit of the group. It would be much better to schedule extra rehearsals than have a half-baked performance, but wouldn’t it be better if the people in question did their job? Who is to blame; the teacher for not getting after these students to practice or the student for not practicing? I don’t have an answer as it really does depend on the context and the people involved.

Part of the problem could be the long period of time between performances that elementary/middle/high school music groups have. The group will start rehearsing in September and there may not be a concert until November or December. Most students would probably think, why spend hours practicing the music in September when we don’t need to perform it until December? It’s not that simple. If you were running a marathon on September 1, would you start training on August 31? If you were trying out for a sports team, would you start practicing the night before? It’s the same thing with playing a musical instrument. Just because you don’t have a performance coming up in a week doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be practicing. The kids who take piano, violin, or cello lessons from a young age tend to be more successful if they take up band or choir later in school as they are used to the idea of practicing every day to not only learn the music, but to refine their technique and overall musicianship. This can be a hard message to convey to someone who just picked up an instrument for the first time in grade 6 band, but it is still important if they want to be a valuable member of any musical ensemble. It is irrelevant if these students intend to pursue music beyond high school or not, they are still playing in a musical ensemble and need to work as a team. If they aren’t willing to practice or learn their music, then they should not play with the group at all. Unfortunately, the “my parents made me be in band/choir” people are still around until the end of grade 12.

In a university music program, you’d think that we’ve matured a little bit from this. Well, I guess it would depend on the school, but not always the case. Obviously, the “my parents made me be here” people would never get into a university music program anywhere. If they do by some miracle, they are weeded out by first year. Because in university, we are now adults, the profs cannot schedule extra rehearsals on short notice. I believe there’s some policy the prof cannot add any extra class meetings, assessments, etc. that are not listed on the class syllabus distributed at the beginning of the term. However, there have been many times where I felt we had more rehearsals than necessary. We used to have a conductor who would give us no break between concerts. For example, if we had a concert in late November, we would be expected to rehearse the music in December for our concert which wasn’t until February. Of course I never really said anything but it didn’t make sense. Any work we did in December would be forgotten when we resumed after the break in January. It would have also been nice to have a break to study for finals and stuff.

Our current conductor gives us breaks between concerts only sometimes. We just had a concert last night and I was actually really hoping that there wouldn’t be rehearsal tomorrow. We haven’t received the music for the next concert and it would be better if we had fewer rehearsals that were more productive. I get an email today that we are having a rehearsal but it’ll be more or less a sight reading session. I couldn’t believe what I had read. I could do that in my own practice room on my own time. I honestly think sight reading as a group at the university level is a complete waste of time. Yes, sight reading is a valuable skill to practice, but you shouldn’t waste 50 people’s time to practice this skill (*cough* chamber music reading parties *cough*) If you haven’t looked at your music, don’t even go to rehearsal. But here is that self-fulfilling prophecy again. The conductor is basically having this rehearsal as a substitute for individual practice. He basically thinks that the people in the orchestra will not look at the music unless we have a “group reading session”. Pardon me for having a bad attitude, but this is absolute bull$h!t. People in the university orchestra are preparing for a professional career (for the most part). There is no luxury of a low-pressure group reading session in a professional orchestra, so why would we have that in university? If people don’t look at their music, they need to learn that lesson themselves. This is not doing any favours for students planning to have an orchestral career. I was almost thinking of skipping this rehearsal just to make a statement, but literally my only motivation to go is that I will get in trouble if I don’t. It’s just so frustrating that I am in university, almost done my undergrad, and I am being treated like a child and I am kind of forced into acting like one too. I should be going to rehearsals because I want to, not because I’m afraid of getting in trouble with the profs.

Teachers from elementary school to university really need to stop running on the self-fulfilling prophecy. How are students going to learn to take responsibility if they are constantly spoon fed with extra, unnecessary rehearsals? This doesn’t just apply to music students either, the self-fulfilling prophecy is evident in pretty much any classroom for any subject. For example, I remember having random “homework checks” in math. The only reason I would do homework would be so I would get the arbitrary marks on the homework check, not so I would learn and reinforce the math concept into my mind. If a student fails the math test because they didn’t do any of the assignments, that’s their fault, not the fault of the teacher for not doing homework checks. I actually found that the class average was higher in classes where the teacher didn’t do any homework checks. Not treating high school students and adults like children actually causes them to smarten up and do their work.

Relationships

If you’ve read other posts on this blog, this post will be quite out of character from what I usually post. But it is something that is on my mind and arguably relevant to music.

Just a quick update from my last post, things have been going really well this year. I’m back in the groove. I think the problem was that I did way too much over the summer, more specifically music programs and other music things. I felt like I didn’t really get a break and before I knew it, it was right back into school. I guess it was important that I took that time in September before things got too hectic to relax. The first two weeks of October have been way more productive than my whole September.

Now, on to the actual post. On Facebook and Instagram, I’m constantly seeing pictures and posts of people and their boyfriends/girlfriends, fiances, and spouses. As I progress into my twenties, more and more of these people are my age (and possibly a few years younger!). I remember being annoyed and felt a bit left out by naive high school relationship posts, but looking back I’m glad I was never in a relationship like that in high school. Now, at age 21, it’s a bit different. I feel no pressure to get married any time soon, but seeing so many of my friends being in relationships makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong. Should I be looking for a relationship? Should I be, at the very least, going on dates?

The easy answer is not to compare yourself to others. I’ve never been one to be desperate for a relationship or go out of my way to make it happen (ie. online dating). I was more open minded to the idea of dating when I was in first and second year. I remember going on a date in first year that kind of scared me away from dating for a bit. He was a nice and sweet guy, but he was rushing into things too fast. After the first date, he was already talking about being in a relationship and I was definitely not ready for that after one date. Despite explaining that, he didn’t seem to understand so I had no choice but to cut off contact with him. I’ve never really been on a date since then but I’m glad I didn’t rush into something that I wasn’t ready for. I never regret not being in a relationship with this guy.

After that first date, I formed my friend group (most of whom I still hang out with). I started to develop feelings for one of my friends in the group. There was already a couple within this group and I know the guy I liked was skeptical of couples within friend groups so I wasn’t sure what he’d think. Of course, being somewhat inexperienced with relationships, I was all grade 7 girl, “What if he doesn’t like me back? How do I tell him I like him?” Eventually, I told myself that I would tell him. I knew he would be skeptical and that I wasn’t the type of person he normally would date, but you don’t know until you ask. The worst thing that can happen is that he’ll say no. Yes, it might be awkward, but we would get over it. That night, we were all having supper in our residence cafeteria and my worst fear happened (but really, it wasn’t the end of the world). He announced to us that he was going on a date. My first reaction was “What?” I didn’t mean it to be rude but it seemed to come out of nowhere. He said back to me “Why do you sound disappointed?” as a joke, but ironically I was a bit disappointed! I never told anyone in the group that I had feelings for him. I never even mentioned it to him. I got over him, even though he didn’t last long with this girl.

The summer after my first year, I had a job. I started to develop feelings for one of my male co-workers. I thought maybe it could work out as we lived in the same city during the school year. There was another girl at work that he actually did like and asked her out but she wasn’t interested in him. But I couldn’t help but wonder if he had feelings for me too, he would sometimes say things to me that someone who was just a friend wouldn’t normally say or do. He said to me one time that I looked more attractive with my glasses on, or something like that. Another time, I had a really stressful day and I just needed to rant to someone. He came with me into the lounge and listened to me and gave me a shoulder to cry on. He stayed there for a few minutes and cuddled me like a boyfriend would and he said “If you ever need to rant or cry about something, just talk to me”, which was really sweet. It was hard to tell as he was one of those touchy-feely type people that stands two inches away from you when you talk to them and he always puts his arm around people. After our job was done, there was about another month until school started. I was going to message him and be like “How are you? How’s the rest of your summer going?” Nothing too forward obviously, but it would be a stepping stone. Of course, I chickened out. He never messaged me either, so either he wasn’t interested in me or was also chicken like me and wasn’t sure if I was interested. This is why I hate relationships! I lost contact with this guy as he was not in the music faculty and our paths seldom crossed. It was unfortunate as he was a really good friend and even if we were never in a relationship, I’d still hang out with him on occasion.

Once second year started I kind of lost interest in the idea of dating and relationships. Second year was a hard year for me in many other ways and dating was the last thing on my mind. Once third year began, I began to be more skeptical of the idea of being in a relationship. Since my time in [the city I live in] is coming to an end, I don’t want to get into a serious relationship that would potentially tie me down or prevent me from having the freedom to move to any city of my choice for grad school. Now of course, we could always break up at the end of fourth year or whatever but I wouldn’t want to be with someone looking for marriage right away. As a fourth year, I pretty much have the same stance.

I still feel like I am doing something wrong or that I should have maybe put myself out there more in terms of dating. I still have this irrational fear that lack of experience in dating (more specifically the actual relationship part of it) may negatively impact me when I actually want to get married. You’d likely not marry the first person you were in a serious relationship with, but what if you were in a relationship for the first time at age 30 or older, where the pressure to get married is more prevalent? In my opinion, I think relationships and even dates are valuable experiences in finding a suitable marriage partner, even the cheesy high school ones. As you date more people, you begin to see what qualities you like and don’t like in a person. You have options to choose from, essentially. By the time you’re ready to be married, you just know that it’s the right person. I know I was always frustrated by those people that are constantly in and out of relationships and going on a bazillion dates each week, but in a way that’s good because they have been with many people and may have a better sense of what they look for in a partner. For someone like myself, my fear is that I will be 30 and still never have had a boyfriend and be faced with the dilemma of marrying the first guy I date or take a risk that I’ll find someone else. I mean, that’s 10 years away, why does that bother me? I could meet someone next year when I move away for grad school and be in a relationship, but maybe not. Who knows.

As if worrying about getting married or being in a relationship wasn’t stressful enough, being a musician adds a whole new level of stress to this. I told you I’d tie this back into music. In case you haven’t noticed, being a musician is not a normal job. I don’t go to an office from 9-5 everyday and have every weekend off with no question. No, I work when people have time off. As an orchestral musician for example, your Friday and Saturday nights are spoken for as that is when symphony concerts are. Obviously, I need to marry someone who respects and understands this. I know that sounds silly but you’d be surprised how many people just can’t wrap their head around a musician’s schedule. The big question is, do you marry someone who isn’t a musician or another musician? I know plenty of people who have done both, and it seems to work for them. I could understand marrying a non-musician for financial reasons, but then as a musician (especially outside a university environment), how do you meet non-musicians, let alone connect with them on that level? Obviously, a fellow musician would completely understand and be easier to connect with. But then, there’s the financial concerns. Being a musician is never a stable job, unless you’re a school music teacher, but even then, budget cuts to arts programs happen all the time. It also adds another level of uncertainty if you have a family to support.

I’m not sure what made me think of this, but I’m glad I put my thoughts into words. I’m also not sure why it seems to be bothering me now. I’m only 21 and I’m certainly glad I’m not married. I guess seeing more and more of my friends getting engaged and being in relationships (including the people you never thought would be in a relationship), almost puts pressure on me in a way. It feels like I’m on the outside looking in. At the same time, the only person who’s putting the pressure on me is myself. No one has ever judged me for not wanting to be in a relationship or not being interested in dating. A lot of people actually think it’s great that I’m so focused on school and don’t have to deal with relationship drama. I don’t know, it’s so complicated, but I already feel 100 times better even just putting my thoughts in words.