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.

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