Monday, March 16, 2009

wait to be asked

I was just hired to play piano with an eight piece house band for a local Christian radio station's live remote at a shopping center. The special guest was a female Christian guitarist/folksinger. During the sound check, she started playing one of her songs that had very simple chord changes. 
The bass player is very accomplished and started adding a very tasty bass line to her song. After a while, I started adding a light string descant as well. She stopped and told us in no uncertain terms to stop and never to play along with her. Period. She was absolutely right! We should have not played a single note unless asked. She had two parts in the show where she played her songs while I sat and listened. Afterwards, I apologized to her for playing along without being asked. It did hurt a little to be asked not to play as I felt it added to her song. The point being that it was HER song and she has total control of what instruments should be used. I had to focus on the fact that this was a job and I should play only when I am asked and leave my feelings in the car. After 40 years, I am still learning from every gig.

Don't forget that I have a music podcast on iTunes called musicteachers911. Feel free to search the iTunes store and subscribe. It's free!

Larry Marra


Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Don't ignore your audience!

Last night I was invited to attend a HS band concert and saw things that bothered me. I won't mention the school name, but hope that my written observations might help to make your next event better.

1. For God's sake, dress up! If you want your students to treat your concerts like a big deal, don't direct in your work clothes! Wear a dark suit or nice evening dress if you are female.

2. After a song is over, turn around and acknowledge the crowds applause! Do not ignore them, or seem impatient to get on with the next song as if you want the concert over as soon as possible. These parents want an opportunity to support their children. Let them.

3. If you have a soloist, treat them like a VIP. I heard a marimba soloist. He had practiced hard and deserved a little special treatment. He should not have had to wheel out his own marimba or roll it back behind the curtain when he was done. He should have just taken a bow and let a few underclassmen do this for him. Let your stars shine!

4. Take as long as you need to to tune the band. Don't be in such a hurry to start on time that the entire concert sounds bad.

5. Take a moment to tune between songs if your need to. Last night the second song sounded worse than the first because the horns had warmed and expanded during the first song and were terribly flat on the second one.

6. Don't start conducting until the hall is quiet. You have a lot of parents in the audience that came to hear their child, not a baby crying or cell conversation. Allowing a rude person to disrupt everyones enjoyment is allowing them to be in charge of the concert, not you.

7. If a song has a soloist, or a select group or section is highlighted, motion them to stand during the applause to accept a little extra gratitude for their effort.

8. Don't give your honest assessment of the concert to the director unless they specifically ask for it. Several of the other music teachers I was with encouraged me to "kindly instruct" the director after the concert on a few of the aforementioned items. I made it clear that my role this evening was an audience member and nothing else. If I was asked by the director to comment on the evening (which I wasn't), I would have started positive and sugar-coated every observation so as to uplift and encourage.

9. Videotape every performance for later critical review. I am guess that some of the items here will be made evident and will help to improve the next event

If you want to know more about successful teaching, be sure to listen to the musicteachers911 podcast available on iTunes, log on to or spend some time searching Chad Criswell's excellent teaching site,