Concerts are a big deal for music teachers at any level. Performances might be the only glimpse that parents, community members, and co-workers have into what our students are accomplishing in our classes. A thoughtfully-chosen concert theme can maximize teachable content, create a holistic musical experience for students, and present a cohesive show that truly showcases student learning.
Identify key concepts
First, identify the concepts you want to teach. A theme is an opportunity to cover those non-performance standards while simultaneously preparing for performance. Be creative! You could teach historical context with a concert of music from from different periods in American history or cultural context by performing traditional holiday songs from around the world (Minnesota Arts Standards: strand 1, standard 3). Choose a folk song theme to teach composition and/or improvisation through customs of flexible lyrics and accompaniments (Minnesota Arts Standards: strand 2, standard 1). Select topically-related standard tunes to guide students to compare and contrast multiple interpretations of the repertoire, including their own (Minnesota Arts Standards: strand 4, standard 1). Invite a local composer to write music for any concert theme while working with students, involving them in the composition process (Minnesota Arts Standards: strand 2, standard 1). With a well-chosen theme, it’s entirely possible for all of the standards to be taught through concert repertoire.
Build connections through thematic instruction
Once a theme has been chosen, select performance pieces that connect both thematically and musically, yet contain enough variety to be intellectually and artistically interesting for you, the students, and the audience. Research has shown that building connections through thematic instruction enhances learning. Every pattern and connection that you guide your students to uncover will increase their wider understanding of their music and its purpose.
A concert theme can create many opportunities to engage with other teachers and subjects, creating a more holistic learning experience for your students. Choosing a cross-curricular theme not only gives context to the music being taught, but can also enhance subject areas that teachers are often finding less time to teach, such as social studies and science.
There are so many ways to collaborate within your own classroom or with the community outside of school, too. Choosing a multi-cultural theme could provide opportunities for students from different cultural backgrounds to teach their peers, or for community members to visit your classroom to share their culture. Consider working with a local composer to make new music with your students on their theme. Invite older students or community members to not only accompany a concert, but to truly work with your students to make music.
A good concert theme connects audience members, as well as students, to the music that is performed. A cohesively organized show is more enjoyable to listen to, and teaches students the value of aesthetic presentation. Using a theme, your students can become the teachers who inform their audience while entertaining them. Encouraging interaction between performers and audience will increase community interest in your students’ concerts and build awareness of the learning that takes place in your classroom.
Using concert themes to organize academic and performance skills being taught in music classes creates a more holistic and in-depth learning experience for students, while using teaching time efficiently. Themes give context and purpose to concerts, teaching students the value of performance beyond entertainment. Preparing for a concert teaches students how to sing and play music, and connecting concert repertoire with a common theme can help students to understand why that music should be performed.