How to Format Student Dress Rehearsals

Everyone is busy! ...

…so, how do you come up with a dress rehearsal/recital format that serves the beginner, will be successful for advanced students and comfortable for busy parents?

The format that serves my students best is a Friday dress rehearsal with assigned time slots, and two recitals on Saturday. The use of assigned time slots for the dress rehearsal is efficient! I run an on-time schedule by having the student arrive 10 minutes before their assigned time and I honor the schedule. Based on my philosophy and experience I feel it is best that the teacher leads all dress rehearsals. I am happy to give of my time as a professional musician to my students and this is the standard I offer at my studio.

What is expected of the student at dress rehearsal? I prepare students to be ready to run their solo with the accompaniment and then address any minor ensemble issues. The dress rehearsal is not a lesson so I focus on performance, musical expression, and also reinforce a productive and positive attitude in the student. Performing at recitals is a celebration of the student’s musical journey and my approach is upbeat and encouraging.

How much time does each student need for dress rehearsal? The answer depends on the student’s ability level and the repertoire.

Beginning to Intermediate

I have found that students in Suzuki volume 1 and my littlest ones only need a 5 minute time slot. They come in, meet the accompanist, tune and they then perform their solo. Then, there is still time to either do it once more or just practice the start. We also practice taking a proper bow after rest position. For students playing longer solos in volume 2 and all solos in volume 3, I always schedule a 10 minute slot. That gives us time to run the solo and rehearse a few areas. If it goes perfectly then we have time to run the solo a second time, but that is usually not necessary for their comfort.

Strong Intermediate to Advanced:

Dress Rehearsal

Students playing at a volume 4 level or higher (or repertoire outside of Suzuki), are scheduled for a 15 or 20 minute dress rehearsal to accommodate the more complex repertoire. Advanced solos are longer and we need time to cover various segments and rehearse transitions, ritards, phrasing and musicality. The student also needs to be comfortable with entrances after tutti sections.


Additional Rehearsal for Advanced Repertoire:

My most advanced students need more rehearsal time than just a run through. I accommodate this by doing an additional rehearsal with the accompanist a week prior; lengths vary from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. This format gives the students enough preparation to have a successful recital experience. For works that are quite long like the first movement of the Mendelssohn concerto, I assign the student to rehearse at least 1-2x prior to the first required rehearsal. This is with the pianist only which helps them learn independence by leading that rehearsal.


Performing at Both Recitals:

For my most advanced students that absolutely love to perform, I offer the opportunity to play at both recitals. Usually, this is a bigger work like Czardas followed by something shorter and fun. For this special consideration I allow a 25 minute dress rehearsal to run both works.


Quick Reference for Recommended Time Allotted:

  • 5 minutes for all beginners thru Suzuki Volume 1
  • 10 minutes for longer solos in Suzuki Volume 2 and all of Volume 3
  • 15 minutes for Suzuki Volume 4 and Intermediate/Advanced repertoire
  • 20 minutes for advanced repertoire and longer concerto movements
  • 25 minutes for the most advanced works and those performing at both recitals (which would include a long work and a short)

With careful consideration of the time a student truly needs to rehearse, I have been able to keep my total dress rehearsal time to approximately four to five hours with a couple of short breaks. This works for me in serving up to 25 performers.

Most Unique, Memorable & Unusual Gigs

The top picks for the most wild performances include:

  • Riding all the way around the track at the Phoenix International Raceway (NASCAR) while standing in the back of a pick-up truck and “bow syncing” to my own recording
  • Playing a live radio show and being interviewed by Bob Boze Bell and David K. Jones where I met Clint Black on the air; he then invited me to record for him
  • 5:30am breakfast for a famous rodeo clown
  • Playing for only three minutes for an international think tank competition
  • Three minute performance in a chef’s coat
  • Performing Orange Blossom Special in a yellow business suit with yellow shoes to represent the Eggo Waffle Company; I had to “act and out fiddle” two violinist guys in tuxes
  • At age 12 our youth fiddling group performed on Live TV for the Wallace & Ladmo Show
  • Six week tour overseas to perform for the troops at various military bases starting in Iceland; we got a ride in a black hawk helicopter.


To Change a Bowing or Not

As classical string players we are conditioned from the beginning to execute uniform bowing or follow what is printed in the music. This is true not only for the solo repertoire but especially in orchestral settings. The bowings create phrasing, musical expression and bring to life what the composer intended. Well, the player either goes down or up (over simplification) coupled with or without slurs and a variety of complex articulations and dynamics.

The “bow” is our voice so its function is powerfully artistic. In orchestral settings the conductor (along with the concertmaster) provide any desired changes or edits in bowings. As an experienced orchestral violinist this is a fascinating and impactful subject as changes in bowings dramatically affect the players and overall sound of the section. I remember years ago when Isaac Stern’s son, David, was conducting the Nashville Symphony Orchestra for a classical series and he had both violin sections use “free bowing” in the opening measures of the Johannes Brahms symphony no. 1, op. 68. What! Oh my! That breaks some rules but what a brilliant artistic choice. He wanted a lot of sound to come from the back of the sections. This choice literally freed all of us up to use many bows on individual notes which created a wonderful tidal wave of sound for this majestic work.

Time For Slime

“More slime!”, never has an orchestra conductor asked for…or have they? Playing the music score live to the movie Ghostbusters is “on hand” this week! The music composed by Elmer Bernstein is not filled with melodies but sound effects and his son is conducting Orchestra KY at this world premier. It’s not a new idea for orchestras to perform the score as the movie is viewed by nostalgic audiences but it’s great for the smaller city of Bowling Green, KY to land the opportunity. The ghosts of the 1980’s are up to shenanigans this week and that is my era!! Who doesn’t love the 80’s? Sometimes a musician’s work is sticky as we are cued in to play our part.

How do I balance my first love of performance with my teaching?

I’ve become inspired to perform for the students at the spring and fall recitals. It’s great for my “chops” and lifts my spirits too. In recent years I have really enjoyed the ride of Improvisation by Kabalevsky, Baal Shem No. 2, Nigun by Ernest Bloch, as well as Sonnet, Op. 5 by Isidor Achron. I thought perhaps it may be too abstract for students? I stand corrected as one of my advanced 9 year olds in response to the Achron stated, “It sounded mysterious, I really liked your solo.” Well, well, even very young students can truly be moved by intense and harmonically rich music.

Other titles that are simply fun to perform at student recitals include Czardas, Ave Maria (this one always makes grandparents cry), and recently I learned Legende Op. 17 by Wieniaswki. This solo which is so fantastically written for violin was recommend by my dear colleague Zoya Lebkin. Isn’t it true that there is always more excellent music to learn?

I admit that on my favorite day of the year (recital day) I am totally focused on the students! That does create a challenge and sometimes even stress with my own warm up and performance focus as I perform last and have been attending to each student. I have managed this by relaxing, simply doing my best and experiencing the joy of playing. And, one learns to accept starting out a solo on cold fingers. The fall recital is approaching in November and I’m now contemplating playing 2 new and short solos…what will I decide?