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Are Chair Placement Tryouts Important?

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 2:26 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It is a different world that decades ago band directors had infinite time to rehearse a small number of pieces with little needed in real educational outcomes.

To most directors today chair challenges would be redundant and a complete waste of time because there should be regular playing exams/assessments anyway….if you want to make a big production and call them challenges, fine…but introducing competition generally has more negative than positive outcomes.

In some situations like large programs/sections it could be a good fit but you would be tossing one/two days a month of limited rehearsal time to listen to them , switching up parts during a concert work up, all to tell you what a good director would know already.

Lets not second guess the band director, they are the degree holding and certified person here and it is their choice to run their band program in a matter that fits their professional judgement of the community, further the choice they have made is quite reasonable.
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Vin DiBona
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 2:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have the same music degree they do.
Chair placements were done the 1st week of school. Challenges could be done weekly, but they were few and far between.
Yes, it is a different world. but it certainly is a not better one.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 3:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think some level of auditioning and ranking is good to have.

For one, basically any drive to go further with music - from the All-Region band to playing in college to a pro orchestra - will require auditioning, so it's good to get that practice in from an early age.

I also agree that the competition aspect was a big motivator to me back in the day. One could quibble over whether it's ideal to fuel trumpet player egos, but the fact of the matter is that I wanted to get and stay on top. Rankings help kids visualize their progress - it's hard to hear and see on a day to day basis, but if you move from 5th to 3rd chair, you know it's paying off. That kind of reinforcement is great for motivation, which is arguably the hardest thing to cultivate in young players.

Coming from a larger program, auditions were also the difference between the multiple ensembles. Playing 2nd vs 3rd part might not be a super big deal, but being in a whole different group sure as hell was. I worked to get into the top band as a freshman in high school, and once I was there it was only a motivation to work harder - I wanted to meet the older kids' standards, and got exposed to tougher, better music.

That said, we were somewhat loose with part assignments. We had a decent degree of autonomy to figure out who played what, and tried to spread things around a bit so people weren't hard stuck on 3rd all the time. In situations where there were both cornet and trumpet parts, this offered an even better chance to shuffle around and play next to different people. Also meant that you couldn't hide! Kept it fun and dynamic, while leaving at least some of the ego stuff at the door.

I'm not as big of a fan of the challenge idea or hyper-frequent auditions - once a semester seems reasonable and is what I grew up around. Not only to keep more of the focus on making music as well as possible as an ensemble, but just to lower the stress level and not make it overly antagonistic.

I think we had more frequent chair tests in the first year or two but that starts to become a bit of a blur.
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Billy B
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 4:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Participation trophies seem to be the norm.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 5:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Amateur hack here. When I was a freshman in college, I realized I could get into hockey games for free if I played in the pep band. I had a trumpet available, so at the end of the school year, I arranged to borrow a copy of the pep band's music, and had the brother of a friend of mine (who was studying at Berklee) teach me what I needed so I could play it on the trumpet. He succeeded. I sat for my only test ever, and passed it, at the start of my sophomore year, and played in that band for the remaining 3 years till I graduated. In that organization, once you were in you were in. I always took the easiest parts. I never felt the urge to test again for better parts, because I just wanted to stay in. As I pursued an engineering degree and had an athletic interest as well, I had no desire to advance musically.

Now I'm nearing retirement age from the engineering career, and medical issues have ended the athletic stuff, I'm playing again. I might be a bit more competitive this time around.

No real point here; just the discussion got me feeling nostalgic. Please carry on without me as I go back to lurking.
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 23, 2021 8:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ed, nice post. I seem to come from a similar background, only I was more interested in music than sports so I dumped the athletics team towards the end of school and played in several bands until the end of college. My professional career (science) and the family has kept me busy and actively playing music has only come back to me in about 2014 after a 12 year hiatus.

Still I think the fact that I did play in competitive but friendly environments earlier, including recording sessions and repeatedly a festival with a few thousand in the audience, did help me to get back and be a reliable 1st and 2nd chair now. In fact, as I practice much smarter these days, my (totally personal) opinion is that I have never played as good as I do now (still an amateur, but making a lot of progress) and parts of this is rooted in the fact that I always tried to reach “the top” wherever it was. While I have the personality I have, the “must work to be better” thing is still heavily engrained in my brain.
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david johnson
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 12:30 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I did school bands for decades and always had a chair-placement tryout, but I also always told the students that I would switch up who played what when I thought the group would sound better that way on a specific selection.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 7:39 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So there's really a mixed bag of beliefs here. I was always of the mindset that chair placement tryouts/challenges were a good thing because it allows for a certain amount of competitiveness that drives certain students to work to excel.

I think that in some instances it might be demoralizing for students at the back of the pack - I know that I was there at one point. When I was in 7th grade, I completely didn't prepare for the first chair placement tryout, so I was near last chair.

I have a whole story about how a single day changed my life - a bit of encouragement from my band teacher on a day where he could have simply chosen a punishment rather than using it as a teaching moment. I'll spare the details of the story, but suffice it to say, when the next chair placement tryout came around, I busted my butt on the excerpt, and that was when I leaped over about 12 other students and wound up 3rd chair overall in the 7th/8th grade combined band.

In any case, I know what it felt like to be at the bottom of the pack, but I also know the thrill of moving up chairs towards the top of the pack. It was absolute instrumental in giving me the drive and inspiration to work to excel.
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 2:42 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my experience (former teacher), and seeing the programs of a number of colleagues, auditions, challenges, pop quizzes for chairs etc. can all be successful tools. They can also be the reason students get mad and drop music classes.

Most important, IMHO, is the director's motivation for their seating system, and the follow through they give to the lower half of the section. If students believe they are being taught (given positive and challenging feedback), rather than ranked and weeded-out, personal pride will motivate most students to work hard. Well, work anyway. They know if you are on the podium to help give them the best possible band experience, or simply to put the best performance on stage.

Music teachers have always had the competing issues of creating a polished product at performances, while creating classes that teach each child. Only recently has high-stakes testing brought these pressures to "academic" subject teachers.
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S Koons
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PostPosted: Wed Nov 24, 2021 4:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

david johnson wrote:
I did school bands for decades and always had a chair-placement tryout, but I also always told the students that I would switch up who played what when I thought the group would sound better that way on a specific selection.

I don't remember challenges in high school. It's been a long time, but I think our director did it this way.

In junior high, I once challenged the player above me only because the player one chair below was hitting me when the director wasn't looking. It worked.

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2021 3:12 am    Post subject: are chair placement tryouts important? Reply with quote

Well, in h.s. for select bands, etc. we always had a quick tryout as soon as we got to the site. I was consistent second chair until my senior year when it happened again but the gal I always sat next to in bands showed me a piece we were doing with the choir and it was like 32 bars of triple tonguing with "God Of our Fathers." She stood up waved me to her chair and said, "I can't do that," so like Shakespeare said we had it thrust upon us. LOL I think of it like all my experiences with h.s. and college athletics, too. In one way or another life is competitive whether we are placed in competition against others or in competition to better ourselves at a given activity. In music I never put much in being principle as such but in taking the position that this is the job you are doing so do it well for the whole organization as a body. Life is competition like that.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2021 5:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For elementary classes, no.

For intermediate, informal assessments for part assignments. But parts on performance should be rotated so that everyone can play various parts.

For more advanced ensembles. An entry audition for part placement and more specific voluntary auditions for those who wish to play in the top 2 or 3 chairs on each part for solos, small ensembles etc.

But students need to understand that only THEY can control THEIR OWN performance.

The worse thing a student can do is obsess over this. And the most important person to exceed is one's self. Especially not some mediocre "bar" that is set by someone else's achievement.
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 25, 2021 5:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Practice logs and being able to record videos on google classroom are changing the practice culture of today.

I did band in the 90s and honestly don't remember challenges being a big part of our culture. The band pretty much stayed how it was from the beginning of the year and I was in what was considered a good program.

I have mixed thoughts on the value of competition. I have a kid that does violin. That culture can also be ultra competitive, but nowadays it is channeled through things like recitals, musical certificate programs, and playing competitions. I like kids being able to push themselves but one of the benefits of band is a sense of togetherness and I could see too much competition eroding that.
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