Small Groups, Big Rewards

Utilizing a Chamber Music Segment in your School Music Program

Last January, I attended the IMEA Professional Development Conferencein Ft. Wayne, Indiana. Although I arrived late, I picked up several good ideas from two teachers from the Carmel High School Orchestra program. This is a summary of the handout they provided and some concluding practices that I’d like to try to implement this year.


A chamber music segment can help your music program by teaching responsibility for independent parts, by teaching students how to work out musical problems independently, by introducing score reading, by increasing student involvement in the whole musical process, and by preparing students to use their musical skills themselves after high school life.

The best time and way to schedule a chamber music segment will be different for each school situation. Some use an extended length and others do an intense unit. Almost everyone will have to think about how the segment will fit in with other concerts and competitions in the school calendar.

Finding music for all your students in a chamber music segment can be tricky. One reason is that you want each group to be able to successfullyperform the pieceselected in some type of public place. With different skill levels in each group, this could be complicated. Some ideas for music that will challenge and engage students excerpts, larger pieceswithout divisi, student requests, and, of course, You could distributethe music in packets with a couple choices for each group or have an exploratory class where students hear the music and choose the ones they want to learn.

Another issue that must be figured out ahead of time is the space problem. Where will all these groups practice at the same time? Actually, groups should be able to practice in some quite small closets, etc. You will have to keep track of them, and they are school children (who never have any problems when not supervised :)! Knowing your students and enlisting volunteer help (or paid coaches if possible) will help you keep track of each group. Also, if necessary you could rehearse with half of the group for half of the time while the others work in their groups and then switch out for the second half.

A curriculum that could be followed for the chamber music segment might include an introduction by a professional/advanced group; introduce the pieces with everyone; introduce small group work with music already in progress or recently performed, and provide some lesson plans for each group to work on at various times in the segment.

Organization willhelp you keep your sanity during this part of the year. You should have your own teacher folders with score and spare parts for each chamber group (for students who might forget). Include all group information on each folder. A form was provided to use on these folders.

Finally, there are several ideas about how to have the groups perform: they could enter a solo and ensemble competition; you could hold an in-class recital; you could put on a “coffee house” style concert; they could be the entertainment for a silent auction; they could play at nursing homes and community centers; they could be a concert at the mall. There are many places that your groups could perform the music prepared during a chamber music group segment.


I can definitely see how this type of segment could work out well in my high school bandestra program. Once we’ve played our fall “concert” at the October PTF, I will divide the students into chamber groups and they will prepare for a January “coffee house” style concert for our Jolly 60s ministry while we work together preparing for our nursing home Christmas concerts. Then we’ll prepare a “light” piece for the March PTF and our regular march, classical, and sacred pieces for our commencement exercises.