Some years ago, I noticed that I had developed a bad habit on the podium. I was using the word “okay” all the time. It drove me nuts. I’m guessing it drove my students nuts too. I just couldn’t stop myself. I tried putting sticky notes on my stand to warn me. I wrote the word on the board to remind me. No matter what I did, it didn’t work. So one day, I decided that desperate times needed desperate measures. At the start of rehearsal, I told my students that I needed their help to break a bad habit. I instructed them that if I said the word “okay” at any time in rehearsal, they were to not play. At first, they laughed. Then as I told them how serious I was, their attitude changed. In an instant, I saw my students collectively become laser-focused on my every word. I could see this look of excited concentration on their faces. That concentration was about the music at hand, but even more so about trying to catch me make that mistake. In turn, I became more aware, more careful than ever, of what I said. Rehearsal was going terrifically, and I was on track to finish a rehearsal without once using that word.
Then, at one point I stopped the ensemble, corrected an issue, and started to conduct again. Only this time my downbeat was met with silence. Absolute, shocking, frightening silence. At that moment I realized that they had caught me. And true to my instructions, not one of them played that next downbeat. Not one of them! That was, of course, followed by immense laughter. But, my friends, that really did it. I tell you I stopped that habit right then and there because I wasn’t going to have that happen again! It was marvelous. And for many rehearsals after that one, students stayed vigilant, trying to catch me.
So if there is something you want to stop saying or doing in rehearsals, making a game of it with your students might just be the best way to do it. It works, it’s really fun, and it profoundly intensifies our communicative connection with them. But maybe best of all, it shows them that we’re trying to get better too. And what a great lesson that is. “Okay?”
Peter Loel Boonshaft, Director of Education
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