Rehearsing After Hours: An Analysis of Mandatory Afterschool Music Rehearsals

An examination of the afterschool chorus and band rehearsals that students are required to attend outside of normal class hours.

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Nothing is more symbolic of the holiday season than jingle bells and Christmas carols. To respond to this demand for holiday cheer, Stuyvesant Chorus and Band are busy preparing for their annual holiday concerts. The preparation process mandates that members attend school rehearsals on set dates, which presents problems for students who have prior engagements.

The chorus program at Stuyvesant consists of four choral ensembles—Men’s Chorus for male 

students, Women’s Chorus for female students, Oratorio Choir for both female and male students, and the A Capella group for songs without instrumental accompaniments. Each ensemble performs at two concerts: the Holiday Choral Concert in December and the Spring Choral Concert in May, both of which are led by Choral Director Liliya Shamazov. Rehearsals are held after school for all choruses in preparation for these concerts. Rehearsals are specific to each chorus group, so if you are a member of several chorus groups, you are mandated to attend more rehearsals. “[Rehearsals] go about the last four weeks before the concert,” senior and member of Oratorio and Men’s Chorus Aleksey Olkhovenko said. “It’s about three times a week for the three chorus [groups]. But then if you only go to one [chorus group], then it’s only one time a week [starting after] school. [It amounts to around] four to five or six [rehearsals].”

Chorus rehearsals are mandatory, and students who miss chorus rehearsals due to 

sickness or unavoidable engagements must make them up by helping Shamazov file papers during their free periods. “If you just couldn’t make it because you were sick, for example, you would just work as [Shamazov’s] monitor. For one of your free periods, you’ll come in and help [Shamazov] organize songs. There's a lot of work to be done,” Olkhovenko explained.

Chorus rehearsals can make participating in other extracurricular activities difficult. “During 

these rehearsal months, it's actually impossible for me to attend a lot of other meetings,” junior and Oratorio Chorus member Patrick Pang said. “I'm on the boys table tennis team, and a lot of practices are being skipped because I have to prioritize choir rehearsals over team meetings.”

However, many chorus students feel that the rehearsals are worthwhile because they bring extra 

refinement to students’ singing. “When we come together with [Shamazov], we practice phrasing. It's like how we sing the music,” Olkhovenko said. “We could just sing the notes, but then when [Shamazov] practices with us, it makes it beautiful. [...] The reason I joined is because [last year's chorus] sang really beautifully. You can't achieve that unless you spend extra time [practicing].”

Students also develop stronger bonds with their classmates by attending these rehearsals. “[The 

rehearsals] are a great time to spend with friends [you see] every day for years,” Olkhovenko said. 

Students are made aware of these rehearsals months in advance so they can clear their 

schedules. “Even before we join [the class], we’re told that the concerts are part of the workload,” Olkhovenko said. “But then as soon as we get in, at the beginning, [Shamazov] gave us the syllabus, and it says the [exact dates of the rehearsals] on the calendar.” 

Band rehearsals also serve the purpose of preparing students for their concerts. Stuyvesant’s band program consists of four types of ensembles led by Band Director Dr. Gregory Winkel: one Beginner Band, two Concert Bands, one Symphonic Band, and one Jazz Band. Only the Jazz Band and Symphonic Band perform at the Holiday Instrumental Concert, while every band performs at the Spring Instrumental Concert. Of these ensembles, Symphonic Band is the only band to hold after-school rehearsals in preparation for the Instrumental Concerts.

All Symphonic Band members are required to attend a set number of rehearsals. “You're required to come to almost all of the rehearsals because, if you don't, then [Dr. Winkel] start[s] dropping your grade,” junior and trumpet player Henry Mattoni said. 

Symphonic Band rehearsals focus on instrument groups that need the most help in performing their parts. Regardless, all members are welcome to come to every rehearsal to help different sections improve their coordination. “Normally they do have one section that's more required to come. But then you're always welcome to come if you're not in that section,” Mattoni said.

Some students feel that band rehearsals only help students who play instruments in

sections that need additional practice and aren't of much use to the other students. Sophomore Andrew Tang, who plays the tuba, explained that he doesn't feel as if his tuba playing skills have improved significantly from attending band rehearsals. “The trumpets have sounded a lot better. But certain sections just stay the same. There's not much improvement. For me personally, there's more downsides to [these rehearsals than] upsides. But overall for the entire band, it's very helpful,” Tang said.

As a whole, students feel Symphonic Band rehearsals are very important for the 

coordination of the band, even though they typically focus on individual instrument groups. “Some of the sections, their parts are harder and require more time to practice,” junior and percussionist Brandon Waworuntu said. Ensembles are only as strong as their weakest link—by improving the performance of sections that are struggling with the material, the sound of the band as a whole is improved. 

Unlike chorus rehearsals, Symphonic Band rehearsals are announced with very short notice. Students are not informed that they have rehearsals at all until the week they happen. Rehearsal dates are often decided arbitrarily, meaning they frequently reflect the availability of only a fraction of the students. “[Dr.] Winkel chooses [the dates] and then asks broadly, ‘Is it good?’ And if people are saying yes, it probably goes on that date,” Mattoni said. “He doesn't need complete approval—it's really up to him.”

Consequently, Symphonic Band members are forced to alter their schedules at the last minute to attend band rehearsals. “[Dr. Winkel] makes us prioritize the practices over the extracurriculars. It has made me miss my sports practices and stuff like that,” Tang said.

Many band members explained that they would appreciate more flexibility with rehearsal attendance, especially because they aren't planned in advance. “Some people have to miss their jobs for band practice, which I don't think they should do because I think their job is more important. Maybe instead they can get their practice at home,” Waworuntu commented.

Both chorus and band rehearsals ultimately intend to serve the students and improve their 

performance skills. Nevertheless, comparing the two groups reveals the importance of establishing clear expectations and a structured schedule for extracurricular rehearsals. Mandating after-school rehearsals may be necessary, but it should be done in a manner that respects students’ other time commitments.