My Mysterious Malfunctioning Podium

My podium malfunctioned again today.  You know the box a conductor stands on to direct the band?  Mine stopped working, which means I was unable to speak.  If this sounds odd, remember… no, never mind.  But let me explain.

Normally, my podium does just what you would expect it to do:  it gives me about six extra inches so the students in the back row can see me better, and more importantly, so I can see what they are up to.

But occasionally it malfunctions and interferes with my ability to speak, which of course complicates our rehearsal a great deal.

For instance, today we were in the middle of a rather ho-hum rehearsal – students not really watching or listening to me – when suddenly, I lost my voice.  I had just stopped the Band to offer a bit of brilliant musical advice, but nothing came out.

Needless to say, the students were baffled.  I stepped off the podium, got my voice back, and explained,

“This is not the first time I’ve had this problem.  Occasionally, one of the wires in my podium shorts out, causing some sort of interference with my voice that renders me temporarily mute.”

“Your box is wired?” asked a skeptical drummer.

“Yes.  How else would it work?  Now please listen.  A podium technician inspected it, but he was unable to track down the offending wire.  He did note, however, that the malfunction seems to occur most often during rehearsals in which students are not watching or listening to me.

“You mean,” asked a trumpeter a little too eagerly, “when you step back up on the podium you won’t be able to tell us what to do?”

“Uh… while I will still be able to see you,” I replied cautiously, “it’s true – I won’t be able to speak to you.  So I will have to use hand gestures and perhaps whisper a little.  If things get really bad, I will step off the podium to get my voice back.  But one thing is for certain, we are not stopping our rehearsal for this.  We will just have to figure out a way to communicate without words.  So pay attention.”

With that, I stepped up on the podium and used my fingers to signal for the band to begin at measure 9.  A student in the front row whispered, “Measure 9,” to the person behind her, who then passed it on, as if the people in back could not see me.  Then I raised my baton and began.

Very soon we came to a place in the music where I wanted to add a crescendo (to get gradually louder).  I directed one, but nothing happened, so I gave a cutoff to stop the band.  However, quite a few students played on for several measures because they hadn’t been watching, which, of course, was the problem to begin with.  Jumping up and down and waving my arms, I finally got their attention, and I heard another student say, “He stopped us.  You guys need to watch.”  Pointing to that student, I made a show of awarding him with a bonus point.

Now for the hard part.  I needed to get the class to understand about the crescendo.  Imagine a game of charades.  Using my fingers, I got someone to say, “Measure 26.”  Then responding to my various gestures, students asked questions like,

“We’re supposed to get taller?  Should we stand up?”

I rolled my eyes and motioned for him to sit back down.

“Are we supposed to get fatter?”

I scowled at the boy.

“Do you want us to get louder?”

Another bonus point was awarded.

So this student whispered to her neighbor, “He wants up to get louder at measure 26.”  Then two or three other students whispered it to their neighbors, and so on until the message had traveled around the room.  The funny part of all this was how the students, without my saying so, assumed that my inability to speak meant they had to whisper everything.  It turned out to be an exceptionally quiet rehearsal.

It was also one of our most productive rehearsals.  The class had to pay close attention to everything I did, which meant they were watching me more than usual.  They also had to do a lot of thinking as they deciphered my clues.  And it was great to see them working together.

At the end of the rehearsal, they seemed drained, as though the effort of learning had taken every last ounce they had to offer.  But on her way out of class, one of my clarinet players asked,

“Can we do that again tomorrow?”

I smiled and said, “Who knows?  I really can’t control when my podium malfunctions.  Besides, I’m hoping it will be fixed by then.”


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mark Shaver on April 4, 2012 at 9:49 pm

    Am I the first to comment? Great.

    This kind of article should be published in a teaching journal. Can this be submitted for publication? And I mean not just for band directors. Or perhaps you got the idea from just such a publication? Either way, good idea.


    • Thanks. Actually, after I wrote it for Hall Pass, I tweaked it a little and sent it to Keynotes online magazine. I haven’t heard back from them, yet, but I am hopeful. I’ll let you know…

      By the way, I thunk it up all by myself in a moment of desperation 🙂 Thanks, again.


  2. Posted by Marcus Shaver on April 5, 2012 at 8:43 am

    GENIUS!!! I think both of my college teachers could use this. I know what you’re thinking, but yes, there are people in both classes that it would work on.


  3. Posted by Rachael Shaver on April 5, 2012 at 11:03 am

    Wonderful! This is probably my favorite of all of them!


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