Yesterday our district had its annual classical festival for band, orchestra and choir. The guest conductor for orchestra was Don Schleicher from the University of Illinois, and I took the opportunity to spend several hours watching him rehearse.
What really made an impression on me was how much he loved the music. It was so apparent throughout the day, and I think it was as obvious to the students as it was to me. His decisions about balance, style, and his overall expectations from the students were centered around great repertoire and how much he cared for it...how essential it was for the students to honor it.
There is a subtle but important difference between expecting students to play well and expecting them to play well because the music deserves it. When the students sense that it is a priviledge to perform the music before them, their approach changes from being self-centered to others-oriented. Why? Because the only way to honor the music is to make the ensemble the focus, rather than oneself. This applies to the teacher as well.
This of course brings up the topic of how the teacher can be passionate about the music being taught when in fact it isn't great music. You can't, not unless you are a terrific actor, and even then the students are going to sense it. Great repertoire (not to be confused with difficult repertoire) is a mandate for us.
There is great music written for all grade levels (start here), so choosing repertoire that lacks depth and meaning is not only avoidable, but is essential in empowering you the teacher to be energized and passionate in ways that will remind you of why you decided to do this job in the first place....for the love of the music.
I believe that most of the good and bad experiences we have in our rehearsal rooms are fostered by repertoire choices we make. Put yourself in the position of teaching repertoire that will allow your love for the music to show through. The students deserve to see you at your best, and that just can't happen through careless repertoire selection. Make a commitment to share your love of music from the podium every day. You can do it.