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Concert Participation

September 27, 2017

 

As a teacher, I get only two reactions to the news that all students must participate in their school band or orchestra concerts: Excitement or Terror. And obviously one of those reactions deserves immediate attention

 

Excitement

 

When a child shows excitement for the winter and spring concerts, it means that they feel comfortable and that we (teachers and parents) have done our job to pump up their confidence. It's important to foster this confidence and encourage the kids to stay in their school music program as long as possible.

 

The only time excitement becomes a problem is when it turns into competition with, or criticism of, fellow students. We want the kids to feel secure in their abilities, but not at the expense of the other students in the group. We all know that school bands and orchestras contain kids of all ability levels, but excitement knows no bounds. Remind your student that they should be compassionate to their peers who might be scared, nervous, or even sick on concert night.

 

I've been surprised in the past when kids who have spent the entire year struggling suddenly blossom and open up at the spring concert.

 

Terror

 

This is the more difficult reaction for all of us to deal with. First, for me, I have never felt anything except excitement at the prospect of concerts. I have been performing on stage since I was 4 years old. To me, it feels perfectly natural to stand up in front of an audience and "show off." I recently heard an interview on NPR where the subject was saying that he always believed "everywhere there is an audience waiting to be entertained." He included trips to the grocery store among his favorite audience opportunities. I agree! I am always performing, and I love it. So when a student tells me they are scared or nervous I admit I have trouble relating.

 

But I can empathize. And that's the important thing for all of us to do. We know nothing terrible is going to happen if our flutist misses a high note and a giant lava filled crevasse won't open up under the chair if our clarinettist squeaks. But to the kids, these things can feel like the end of the world. And suddenly a child that was playing well in their lessons and practicing routinely at home dreads picking up their instrument. They have mysterious stomach aches in the hours leading up to their lessons, they have sore throats on band rehearsal days, and start talking about how they don't want to go to the concert.

 

The truth is, they are in the majority. Most kids feel this way, and it's normal. But we need to encourage them to continue and see their music experience to the end. The success of the band depends on the participation of all its members at the concert. If the pitcher doesn't show up to the big baseball game, then what? All members of the band are important. From last chair trombone to first chair flute, everyone needs to be there for the concert.

 

Maybe this seems like an exaggeration, but I have been teaching in schools for over 20 years, and when one student doesn't come to the concert, the other kids aren't shy about expressing their opinions on the matter. And those opinions aren't very kind...

 

We, as adults, can rationalize their need to participate in the concert in terms of teamwork, obligation, and personal enrichment. But kids don't care about these things. They truly believe that everyone in the audience is staring directly at them, and that everyone knows when they make a mistake.

 

The best I have ever come up with to convince kids to show up is that *I* will be disappointed if they stay home. I put a lot of work in to getting them ready and when they don't come to the concert, it means I wasted my time. Shockingly...this works. I'm not proud, but sometimes their feelings of responsibility to me compel them to see their band experience through to the end.

 

I also tell them that no one knows the music perfectly enough to know when they make one tiny mistake. I remind them that when they see me waving at them like a lunatic and smiling like a goon, I'm not listening to anything except the sound of music pouring from the stage. Even though I have spent months working on the music with them, even I have no idea if they play wrong notes. And I don't care! I only care that they are sitting on the stage trying their best.

 

They will survive the concert, and it never fails that at the end of the evening, most kids are declaring how much they loved playing on the stage and they can't wait for the next concert!

 

 

 

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