Last night the junior orchestra I conduct, along with the children’s choir I accompany, performed in the local inter-school music festival. Most of the children in the orchestra are new members this year, so, as a practice for the festival, it was really helpful that we had a first performance at school last week.
When I asked what the new members felt when performing for an audience, one little boy said it was strange seeing all the faces looking at him. Another commented that they had to really concentrate on what they had learned. Others felt nervous but excited at the same time.
Every Friday since the beginning of the school year in February the orchestra members have been practicing towards that moment last night when the curtain was pulled back. Some are so little they had to sit forward on their seats to make sure their feet wouldn’t be dangling as they played. They have learned so much in the past few months that will help them in life as well as music. Here are 7 life skills for starters:
Often at rehearsals the children have had to sit quietly and not play their instruments while I was rehearsing another section of the orchestra. They had to wait an especially long time in the final dress rehearsal yesterday while all the other choirs and performers were having a practice on the stage. They needed self control to simply wait hours for their turn.
Team work takes time, but they are learning that playing an instrument in the orchestra includes other jobs such as setting up and packing down. It is part of the camaraderie that is helpful for when they come to play music together. And as they learn the part of the music their instrument plays, they can see how one part fits with others to make a beautiful overall sound. They also start to notice how incomplete it all sounds when any part is missing.
You can’t play music effectively in a group unless you interact well with the people you play with. I have seen lovely friendships formed between those who play the same instrument, and among the orchestra as a whole as they have shared the common goal of working towards the special performance.
When you sit in an orchestra rehearsal you get to hear the individual parts in a way that you don’t when you are used to hearing the music as a whole. It’s a way our young musicians get to hear how the music hangs together. It develops their listening skills, crucial for life and music.
When writing or arranging music for individual parts, I always try to include music the children can comfortably play, but also including some music that might be difficult at first—something to work towards. At the beginning of the year when I give them their parts I have to assure them that they are not to try and play the parts they can’t yet play until they actually can. (The orchestra sounds better as we rehearse that way too!) It gives them something to work towards and with the natural peer pressure of playing with the group they often work more eagerly towards achieving it.
They gain confidence to play in front of others. Often in the rehearsals I have different sections of the orchestra play their part; there are times too when I need to find out if individuals can do so. The children have become quite used to playing in front of the rest of the orchestra. They just get on with it, not realising that even those moments are building their general confidence.
A performance can bring out the best in people. One of the lovely moments of last night was just before I started playing the piano introduction for the choir. One of the young soloists didn’t know her mic was already live. On my fold back speaker I heard her whisper to the other: “You’ve got this!” Then they nailed it.
That’s the sort of thing that makes all the time and effort worth it, and we find ourselves happily inspired as we head off to the next rehearsal.