As they came off the stage, one child put into words the gleam shining from all their faces: “We did it!”
I tutor a junior orchestra of 27 children under the age of 11. Last week they performed at a local music festival. As the stage was being prepared one of the stagehands referred to our smallest member, who plays a percussion instrument, “Wow that kid is tiny!” The little guy on the piano was not much bigger but he was playing at a level most children of his age can’t contemplate.
That event last week was their first experience of playing on a big stage. For several months now they have been working towards playing a piece I composed called “The Royal Entrance”. Each player had a part in it to suit their ability level. Some of the children had only been learning a short time and only knew a few notes on their instruments. The double bass player had only had about four lessons due to unforeseen circumstances, so I gave him a mostly open string pizzicato part which he really put his heart into.
Next morning they had permission to come to school later (due to the lateness of the previous night) but if they wanted to come at the normal time to orchestra, I said they could have a go at conducting the piece we played. All but six eager beavers showed up—a pretty good effort after a late night, I thought.
Looking a bit like a gym class, the first thing they learned was how to conduct 4 beats to the rhythm “Down, to the left, to the right and up” . Then ” 1, 2, 3, 4″ in time to the beat.
They took turns at using my baton and conducting their peers while I took over their instrument and played their part (not the wind instruments though). The first one who managed to get through the whole piece without stopping got a spontaneous cheer from the whole orchestra. As they shared how it felt to conduct, other members gave their thoughts and encouragements on what we were all learning about it. One girl, who had been shy and uncertain about joining the orchestra at first, got up and conducted with more confidence than I had ever seen in her before. That told me that she now felt comfortable in the group too.
Not every child thought it was their thing but most wanted to give it a go anyway. Others learned that to be fully in charge of the music they needed to know more than just their own part and have an understanding about how all the parts fit together. (Spot the lesson there for all good leaders!) The trumpet player was impressed at one trainee conductor bringing her in with a glance after some bars’ rest because she was so used to me doing so.
There was a special moment when I told them about a young man who had in his first orchestra experience with me some years ago in a group of children their age. This year he has been appointed as concert band conductor for the major primary school festival held every year in our city. They will get to see him in action later in the year, as many will be in the massed choir performing at that event.
So really, last week’s event was more than just learning to play a piece of music in front of a large crowd. I saw that they had become a team through the experience, recognizing that each person has a part to play that the others simply cannot do without.
And I think they began to dream a little bigger too.