Saturday, May 16, 2015

To See and Be Seen

Our two Spring Concerts have come and gone and glorious events they were. One parent told me her face hurt the next morning from smiling for two hours straight. Another teared up as she thanked us for a “phenomenal” evening. Yet another told us that her mother, a long time educator, could not stop talking about how remarkable it was to have three of the most extraordinary music teachers she ever witnessed together in one school. And the kids? Well, they felt proud, happy, content (their words) and then got on with their lives, as kids do.

Why was it important for us to hear this? For starters, it’s standard practice to get feedback after any kind of public display, to get some sense of appreciation or critique after a concert or exhibition or speech. And because a concert is an intensification of the year’s work, hours spent fretting about getting the mallets to the right instrument or finding the F# bar or figuring out how to replace the kid who went home sick, it feels right to get enough appreciation to feel that one’s efforts were noticed. Yes, we don’t do it for adulation or applause, the joy of kids making great music and dancing great dance together and sharing it with the community is enough. But the community response is part of that dynamic and helps complete the whole venture.

But what do we really want to hear? “You’re awesome” are two of the stupidest words you can say to someone. What we really want to hear are details.

• “I liked the way you spoke to the audience so naturally and made it feel like a festive family gathering instead of a stiff formal performance.”

• “That was beautiful when you acknowledged the girl with the broken arm who couldn’t join you on cello tonight— when she stood up, you could see how much that meant to her.”

• “I was impressed by the way you directed the entire 2nd grade performance with a recorder, signaling all changes musically instead of verbally.”

• “Though the 8th graders naturally played more complex music than the 1st graders, each grade found a way to express something beautiful and stirring at their level of development. And every child was in the band, in the choir, in the dance ensemble— a place for everyone and every one finding a place to contribute.”

In short, we want to toss our pearls before queens who will understand their value and appreciate them. Since we’re trying to raise children who can distinguish between surface and depth, between kitsch and beauty, between glitz and hype and the real deal, we want to know that our school parents and fellow teachers can also do the same. When something extraordinary happens— a seamless evening of great music played by kids of all ages and threaded through with movement and song and speech and imaginative props and inspired improvisations and kid-generated choreographies, when kids make music and dance as naturally as they speak and walk, alive in their kid-bodies and minds and emotions, working together in harmonious ensemble, evoking the corners of the world with music from Brazil to Thailand to Ghana to Dagesthan and beyond, from Beethoven to Bizet to Brubeck, evoking the far corners of the human heart with so many nuances of emotion called forth, with humor, with quiet seriousness—well, you really want to know that people notice it. You want to be assured that your work is helping to define your community and that your community shares the same vision of what worthy work is. We know that it takes no effort to jump and shout when Steve Curry hits the 3-pointer (Go Warriors!!!), but that to notice the splendor of two 3rd graders playing a little glockenspiel solo takes a different kind of sensitivity, an aesthetic appreciation you need to work for.

Thanks to all who shared their appreciation so poetically. Other comments are still welcomed! 

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