Defining Success in a Motivational Music Program – How does Captivate Strings Measure Up?

Defining Success. What constitutes a successful music program?

The Online Dictionary defines success as:

1. the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors.

2. the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.

3. a successful  performance or achievement: The play was an instant success.

4. a person or thing that is successful: She was a great success on the talk show.

5. Obsolete . outcome.

Following from my previous discourse on “Captivate Strings – Reflecting on Our Beginnings & Where to From Here?” I would like to unpack what we can define as a successful music program before we enter into the very exciting discussion of the future possibilities of the Captivate Strings Program. We can’t possibly plan for future success if we don’t know what success really looks like.

If we look at the above standard definition of success, we can see that it reflects typical modern 21st century Western World values; especially the 2nd and 3rd definitions. Does “the attainment of wealth, position, honours, or the like” really define us and what we have achieved? I would argue that many people in the wider contemporary Western World believe so.

I love to have these discussions with our Catholic School Parents, as they are such important stakeholders in what we teach, how we teach it and what beliefs and values drive our teaching & learning. Although the advertising media, social media etc would have us believe that we are seeking a split level home, 2 cars in the driveway and a university education for our children, many of the parents I speak to regularly are seeking so much more for their children in terms of values and life long learning. And many of these parents are coming to realise that active participation in learning and music performance is an integral part of gaining a wider view of the world and a ‘love of learning’.

Before I start to look at other definitions of success and see how that fits the Captivate “String Things” program, I would actually like to congratulate the Cast, Crew, Teachers and Director of THE YARD – a contemporary dance production by the Captivate Dance Troupe – Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta. THE YARD (Click Here to see the Trailer Video) is a very exciting contemporary dance piece choreographed and directed by renowned international choreographer, Shaun Parker.

“What does a contemporary dance production have to do with a Strings Program?” I hear you ask Well…… first of all, we are a part of the same team – Captivate Performing Arts in Catholic Schools – Diocese of Parramatta. Also, the Captivate Dance program was established about the same time as the Captivate Strings program in schools. Many of the dancers come from the same neighbourhoods of Western Sydney and like many of our students in the strings program with no previous experience of stringed instruments or music performance, there was very little prior learning or experience of dance – contemporary or otherwise in the case of most of the students performing in THE YARD

I am a little late writing the Blog Post this week because I have been helping out with the 3 performances of THE YARD at Riverside Theatre in Parramatta. From the beginnings 3 years ago and also having my bus license, I have often picked up dancers from our schools in Rooty Hill, Mt Druitt and Blacktown to take them to rehearsal. This week, on Tuesday, I picked up the bus and students from 7 AM in the morning, assisted backstage and then drove the bus for the students to get back to their schools late that night. There was such a sense of excitement on the bus and it was just fantastic to reflect (and sing songs) on their learning journey and the excited response from the media and well known performers and CEO Leadership at the after show supper in the foyer of the Theatre. One of the things I love best about being an educator and especially an educator involved with such a vibrant performing arts program is to join with students and teachers in the celebration of our learning and to postulate on future directions – of the program but also of individual students. It’s just so exciting to see these kids in Western Sydney gaining a ‘can do attitude’.

At this point I would like to refer to some very wise words spoken to the dance cast of THE YARD in the foyer by our Team Leader and Head of Performing Arts Initiatives for Catholic Education – Diocese of Parramatta, Mark Hopkins, when he said: “Tonight, you have made the transition from students to Performing Artists”. What a powerful definition of success that is!! In one short sentence, Mr Hopkins has redefined how these students see themselves and how they see what they are capable of! THE YARD has been a wonderful example of a Performance Art Piece depicting scenes from real life – giving us a picture into the relationships and community of the School Yard in Western Sydney. What a wonderful and positive passage into adulthood for these young dancers and something to reflect on as a positive growth chapter in their young lives for years to come.

Now, back to looking at our own definition of a successful music program. I believe that the success of THE YARD is not JUST the end result – the performance itself, but the learning journey and relationship building by the students and teachers over 3 years through Motivation and Inspiration.

How does this translate to the success of the Captivate “String Things Program”? In so many ways I believe. One very big epiphany I have had over the last 3 years as a Teacher Educator in Catholic Schools is that the Learning Journey – the process – is just as important of not more important than the end result. I believe that too often, we are a results oriented society and many schools and teachers have this focus – especially in music and arts performance. I myself have had this focus and this is NOT a criticism of other school systems or teachers at all – it is the expectations of parents, students, schools and even ourselves that it is the end result we are aiming for. And yes, we should not lower our expectations of the end result – we should aim high BUT then reflect on where we have come from.

The problem that I have with the first definition of success from our online dictionary: “1. The favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours,” is that a successful musical performance is seen as the end of the journey. I would not want any of our teachers or students to see it that way at all. I prefer to see a successful musical performance as an exciting part of the learning journey and a beginning, not an end. The problem that I have with the 2nd definition: “2. The attainment of wealth, position, honours, or the like,” is that it reflects the very materialist view of success that is so prevalent in the Modern Western World and this denies our students and school communities the real celebration of life and learning that I experienced on the bus on the way home from Riverside Theatre on Tuesday night. The remaining 3 definitions also speak of a successful ending, termination or being obsolete – or no longer required.

Here are some points of success that I would like to suggest we have achieved in our students and schools in the “String Things Program” Some of our teachers, school leadership teams and even students might like to discuss these and even suggest some more points of success with me. I would welcome those conversations. Some of these points are more aims and objectives rather than definitions of success, but nevertheless, working towards these aims also define our success as a learning community:

  1. No Child (student) should feel they have failed in music making
  2. We celebrate exciting music performance and encourage our students and teachers to aim for even higher levels of performance – that every performance is seen as a stepping stone
  3. Our Music teaching and learning should always be inclusive in Catholic Schools – no one should feel left behind or unable to participate and every student should be given the opportunity to perform musically – even to create and compose their own music.
  4. We should all feel ownership of our music learning and performance.
  5. Our Music Teaching & Learning should reflect who we are as a school community and promote positive cultural change in schools through Motivation and Inspiration.

As I mentioned previously these points are not so much definitions of success but aims and objectives that help us to see what our success in teaching and learning might look like. The purpose of this Blog Post has been to celebrate where we have come from and what we have achieved as a learning community. In the next post, I have some very exciting announcements about upcoming projects and performances in the Captivate String Things Program and some ideas about our future directions.

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About captivatestrings

Phil Rooke is a Teacher Educator, specializing in Music Education for the Catholic Education Office - Diocese of Parramatta, authoring & implementing teaching programs and leading music learning across a system of 78 schools in Western Sydney. "I am on a learning journey to find and invent better ways to motivate students and teachers in music making."
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2 Responses to Defining Success in a Motivational Music Program – How does Captivate Strings Measure Up?

  1. What a wonderfully refreshing write on the meaning of success! I’m looking forward to learning more about the Strings programme too and reading past and future blogs 🙂

  2. Thanks Deb, there are many many more great learning stories to tell you about the strings program in Catholic Schools in Western Sydney.

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