In 2007, acclaimed concert violinist, Joshua Bell attempted a musical/social experiment. Normally you would pay hundreds of dollars to hear Joshua play with the best symphony orchestras in the best concert halls but on this day, he played the Bach solo sonatas in the New York Metro Subway for an hour. Thousands of people passed by and paid no attention. Some children stopped to listen but were dragged away by their parents. Most people rushing about their daily lives overlooked a great musical and spiritual experience.
How often do we overlook a student with great potential or passion to create music or art in our rush to get through the lesson plan or routine in a school day? How often do students look past an inspirational teacher with a great life story and rich experience to share, because they are focused in just attaining a mark or they might be disengaged with the topic?
The Strings Thing Program in Catholic Schools in the Diocese of Parramatta differs from other ‘instrumental’ programs because it starts in the classroom with ALL students in year 3 or 4 or 5 (depending on implementation in each school) in our strategic aim that ‘Every Child Counts.’ We do not just identify the talented students and work with them because our idea of what success looks like for each student is not just the aim of becoming a ‘talented violinist.’ We strive to enable each student to realize his or her own musical and personal success. This might translate to just getting the bow on the correct string most of the time and improving their concentration skills in music but also in reading or numeracy etc. Or to improve their social skills to enable them to work in the context of ‘the class orchestra.’ Whatever their own success looks like, we strive to give them the confidence, knowledge and skills to reach their musical and personal goals.
I loved the statement by one of our year 3 students in the strings classroom a few weeks ago. I had been telling them about how reading the music and then coordinating the bow arm and left hand as well as ‘feeling the music’ makes brain connections and makes us smarter. The following week, Miss Year 3 comes into the classroom, puts her hands on her hips and announces: “Every time I come into this classroom, I feel myself getting smarter!”
The other night, I came home late from a parent information night in one of our schools and received a series of wonderful text messages from a student of whom I have had the privilege of teaching violin for the last 5 years. This student had just finished his final HSC exam that day and was about to head off overseas for a well-deserved break.
I first met Daniel in one of our schools where I was working in the music classroom as a teacher educator when he was in year 7 and he come up to me in the playground after I had given a demonstration of orchestral stringed instruments and he asked if I would teach him the violin. We found an old school violin in a storeroom and I would come to the school each week in my ‘spare time’, even though I had finished working in that school. It was a wonderful learning journey for us both – for me to connect to him and his own islander culture and family background and for him to discover his great potential as a violinist. And, let’s not forget that learning is most enriching when it works two ways between teacher and student – the student is most engaged when the teacher connects with the student in their space; in their cultural experience.
With Daniel’s permission, I’d like to share just a bit of that text message because he blesses us all with his wisdom: “I would just like to thank you for believing in me this whole time and blessing me with opportunities that I never thought were possible…………………….One thing that is a highlight for me from the five years of you teaching me violin is that if you truly want to succeed in anything you do, you need passion and you also need to put in the hard yards before you get results.”
So…. As I pointed out in an earlier blog post “Oh No!! Not yet another blog post about music practice,” we need to visualize our musical success and aim for it, but when we have a good teacher, a good instrument and the right learning materials, we need to apply our new found knowledge and skills – as Daniel tells us, “………to put in the hard yards.” I would add that an ensemble such as our Captivate String Orchestra also provides us with a great learning journey – much more than just the performance at a concert or showcase but also a collaborative learning experience with our fellow student musicians.
This is a call to our school leaders, parents, principals and especially students to ‘recognize the divine in the everyday;’ in our students and also in our teachers. The next step is to form a vision with what we can do with that first spark of the divine – the thing is to perceive the divine in the everyday and then work towards that vision.
So let’s celebrate the achievements of 2014 and realize our shared vision of what learning and performance opportunities we might create together in 2015.
Merry Christmas – wishing you all a joyous and musical holiday with a special pizzicato Jingle Bells from year 3 St Aiden’s Primary School – Rooty Hill, Western Sydney
The Strings Things Teaching Program including original music,
musical arrangements and media are authored, composed,arranged
& produced by Phil Rooke and published by
Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta © 2009 All rights reserved