By Julie Lyonn Lieberman
Imagine a wedding without music. Impossible, isn’t it? How about a movie or TV show, a party, the doctor’s office, an inauguration, a worship service, or a sporting event?
Music has been inextricably connected to social events and spiritual worship throughout the world for eons. Music is to the human spirit what skin-temperature water is to the human body — an environment that provides transformation and unity through engaging in an activity that is larger than self.
Introducing the art of performance to a young person without a focal point or a higher purpose is, to my mind, backwards and bereft. Performing for its own sake —a relatively new addition to the use of music historically speaking— tends to focus a young, inexperienced musician on fear and on first person thinking: How am I doing? What will they think of me? Am I good enough? Will I make a mistake? It’s also a missed opportunity. Music is about community and sharing. It’s an act of nonverbal communication.
There are at least three approaches you can employ to transform the performance experience for your students while providing your community with something special: 1) Intergenerational/interschool, 2) Theme-oriented, and 3) Location-oriented.
1) Intergenerational — Interschool
Everyone immediately notices the spark and learning curve an inter-generational concert can generate within the student body and community versus the traditional “my age group plays, followed by your age group, followed by …” When you have everyone on stage together creating music, the excitement in the hall is tangible.
I first began to develop scores with interlocking parts decades ago for school systems that couldn’t afford to bring me in to do a residency for a single age group. I use the term “flexi-score” to describe a score that has an middle school part and a high school part that each work perfectly well on their own, yet interlock to create a rich, whole-group interaction. My newest flexi-score, Newtown Peace Anthem, offers this opportunity.
There’s very little published music designed to support this kind of intergenerational all-community event, but it isn’t that difficult to take a high school piece and write a simpler version of it for middle school. In fact, you can turn this into a class or student project, thereby satisfying National Music Standard number four, “Composing and arranging music within specified guidelines.”
Since it’s important to respect copyright laws, you can write to the publisher or the composer and either ask for their permission to develop a complementary part or commission them to do so for you; or choose a published arrangement of a traditional piece of music and create your own level-specific arrangement that complements an arrangement in your music library.
Choosing a theme for your concert can provide a positive and creatively challenging point of focus for the students. For example, this fall I’ve invited string teachers nationwide to schedule something in their December concerts in honor of the 20 children and 6 educators killed in my town, Newtown CT, 12/14/12. The overall project, Newtown Peace Park, invites students to conceive of ideas they can implement in their community to foster a culture of kindness in the names of Newtown’s fallen angels.
Virginia-based string educator Laura Parker approaches each concert with a theme. Her last concert theme, “Spread Your Wings,” focused on the life cycle of the butterfly. She covered the four stages of the butterfly musically through four carefully chosen pieces of music, challenged her students to identify four stages in their own musical development, and included the art department, the dance department, and many individuals outside her string program in the process. Her next theme is called “Reaching for the Stars.” You can read more about her butterfly concert here.
Whether it’s a local topic (tragedy or good fortune), a national topic like the environment, or a personal one, the school concert can provide a model for a caring community that can accommodate many opinions, many points of view —all presented in a creative fashion while providing a unique opportunity to its music students.
As referenced in Richard Meyer’s article, Giving Bach, moving your concert out of the auditorium and into the community can help shift your students’ focus to groups within their community that can benefit from or even be healed by their music making. Whether it’s for a school that doesn’t have a music program, a retirement home, house of worship, sporting event, or town hall meeting, giving to the community can achieve wonders for all those involved.