By Richard Meyer
“What is the number one reason that you make music?”
How would your students respond to this question? When I asked my students several years ago, I wasn’t surprised when over 90% of them centered their answers around themselves:
“It makes me relaxed.”
“It gives me a chance to express myself.”
“It’s fun (for me).”
Only a handful mentioned the audience in their answer, “I make music to entertain people and to make people happy.”
From that point on, the music program at my school changed. I implemented a program called Giving Bach—designed to make my students more aware of how their music has an impact on their audience. I chose as our “target audience” special-needs students, and sought out opportunities for my orchestra to perform for groups of young people that many of them had never encountered.
But just performing for special needs students was not enough, and I knew that to truly understand their audience, my students had to do more than just play a traditional concert. As a result, we developed interactive concerts, which start like every other concert, but end up quite differently—with the musicians and the audience sitting side-by-side. After performing in a traditional setting, each of my students is paired up with an audience member. They introduce themselves, and explain to their “buddy” about their instrument. They teach them how to care for it and hold it, and how to produce a tone. Finally, we end every Giving Bach concert with the “D String Blues,” performed by audience members, assisted by one of our students. It’s a fun way to feature a single audience member, and kind of “break the ice” with the audience!
As I watch my own students take part in this program, I have seen them become much more confident, empathetic, and compassionate citizens, with a better understanding of the power that they have to affect the world with their music.
We have performed for (and with) children from the Down Syndrome Association of Los Angeles, the Starlight Children’s Foundation, the Junior Blind of America, several therapeutic schools, and for foster children and students in inner-city schools.
I encourage all directors to explore the power of interactive concerts with their own students. For further explanation of the Giving Bach program and ideas for implementing it at your own school, visit givingbach.org.
We’d love to hear from you and share more ideas. How do you make your students more aware of how their music has an impact on their audience?
Richard Meyer is a full time teacher and has taught string students at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels for over 30 years. He is a much sought-after clinician throughout the United States, and is a nationally recognized, best-selling composer with over 130 compositions and arrangements in print. He is the co-author of several string method books, including the popular String Explorer series, and most recently Sight-Read It for Strings.