One of the essential elements of a successful education is the courage to fill in community gaps for your kid. When we needed a chess club for Ian, I worked with a local coach who had hosted intermittent clubs, and we created a program at the library. When Eva wanted to work with a group of fellow young writers, we developed a creative writing club (also at the library. We love the library).
The Need for a Band
Now we’ve come to the chapter in our little story in which Eva needs a concert band experience. Though our public schools do allow the hybrid situation we love so very much, the particular band program she was previously enrolled in wasn’t working out. By the end of last semester, she dropped it, but she still wanted that experience. Because she wants to pursue her trumpet and join up with a public school band again in a year or two, she was afraid that she would fall behind. So we did what we always do: we filled the gap. Over the last couple of months, we put out feelers to other kids who had similar levels of experience, and invited them to create a kid-concert band in our basement studio. We successfully recruited six kids from both public school and home school. Our band is comprised of 1 percussionist, 2 trumpets, 1 trombone, 1 bassoon, and 1 clarinet. We’ve had exactly two meetings.
And here’s the full truth: although I did direct a choir a zillion years ago, I have no band direction experience. I do not think for one moment that I am as qualified as a public school band instructor who has gone to school and immersed him or herself in music theory and instrumentation. The last time I picked up a concert band instrument was when I was 14 years old (and that was a lot of years ago, and frankly I was very bad at it). So what made me think I could pull this off? Nothing, except for the need. I told the girls that as I had no previous experience, I was not here to provide instruction; they would have to get that in private lessons or in their school’s band class. We were to be more of an ensemble, playing and listening together, giving feedback together, creating this together. We were here to have fun and see what we could make of it.
How to Select Music?
My next hurdle was music selection. With such a random assortment of instruments, how would I find scores that would make musical sense? Though I know now that you can purchase such things, I didn’t at first, so I naturally thought of my composing son. Ian is raising money for his band tour this summer, so I proposed to pay him to arrange songs for us. He readily agreed. At our first meeting, the girls (for it is an all-girl tween concert band) selected the song “Radioactive” as their first piece. Ian arranged it over the course of the week, and presented it to the band members during our second gathering. The rehearsals are only once each week, but for an hour and a half. The girls and I had decided that they would conduct themselves for the first half of the practices, and then I would come down during the second half and provide directorship-type duties.
The Student-Led Turning Point in the Story
After he passed out the music, Ian and I sat together on the couch upstairs while the girls warmed up, and we talked about his day. But as we were talking, Ian was listening, and before long he said, “that doesn’t sound right. I don’t think I wrote that correctly.” And then he was gone. The next thing I knew, I heard him counting off the band. The girls were thrilled. Ian was thrilled. They had a blast together. I checked in and asked if they wanted me to come in, but they were all pretty happy with their arrangements. Ian directed the group as a whole, and then split it up and worked with members individually, making adjustments in the scores to accommodate the girls’ ranges. At the end, he gave each of them practice assignments, which they readily accepted.
During the last 15 minutes, I came down and asked the band to assess the rehearsal. All of them enjoyed the music and preferred Ian to myself. And this is a wonderful thing; Ian has so much more experience than I do, and it is clear who’s the more qualified director. I couldn’t have been more proud. The kids also said they were too chatty and needed some class discipline. We brainstormed together how to make this work, and they suggested having some loud something serve as a signal to bring order. They also suggested that I be present to enforce the structure.
I’m so fascinated by this turn of events: a wonderful example of student-led learning, and I didn’t even know I was (they were) creating it! Many times I see this as my role – more of a manager than a teacher. I can’t wait to share our progress with you. Now they’ve just got to come up with a really cool band name.
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