Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Coloring inside the lines

The Dutton/Brady school presented their first concert of the year on Tuesday. We perform once in the morning for the rest of the school body and once in the evening for the parents and community. The morning performance is generally considered to be a dress rehearsal with an audience, and errors are common as students overcome their nerves. When the Junior High band played, suffice to say that there was an abundance of nerves to go around.

Fast forward to the rehearsal just after lunch, where the students without question wanted to work on their music one last time before the evening performance. It was here that I began to make an analogy for the students. I related music to visual art. They are both creative, they can both be beautiful, and they both take a certain amount of skill. However, while a drawing or a painting can last a lifetime, music only lasts for the moment. This is what makes music so interesting and requires everyone to be in the moment while they are performing.

Having laid the foundation, I then asked the students to describe the differences between a junior-high-level performance and a professional-level performance. After shooting down the first couple of answers like "it sounds good," or "they are better," which I responded to by saying, "That tells me nothing, please give me a more specific answer," one of the students suggested that they play all of the right notes at the right time. Ding-ding-ding! But that's not all that music is about - there is much more to it than just playing the right notes and rhythms. I had the idea that playing the right notes and rhythms is very much like coloring inside the lines on a drawing. It takes some skill, and mistakes are more obvious, but there is more to art than just coloring inside the lines. Throughout the rest of the rehearsal, it was easy for me to distinguish the basic concepts of pitch and rhythmic accuracy by saying, for example, "Trumpets, you were coloring outside the lines on that one. Let's fix your rhythm." Any time it was a simple error of accuracy, I addressed it as such. But when it came to ideas of expression and interpretation - e.g., shaping a phrase - there was a sense of actually creating art, rather than simply staying inside the lines.