Encouraging Student Musicians

Today was solo-n-ensemble contest day. I spent the entire day accompanying brass, string, and woodwind players. Twenty-five of them to be exact. These young musicians spent many hours over the last weeks and months preparing for today. Choosing a piece, learning notes and rhythms, memorizing, rehearsing with their accompanist.

Today, all of their hard work culminated in one brief performance. Each of them walked into a room, faced their judge, and began to play. Making beautiful music. That is the point. At least, it is supposed to be…

No student walks in that room thinking, “I really hope I don’t play well today. Hopefully, I will have a big memory slip.” Those statements are ridiculous! Each student hopes for positive results. They want to play their best. They are hoping for the highest rating and a chance to move on to the next level.

After some of the first ratings posted this morning, I overheard a disturbing conversation. Students who had received their scores were warning other students. “Well, if you make one mistake, there’s no way you will receive a I (the highest score.)” They were attempting to prepare their friends for probable disappointment in this particular room.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not suggesting everyone deserves the highest rating. I certainly would not want to be in the judge’s seat. However, I can speak as a professional musician concerning our responsibility to these young musicians. If we are pushing perfection, we have it all wrong.

I’m happy to say the other rooms I accompanied in did not have this effect. The atmospheres were inviting and encouraging. The results in those rooms also accurately reflected the performances. Performances of high school musicians, not professional ones.

As adult musicians, college long behind us, career paths chosen, it is easy to forget those early days of learning. The anxiety that often accompanies those first performances. The searching for approval.

Today I was reminded that this seven-minute performance represented so much for these young performers. They needed someone to acknowledge their hard work. And their hopes for positive results rested in the hands of a complete stranger. Hopefully, a stranger who recognized the power they held in those seven short minutes.



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