I’m just back from a fantastic Performing Arts trip to Holland.
We travelled to Valkenburg, a lovely town near the German and Belgian borders. We have taken students there previously but not for three years. When we have gone before, we took our excellent school band but these students have moved on and left and the band no longer exists as it once did.
The performers we took this time were very different. 2 groups of dancers, several vocal soloists and a small group of singers. Many were first time performers, or emerging performers. All, with the exception of one or two have only performed in front of a small, classroom audience and no more. Would they manage 2 concerts in public?
On the coach journey to Valkenburg, I was re-reading the amazing “Leaders of their Own Learning”,
taking advantage of the long journey to refresh memory. I had initially read this in February but wanted to re-read it to clarify and consolidate what I had read, especially in light of the developments in our school in that short period since.
As I was reading it I became very encouraged, warmed almost, inside. I knew the students I had with me very well, I know all the ups and downs they have been through in their performances and we have been all working together to develop growth mindsets, confidence building and taking small steps towards the bigger goal. It made me realise I had an amazing opportunity to really see them thrive over the next few days.
The performance programme was the key. Each set of performers had to be placed in the concert at a point where they would feel the most comfortable. I also had an excellent opportunity for self critique and instant improvements as there were only 2 hours between concerts so changes could be made quickly.
The youngest of our performers were a group of fresh Y8 students. A set of 7 lovely girls who had been rehearsing hard after school since the return in September. Despite their hard work on their performance and choreography, they were yet to perform to an audience other than myself. I decided they would be the first performance, as they wouldn’t have time to get too nervous. This would then allow them to watch the rest of the performers without having to worry about their own performance.They performed excellently, smiling and happy in both concerts. In the second they were definitely more at ease. Job done. I was proud of them and they were excited to have performed.
The second performer was a gamble. A wobbler. The student is a lovely singer but can be crippled by nerves. She had to go second to again, get it over with. In the first concert the nerves appeared…words were forgotten and the tears appeared. Fear not! A lady in the audience walked over, told the student that her voice had touched her heart and that she must start again and sing all the way. This was enough for this student, the backing track was restarted and she nailed it from start to finish. The lady in the crowd had tears in her eyes when she finished and so did I. Mindset. She didn’t even falter in the second concert, she took to the stage with confidence and performed with ease. In a way I was glad it went a bit wrong in the first concert, as the security she will now have after this failure and then the fact that two subsequent successful performances were better, will help her in activities I can’t help her with. I can help her prepare for her college audition but I can’t be there with her. Hopefully the memory of her success will be there with her, reminding her how to succeed.
Performer three is an edgy Y8 singer. She brims with confidence and bravado. She was visibly nervous and forgot to count the bars at the start of her song, meaning she was out with her track. She realised this and tried to correct it but it wasn’t right. I was proud of her grit- she carried on, fearless. After the performance she asked if we could go through the track during the break in the concert to re count her bars in the introduction and between verses. I was proud- she wanted to fix her problems without me even suggesting this. She knew it needed to be better for the next concert. We sat together and counted the bar patterns and sang the song through together. In the second concert I didn’t even need to count for her. She held her head high, looked straight into the audience and put the earlier errors to bed.
After seeing this, performer 11 wanted to go through his backing track before his first performance to make sure he knew what he was doing, making sure he was confident. He is a lovely singer but can also be a nervous performer. In the first concert, he probably performed better than he had in any concert in school. He loved it, he said. He was looking forward to the second concert. In the second concert, many of the audience members joined in with him which gave him a boost and he smiled instead of looking scared, looked around instead of fixed. Afterwards he was “buzzing”, I’ve never seen him so happy. I can’t wait to record his next performance as I know he will use the confidence he has gained and will develop his performance further.
One by one, the performers took to the stage and performed their best in concert one, but in concert two they lifted the lid. Fixed their mistakes, encouraged each other with specific feedback, looked that bit more confident and felt that bit more at ease.
I want these students to remember these performances and what they learnt in the short space of time between performances. How they upped their game, looked the part and sang their hearts out.
Clearly not every one of these students will go on to be professional performers or dancers but the whole point is to prepare these students for real life- A Design for Life. If at a college or job interview they falter, hesitate, go blank, even crumble, they are developing skills and strategies to help them overcome this, to rectify this and to bounce back stronger.
I have never felt prouder of students making mistakes as I know and they are beginning to realise that making mistakes is the best way to fix them.