Over the last few weeks I’ve become re-acquainted with one of my longest-held items. Something that I’d lost touch touch with and almost forgotten about. I hadn’t realised quite how much this item has had on my life.
My Besson Sovereign baritone has been attached to my life since the beginning of my last year at school- 6th Year in Scotland. I remember the day my parents and my music teacher had a discussion about the need for a new instrument and lying wide awake at night in awe at the prospect of my parents parting with several thousand pounds to help me become a better player and have my own instrument rather than one loaned from school or my local brass band. The investment they made and their belief in my ability and potential made me determined to make them proud, gaining my music degree, PGCE and playing in brass bands at the highest level for the best part of 15 years.
Fast forward to today, 17th March 2015. I have had 3 years out of full time playing. My family needs me first. At the start of the year I was asked by a colleague if I would help his brass band in a few engagements. I had no reason not to, I was available on the dates but since I hadn’t played for a while I had a lot of work to do.
Over the past few weeks I have realised how music making is so very important and the journey that my little gold baritone has had with me but also what important lessons it has helped me learn.
As a musican and as a member of an ensemble, both in school and in the local community, it was a chance to mix with people older and younger and still is. Developing these lasting friendships and relationships are one of the most pleasurable aspects. Some of my lifelong friends are ones I met in local, county and national ensembles and it makes me happy when I see my students doing the same things. The cast of our musical ranges from year 7-11 and they all know each other. They become tight knit, almost like a family. In no other subject or activity will they knit together like this, and develop such friendships, culture and family.
As more milestones are met as a performer, confidence grows. As confidence grows, performance standards get higher, motivation improves and another milestone is met. The cycle continues. We are developing some very confident, resilient and motivated performers in our PA department in all areas and every day I am filled with pride with some aspect of student work.
Rehearsal and resilience
A bit of a growth mindset lesson really. I remember as a very young player rehearsing a section over and over and over again in my bedroom, to get it right in the next rehearsal. It was a solo part another player was to play but they had been missing at the previous rehearsal but I didn’t have the confidence to play it on my own. I was determined to play it at the next rehearsal if the player wasn’t there but I had to make sure I was able to do it. My parents were sick of hearing the passage I was rehearsing so diligently- the mantra of “play it until you can’t play it wrong” clanging along in my head each time. As it happened, the player was at every rehearsal since but this didn’t deter me from making sure I was ready, if I had to be. The time just wasn’t right. Constant rehearsals, perform, rehearse means that students become resilient through rehearsal and can self and peer critique constantly. Indeed, my parents can still sing that passage may years later!
Dealing with nerves
I completely feel for students who become so nervous that their performance is affected. The only way this can be overcome is to perform more. Dealing with anxiety head on. I feel a bit hypocritical writing this as I identified last year that I needed to get better at speaking in public as I always felt very nervous but as a performer, on stage I generally am pretty solid. I had to think why there was such a variation in nerves and performance in what essentially is the same sort of activity. Experience was my diagnosis. I had to take more opportunities to speak publicly. In my students case, I needed to do the same for them and needed to address their confidence levels as well as create more performance opportunities for them. This was addressed in KS3 planning and also re designing KS4 choices. I have watched some nervy performances but have also now got a lovely track of evidence to show these students how much they grow each time they perform and how dealing with nerves is part of the rehearsal process. Effective rehearsals then lead to increased confidence and then that leads to the circle referred to earlier.
This links with dealing with nerves, part of helping others deal with nerves, part of linking music to emotions and memories, as well as building memories with performances and people. Anyone who knows me knows that I am deeply reflective and become very affected by my own and other people’s emotions. Part of building a culture of family within a group of students and staff means that emotional intelligence is also built and developed. They are a tea and everyone counts.
Performing in public
I used to dread school concerts as I became very nervous if my parents were in the audience. Nerves appeared in the form of clumsiness; tripping up steps, knocking stands and plants over, bumping into others trying to make a sharp exit. Awkwardness; taking bows and acknowledging applause, taking compliments- I still find this difficult and am still awkward in this situation. Audience situation; concert, competition, sponsor, school. Performing is the essential part of any performing arts subject and I have been very fortunate to have played in some very prestigious venues all over the country. None of this prepared me for the nerves I felt delivering CPD to all staff in a session last year. The same sort of nerves as if my parents were there in the audience. I understand why the students get so nervous performing in class as I feel it too. Peers and family are the hardest audience, concert halls full of strangers are easy.
I am on stage in this picture taken in the Royal Albert Hall, this performance was enjoyable with minimal nerves. Rehearsing for months for one public performance is exciting; the same excited, enjoyable nerves our students feel performing their showcase, pantomime, exam pieces after months of development. Performing in public adds an extra dimension to the experience of a performer and addresses all the other points I have made above.
Fitting in rehearsals and engagements, schedules, family, work and social commitments is difficult. Until my family grew, I found it fairly easy to fit most things in quite well. I didn’t fit things in very well though, just quite well. I needed to prioritise so I could fit things in VERY well. I had to take a back seat from my band and although I miss performing as often as I did, at the standard I once did, I know I am doing my family justice and also a better job at work because of this. Do less, better. Teach less, better. Working with young performers, we demand a lot of their time for rehearsals, commitment to learning a part, believe in them to be confident on stage, rely on them to guide and lead others and allow themselves to be guided and led by others too. Following schedules, attending regularly and punctually and keeping up with work in school are excellent disciplines to have and also to develop.
On Sunday past, I performed in my first competiton since my maternity leave. Although it was lovely winning (yey!) the rehearsals I attended last week were so enjoyable, the piece we were rehearsing was so lovely to play and gradually by the end of the week I felt my “lip” return to form. Muscle memory, movement memory and flexibility had all returned and whilst absorbed completely in a piece of music during rehearsal, I suddenly found myself thinking about how lucky I was to have had all the opportunities I have had as a performer thanks to my parents. I also felt tinged with sadness that I can’t go back to performing full time yet to the level I once did. At some point the time will be right but the time is not now. Not yet.
But last week also made me realise that my forgotten gold baritone has helped me develop so many skills that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise and that’s why it’s probably one of my most prized possessions. It just took a while to realise this.