May 2, 2016 by morningcamequickly
In a sports game, kids know when they win or lose. The ball goes in at the buzzer and breaks the tie, you win. Your friends rush over and high five you and hug you all crazy and there is screaming and yelling. You know you did great. You miss the last shot, you lose, and you get the consolation pat on the back.
At a concert, chances are the audience is filled with friends and family of the kids there. Most likely they will applaud because they are proud of their kid, whether the piece was spectacular or not. After all, most in attendance aren’t music snobs. So, how do kids know when they have nailed a song?
At the beginning of this year, a lot of my middle school students wanted to go to this festival and win. An admirable goal, but were they willing to work for it? Fast forward to April, about a week before this festival. Students knew their notes, they had the song memorized, and they were prepared.
But, I kept having them do the last two measures. We needed to decrescendo over four counts and close to a ‘mmm’. We would do it and I would listen and it wasn’t there. We counted backwards getting softer and then to the ‘mmm’ and it clicked. So, we sang the last few measures and it went pretty well.
Backed up a few more measures, could we get into it? Ok, not bad. Challenge time, can we do it after singing the whole song? So, back to the first page I turned. I told them I wasn’t going to head bob direct them or anything. They needed to be responsible because I knew at the festival the piano would be off to the side and they wouldn’t be able to see me. I told them to think of 3-4 important things we’ve worked on with the song…and we started.
It’s hard not to head bob direct, but I just followed my music and listened. And what glorious listening it was! The first ‘p’ was enunciated, there’s the second and more! Yes! Top of page 2 they held the whole note for 4 counts! Yes! Moving on to the second section. Two beats…’muh’ on the rest, three beats…’muh’ on the rest, again and again. Yes! Do they know how well they are doing? Do they?!?! Ok, we are coming into the last page. It needs to be soft, but not too soft because they have the last two measures they need to decrescendo over. They’ve got it! Here are the last two measures. I play carefully so they get their cues for counting. It gets softer, gradually. Yes! They close to the ‘mmm’ and hold. Yes! We release the note and there is that silence.
You know the silence, where the music is over, but it is still in the air. The silence where there is a ringing aftermath and the goose bumps come. And then, breaking the silence, comes “BOOM WHAT?!?!” and the students are celebrating the moment.
In that instant, they knew that they had nailed the song.
Suddenly, the room was abuzz with conversation and smiles. And as they looked toward me, I had to have had a huge smile on my face. Because they had nailed it. They nailed it better than I expected them to and this was just practice. Now that they knew what was possible, I told them they couldn’t forget and they had to remember how to recreate it.
Outside of the festival, it doesn’t really matter too much what score you get. I don’t get bonus pay, the kids don’t get a contract to a record label, and there’s no free ice cream afterwards. But my choir went to that festival. And, in that awkward silence after you sing a song and the judges are writing their comments, a couple of my kids looked over at me at the piano and smiled. They knew they had nailed it in an actual performance. I knew it too. And the score they received for their hard work…a superior, from complete strangers, told them they had nailed it too.