We cannot underestimate the power of the opportunities given to young and developing talent when students participate in the School Concert. Several leading actors or musicians attribute the direction of their careers to the encouragement and chances offered at school. And for ourselves - those of us who sang in the school choir or who were part of the school show or orchestra – we can still remember the fun we had back in the days! It was of course more than fun-memories as on reflection, the experience was a vital part of our education.
Domhnall Gleeson, (who played General Hux in Starwars) is a past pupil of Malahide Community School in Dublin. RTE’s ‘The Late Late Show’ on 22 June 2018 showed footage of him performing in the school production of Grease. In interview, he went on to praise his former music teacher, Ms Keogh saying “She was an amazing amazing woman and an amazing music teacher who really made my life better when I was in school..... I was quite shy and all the rest of it. Doing all the plays and all that stuff was a really good way of getting to know people and have more friends….. It was important."
Participating in the school concert or show is an experience that is remembered for the friendships created and the development of our communication skills and trust in our own abilities. The build-up to the concert, the actual stage-performance and the feel-good factor afterwards are stories in themselves.
Members of the orchestra will know the little moments that come to mind such as that feeling of annoyance after counting through a bunch of rests, only to have the conductor stop right before your entrance! Or the night of the concert when there was a power failure as our diva was singing the Joe Brooks number ‘You light up my life.’
In these days when music is so accessible and we can hear professional recordings in an instance of anything we wish to hear, there is an inclination not to fully appreciate or take heed of the expertise in an amateur production. But the school concert deserves our respect as it represents the creative talents, learning and work of the community, our own relatives and their teachers. This is our families and friends coming together to make their music, our music. It has heart and soul because it is created for us and by us.
There are three main reasons as to why we give school concerts.
1. To give a platform for our students’ talents.
The school concert offers an opportunity for students who have practiced their discipline during the term, to present their work to parents, teachers, and all members of the school and wider community. It allows them to have a sense of pride in all that has been personally accomplished in their musical lives throughout the year. It also shows the public how students have developed and are ready to take their place on stage, confident in their performance skills. This is something worth celebrating.
Not everyone will understand the technicalities of bowing styles or breathing techniques, but people know that it all sounds good and impacts on them to make them feel good too. The listener may gain a lot of satisfaction, but tomorrow the performer will be back in the practice room fully aware that this is all still a work in process. Recognition of any kind or simple acknowledgement of one’s gifts is a source of encouragement to further improvement for any budding musician.
Dealing with applause and adulation is another aspect of growing up and an important one for learning to be rooted in reality. Participants learn humility in listening to others perform and remembering that the junior musicians may need help. We were all there at one time. The young aspire to be like the seniors in wanting to emulate what they can do. There are a lot of dynamics at work in the relationships and interactions that involve preparation for stage performances.
2. To allow students to express themselves.
Often, music programmes can be restrictive. We can learn with the goal of simply being able to ‘play the music.’ We can work on tone, pitch, dynamics and the nuances of articulations but at some stage we have to put our own personal stamp on a composer’s work and ‘make it our own’. It is the subtle differences contained within each individual performance, the interpretation and the expression that makes each one so unique.
This is when music is more than what is written on the page. In some traditions, such as those where musicians have a high degree of aural learning, this is well understood. Music is ultimately about sounds that are happening and much joy is found in creating these sounds.
Interpreting music, deciding how best to perform it and then executing the performance is all part of a process that helps us gain self-belief and trust in ourselves. The very act of performing live on stage is a real confidence builder. The only way to gain confidence is to take risks and to put yourself out there. The only way to become a good performer is to perform. It’s not a skill that you can command without practice, and you can’t practice without doing it.
3. To experience the whole production
Those who are participating in the concert see first-hand what has to be done to make it all come together. All the rehearsals are over and now it is about live performance. Sports trainers tell us that no matter how good a training session was, it is never comparable to the real match. This is game-on!
In this environment, with onlookers and listeners, the experience changes. Of course, people are there in true support, but it is only when faced with and in ‘heat of battle’ that we learn for real. We realize that there is a heightened awareness in our consciousness and our self-understanding as we discover how we react in this situation. Nerves are not always bad and when there, we have to discover a way to take control.
The soloist will have to feel and get a sense of his or her surroundings in a very different way to the small group where psychologically not all eyes are focused on one. One’s ‘presence’ on a stage platform varies greatly depending on whether they are alone, or who they are with, the ambience and occasion and the rapport with the audience. Yet, as the saying goes, ‘the show goes on’ regardless of how we feel, no matter what goes wrong on the day or despite what people think. This is a microcosm of life itself and a valuable educational learning curve.
We also learn that for the show to be a success, everyone has to play their part. We are all small parts of the overall whole. There is a lot of empowerment for each individual as each brings unique gifts and contributes in their own way to the entire project.