I am looking forward to the many performance
opportunities for my classes in the upcoming recitals and assemblies this
Spring. However, this is not without some apprehension concerning
the expectations of the Santa Fe Waldorf community at these performances.
In order to alleviate some of the apprehension I am feeling I would like
to share some of my own notions regarding the purposes of the school performances.
These ideas are my own as they have been developed over many years of experience
both as a music student and teacher:
Although student recitals may be entertaining they are never exclusively for that purpose. Of course, we always try to create as “good” a performance as we can at our recitals, but they also serve a greater use for classes by giving the students further motivation to bring some work from class to completion. They are, therefore, a means to an end, which is determined by educational goals, as opposed to being an end in itself. Thus, my own choice of performance material is mostly based “pedagogically” which, in this context, means what would help the students learn to become better, more well-rounded, musicians. The decision for which of the many pieces worked on in class should be performed on a recital is best decided just prior to the performance. In ideal circumstances the students may be involved in making this decision when they can also participate in evaluating their own pedagogical needs. These needs may be rather technical and will not always be apparent to the audience. Working within the traditional parameters of what can be considered “a good show” is a part of this process, but it must always be balanced by the technical needs of the students. During school performances students enjoy having opportunities to share their good work with their parents, so this joy of sharing is also balanced with learning which brings with it a feeling of accomplishment.
Performing music before an audience does provide a needed focus for a music class and some anxiety about performing well is useful and necessary. However, this is usually accompanied by a secure feeling that the audience is composed of parents who are supportive and will appreciate the great efforts their children are making no matter how successful or unsuccessful the performance may be. Teachers should feel free to take some risks for the sake of the students’ education. If teachers do not feel comfortable taking any risks, they will most likely be compelled to spend all of the time in the classroom, between performances, working only on what will be performed on the next recital. They would also choose to perform only the pieces which are relatively easy for the students and offer no challenge. The music teachers in the Waldorf program presently provide a successful measure of rigor which generally satisfies the needs of all the students in the program, from the most advanced to the least experienced. I personally attempt to expose my students to as many styles and means to make music that are possible, from Indian to African, from classical to jazz. I try to have my students practice reading music as much as possible by having them play several pieces and polishing them only just before a recital. (This is similar to teaching children to read many books as opposed to memorizing only a few stories.) Music students then learn a language of music which relates in a very beautiful way to what they also create through improvisation. One of art’s greatest values is the freedom of expression it offers. A language must be learned through technique in order to acquire access to a musical means of expression. The language is learned through the process of learning to play an instrument, reading music and improvising. Reading music gives a student access to the written creations of composers from the middle ages to the present day. Improvisation gives a student access to what is already within their own being.
We must always remind ourselves that these performers are students and not touring professionals. Our experiences attending professional performances certainly do influence the way we judge student performances, but an audience attending a student performance must be much more broad-minded. These performances are more about demonstrating a process of becoming rather than being the products of a polished expertise. (This is especially true for the presentations of the rather process-oriented art form of Eurhythmy.) Therefore, the success or failure of a performance does not reflect the quality or direction of the program as a whole, but really only serves the needs of the moment.
The ensembles at the Santa Fe Waldorf School are unique in that they are relatively large for such a small school and are composed of musicians from a wide range of experience and ability. Students begin playing woodwinds two years later than they do in the public school yet, by the end of the program, most of them would be valued players when entering a public high school band program. Our strings program is unique and, therefore, cannot be compared to any other program in this area. No other public or private school in this area even has a strings program and, therefore, the Santa Fe Waldorf School provides a very necessary service to the Santa Fe community. Both the local Suzuki program and the Santa Fe Youth Symphony are made up of students who have come into these programs voluntarily with lots of parental support. Many of our best students are involved with those programs. However, not all of them are and our challenge is to continue stimulating the interest of those who are excelling on their instruments while retaining the involvement of those who are not as motivated to develop their abilities.
I have had considerable experience teaching in large public school music programs in the Dallas area and have seen some that are stronger than ours. However, the strength of those programs come mainly from the number of students enrolled. The best bands and orchestras are those which have so many members that they are able to have auditions from which an elite group may be chosen to be part of the ensemble which represents the school in contests and performances. However, even in a large city like Dallas, the private schools do not have this “luxury.” (I put “luxury” in quotes because most parents who are attracted to Waldorf schools believe that the arts are not a luxury.)
I do not expect everyone in our program to continue with their study of music, but all of them will benefit from the discipline of learning to play a musical instrument in ways which carry over into other fields of study. Playing music is an integrated brain activity which involves rigorous analysis as well as emotional expression. Therefore, learning to read and/or improvise music can reveal a great deal of information concerning a student’s learning style. Waldorf schools continue to lead all other schools in the country for integrating arts into the curriculum. This is especially so now after we have seen so many cuts in funding in public education which caused many schools to provide no arts education at all for their students.
I believe that the Santa Fe Waldorf School is particularly blessed with a well-qualified and dedicated staff of music teachers. Santa Fe does seem to attract some artists and musicians who have had very impressive careers in other lands and some of these have kindly offered their services to our school. I hope that we can continue to count on the parents’ support of of these musicians’ efforts who have helped create the best school music program available for their children in Santa Fe. All of the instrumental teachers who teach at the Santa Fe Waldorf School also teach students outside of the Waldorf program ranging from beginners to advanced college students and adults. All have very diverse teaching and performing experiences which have helped them find (and even create) the best methods and pedagogies for each of their students’ unique learning styles.
Parental feedback from performances is valuable especially when it is positive and supportive of the process of teaching and learning. Often, when children claim a performance has not gone well, they may be actually seeking supportive comments from their parents. I actually try to teach my students to be outwardly very positive when discussing their performances with others because this influences how others will remember it. However, the ability to project this sort of confidence must be learned from their many positive performance experiences and parents’ positive feedback is vital to this process.
Dr. Robert H. Price,