How can we keep making our ensembles relevant for our students? I ask myself this a lot. Our kids literally have a connection to the whole world at their fingertips, so how can I compete with those little devices? I think the best way to keep kids connected is to focus building community. This is fundamental to my teaching philosophy. When they experience a sense of belonging in class, it can be far more exciting than anything that can happen on a smartphone. The feeling of connection is very powerful.
Last week I hosted my annual “Bring Your Parent to Rehearsal” day. I use the word “parent” very loosely as the students can choose to bring any important adult, whether it be an aunt, uncle, grandparent, older sibling or teacher. A few weeks prior to the rehearsal, students have the option to invite an important guest and teach them the part. This year we are singing “Happiness” by NEEDTOBREATHE. Each year on the day of the rehearsal I ask the guests to come about 15 minutes prior to the class. It’s great to talk with them. Most of the time they are nervous, and unsure about singing. I often hear stories about how they used to sing in school, but stopped after they graduated. They share stories about being embarrassed by the sound of their own singing voice, and only came because so-and-so asked them. Some are excited about trying something new.
This year I had about 20 guests - including my mom! When the bell rang and the chorus students came rushing in, they were so excited to see their VIPs. I ran rehearsal like I usually do - warm ups with lots of movement and energy, emphasizing the concepts we would work on as we rehearsed the tune. It was really a lot of fun - we did a lot of good work and had some laughs. The guests shared their stories and everyone commented on how grateful they were to be a part of class that day. (These guests will also be singing with the chorus at the concert!)
Fostering a sense of belonging does not only happen inside the music room. Belonging is also about building a greater community by explicitly making connections between music in school with the folks outside of the the four walls of the classroom. By opening the chorus rehearsal, we created a shared memory with everyone. In turn, students felt more of a connection with each other and with school. I highly recommend creating these community-building rehearsals. Everyone had a fantastic time, and during the whole rehearsal, not one person looked at their phone!