Ah, half term! An oasis of calm and relaxation in the teacher’s otherwise vast and exhausting desert of school life.
Not for proper teachers, of course. For them, there’ll be a mountain of lesson planning, marking and other associated admin to do. For the peri though, it’ll be a well-earned break from the relentlessness of back-to-back teaching that makes our job so intense.
However, at The Music Service, 2 days of every half term holiday is taken up by our Rock & Pop Workshop. 40+ kids aged 8 to 18 are arranged into bands, and have 2 days to write and rehearse a song (or a couple of songs) and perform for parents at the end. Despite significantly reducing my time off at half term, these days are comfortably my favourite teaching days of year. There is such a buzz amongst the kids. Many are experiencing both the songwriting process and live performing for the first time and there’s a genuine excitement and apprehension and the raised stakes both these disciplines involve
The trap I always fall into, as a teacher, is to worry too much about the standard of song and performance that is produced at the end of the event. Given the range of age and experience, it’s no surprise that the quality and confidence of the performances vary quite a bit, although we’re always pretty pleased with the end product we manage to coax from the kids. It struck me this week, however, as the performance hall emptied of proud parents and adrenaline-fueled children, it struck me how much more important the actual wider experience was than the final performance.
This type of thinking always reminds me of the a session at the first inset day I attended when I joined The Music Service in 2012. I forget the name of the gentleman giving the speech but, if memory serves, he was the head of another music service (Hampshire, perhaps?). The essence of his address was that, whilst we may endeavour to “deliver” the best and most well prepared lesson to our pupils, in the end it is how the lesson is “received” by the pupil that is important. This idea really resonated with me. As an unqualified teacher, I’m often intimidated by the language and pedagogy of teaching (all your outcomes and objectives and formatives and summatives). At that time in particular, I was newly surrounded by an enormous wealth of teaching experience and knowledge and, although I’d been private teaching quite a while at that point, I became quickly aware of how little I actually know about teaching as an art. It was extremely, reassuring to have someone emphasise the importance of the impact of the lesson on the pupil over the technical competence of the way the lesson has been taught.
I was so effected by this line of thought that I considered how it related to my role as a performer too. Those who have played with me will doubtless agree that I’ve never been the most immaculate player but the relative sparseness of solo acoustic and voice often highlights this in a way a full band setup wouldn’t. In the early days of my solo act, this was a real worry for me but this inset speech made me rethink my relationship with the music I was playing and, particularly, the people I was playing for. Just as in a lesson, it how the lesson is received by the pupil that counts, at a gig, it’s the effect on the audience that matters rather than how well I actually play.
I think it’s this line of thought that has developed me most as a performer. At the end of the day, the audience are the most important. It is THEIR night, not mine. I am merely there to enhance their evening in whatever way I can. This is a particularly useful headspace to be in during the quiet gigs. If what they want is a backdrop to their conversations, that is what they’ll get. I will, of course, fish for a little more involvement and increase the energy levels, if they’re willing to come with me but, if they’re not, it doesn’t matter. Where, in the past, this type of gig would leave me feeling downhearted because I haven’t got the whole room dancing, that is no longer how I measure the success of a gig. It was a pretty key breakthrough in my career and one I try, wherever possible to impart to my young charges at the Rock & Pop Workshop, particularly in situations where they’re worried about making mistakes.
That came back full circle nicely, didn’t it?