I have been thinking lately about how important it is to have order in our lives. I believe that I am more productive, more settled, and happier when I feel like my life is orderly. I enjoy my home more when it is neat and orderly. Yesterday's clothes left on the floor doesn't feel as good to me as clothing on a hanger. Knowing what I am going to eat for lunch as I leave for work feels better to me than figuring it out when I am hungry at 12:30 after a morning of classes. Walking into school with strong lesson plans for the day is better than putting a plan together at the last minute or simply winging it. I like to plan my daily and weekly schedule carefully. Somehow all of this orderliness keeps me happy and settled.
I believe that students need this as well. For years, I have placed a strong priority on students walking in to an orderly, set up classroom. I never hand out or collect music in class. I prepare folders ahead of time, outside of class, and collect music the same way. I think my students appreciate this. I feel confident that they appreciate the effort that it takes to be orderly and efficient with class-time. I also believe in strong classroom routines: introduction, warm up, content and related activity, closure. These routines set up a safe and predictable learning environment.
The new school year has begun at NCSSM and orchestra is off to a great start. I have truly enjoyed getting to know all of our new junior string players. Rehearsals have been vibrant and productive right out of the gate. One thing that has stuck me again this year is the importance of seating in the orchestra and the order that seating facilitates. Remember that my orchestra changes by just about 50% every year. We are a two-year school and when a class graduates, half of the orchestra departs. Also, I really don't find out how many students will be in my orchestra or instrumentation until the first day of class. This year I am blessed with incredibly balanced sections: 24 violins, 10 violas, 15 celli, and 2 basses. I hold auditions very early in the year for my students to introduce themselves to me musically, but for our first few rehearsals, I don't really have a seating order. We sight-read music and students are permitted to sit anywhere they wish within their section. This year we had three rehearsals before I could establish a seating chart and sections for the group. While those three rehearsals were fine, I must admit that they never really felt "good."
By the 2nd week of classes, I had been able to review video auditions and begin to establish some sense of "who is in the room" in my mind. I created a seating order and assigned violin students into violin I and II sections. (I should say that I do my best to create "even" sections and rely heavily on assigning some of my top players to leadership positions in the 2nd violin violin section. I also provide opportunities for some of my less experienced players to test themselves with the sometimes more challenging violin I parts. And, I always have some students that are simply not ready for the upper positions presented in violin I parts.) But here is the interesting fact: once students received their section assignment, seating placement, and stand partner, the ensemble seemed to transform quickly. In fact, immediately. Things were more settled. Students quickly became comfortable and began to dig into the task at hand in a different way. It is hard for me to clearly articulate the transformation, but I would simply say that it felt more comfortable. Every rehearsal since that time has had the same feel. All I can attribute this to is the confidence that comes with order. Everyone now knows where they will sit, what part they will play, who their stand partner is, and they are beginning to develop a sense of their role as part of the larger group.
This has been a good reminder for me. Sometimes I forget the importance of routine and order. Of course, alternately, sometimes it is good to shake up a routine and order. But, order has to, in fact, be established before it can be "shook up." We crave order as humans. We respond well to predictability and comfort. This has been a great reminder for me as we begin the new school year.
I wish you all the best as you begin to establish the order in your classroom and rehearsals to start the new year.