Wednesday, August 20, 2008

First Day of Class

Today was the first day of class for the 2008-2009 NCSSM Orchestra. It is a great group of students that all seem eager to get started. I love the first day. It is filled with anticipation of the work that is ahead of us and the great fun of meeting each other for the first time. One might think that I, as the conductor would talk about the literature that we are going to play, our rehearsal and seating procedures, and various other "orchestra" topics. But, no. Today, I went philosophical on them right from the beginning.

Back in February, I spoke to a group of orchestra teachers at a conference in Albuquerque. Following my session, one of the attendees came up and enthusiastically recommended that I read the book, Better, A Surgeon's Notes on Performance, by Atul Gawande. I read the book this summer and loved many of the concepts that were presented. Since I teach at the NC School of Science and Math and many of my students will find themselves in the medical field following graduation, I thought that starting the year in orchestra with a book by a surgeon about medicine might surprise inspire them.

At the end of the book, Gawande offers 5 suggestions for making a worthy difference. I decided to challenge my students with his suggestions. They are:
1. Ask an unscripted question
2. Don't complain
3. Count something
4. Write something
5. Change

Let me say a few words about each of these as they apply to my student and the NCSSM Orchestra.

1. Ask an unscripted questions. Think about everything that you do in orchestra. Ask the question that others haven't thought of. Don't just sit back and let the information come to you. But, instead, be proactive in your thought Be unique in your thought. Be inquisitive in all that you do. Ask the unscripted questions every day.

2. Don't complain. Instead, work to make things better. Nobody wants to hear me complain. And, nobody wants to hear you complain. Instead, work to change the tide. Work to make things better.

3. Count something. Be a scientist in all that you do. Don't let opportunities to find trend pass you by. If today you missed 5 of the c naturals in a passage, tomorrow only miss 4. Count something.

4. Write something. Back in 1988, noted string educator Jacqueline Dillon told me that the way to have impact in the field of string education boiled down to one word. Write. Share your ideas. Write something that is creative. Start a blog? Just write something! Her advise to me has carried me in many ways to this point in my career. I really do believe she was right. Gawande must know the same thing. I want my students to know it, too.

5. Change. Be willing to try new things. Try new music, new styles, new practice methods. Just be willing to change. Be the first one to change, too. Don't be the skeptic. Be the front runner. if it doesn't work, it isn't the end of the world. Just be willing to change and look for opportunities to change.

So, there you go. That, in a nutshell, was the first day of class for the 2008-2009 NCSSM Orchestra. I think they get it. Do you?


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