As we welcome the beginning of another school year, daily routines, tests, and rehearsals for upcoming concerts will no doubt take up the majority of our time and thoughts. It’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of everything so I would like to present a few thoughts on finding the emotional connection with music and remembering why we love what we do.
Look at the Big Picture
It may seem silly but we do need to remind ourselves to breathe and relax from time to time. Why do we play and listen to music to begin with? I’ve heard music described as “tangible emotions.” Music has been around since the beginning of human existence and has been an integral part of our lives. When was the last time you experienced a show, a movie, a restaurant, or even a car ride without it? Even when you’re studying or relaxing, chances are you are listening to some kind of music because it connects with us on a deeper level and creates an emotional connection.
Create That Emotional Connection
Think about the reasons you want to dance when you hear a certain beat, why some songs make you cry, and why you have a personal playlist that you gravitate toward. When I was in grade school, my violin teacher gave me listening assignments every week. I had to choose a standard musical work and then write a story of what the music represented to me. The story did not have to be historically accurate or what the composer intended (although it certainly helped), but something of my own creation. These assignments shaped my view of music, gave me a creative outlet and a sense of ownership, and developed a strong personal bond to the work. I became passionate about the music I listened to and was more motivated to “master” the techniques to tell the stories I wanted to tell through my own performances. The training became tools to get what I wanted as opposed to a chore I felt obligated to complete.
Remember to Have Fun!
Find your passion and figure out what brings you joy. Chances are if you teach or are in music classes, you already have a passion or at least a great love for music. Your enthusiasm and emotions on stage translate to your performance and the audience will see it and experience it. If you are enjoying the music, your audience will have no choice but to enjoy it as well. Keep in mind performing on stage is also visual. Feel free to move and express the excitement through your body and on your face. I posted a video of an orchestra performing one of my compositions at a major convention. There were plenty of advanced ensembles with better skill and technique, but this group had so much heart and fun during their performance, they received by far the most views, likes, and comments than any video I posted in the past. Thinking back on some of the most memorable performances in history, we are impressed by technically flawless execution, but it’s musicality and artistry that really draws us in and makes it unforgettable.
I very much look forward to hearing more brilliant performances and profound musical stories from all of you in the coming years.
Putting the Connection into Practice!
While any number of pieces can help forge or rekindle this emotional connection to music, I would like to suggest the following specific pieces that may help specifically jumpstart the process toward the beginning of the year.
- Gaelic Castle—Work on that big sound! Fun and energetic with lots of double stops.
- Hiawatha—A powerful and exciting way to start the year while sneaking in some review of L2 and limited L1 fingerings in first violins.
- Viking—Bold sounds and powerful images make a strong statement and set the tone for a good year.
- Country Hoedown—A reflection on our own history and culture with some stomping and clapping to make things educational, informative, and fun.
Grade 3 and up:
- American Landscape—A lovely trip across the country in a train ride to bridge the summer into the fall school year.
- The Odyssey—A shorter and self-contained programmatic piece which includes all of the favorite images from the story. A great way to connect music and literature and spark the imagination while getting students really excited about the year.
- Fire Dance—With mixed meters and dancelike rhythms, this piece is often played as an opener or closer, so it makes sense to start off a school year with it as well!