Elevating the Holiday/Winter Concert

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Elevating the Holiday/Winter Concert

Nick Malinowski, Executive Director, Kidznotes, Durham, NC


Every year, one of the highlights of the winter concert at Sistema Ravinia in Chicago is the moment when the young musicians whack their guests on the head. Let me be more specific: the real highlight is when one young musician almost whacks a guest on the head with a boomwhacker the size of a pool noodle.

In “A Boomwhacker Christmas,” the orchestra accompanies a small group of students who play Christmas melodies using boomwhackers. Sistema Ravinia elevates the moment by bringing 8 guests from the audience up to the stage, giving them hardhats, and whacking out the tunes on top of their helmeted heads. Near the grand finale, one young musician (usually the smallest in the ensemble) pulls out the biggest boomwhacker she can handle and starts to bring it down full force on an unsuspecting guest – only to be stopped at the last second by the conductor. It’s a moment that no one in attendance forgets.

Sometimes it seems like we spend so much time thinking about repertoire (Should we do holiday music? Which holidays? Christmas? Hanukkah? All secular stuff? Do we have to do “Jingle Bells” AGAIN?) that we don’t stop to think about the power of the unique moment this concert presents to our students – especially our youngest students – and their families. For these students, the winter concert represents not just the culmination of weeks of dedicated hard work, but also a first opportunity to perform in public for their family and friends. We’re remiss if we focus on the music more than the moment.

In their book The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, authors Chip and Dan Heath lay out the qualities that define the truly memorable moments of our lives. Their roadmap to creating meaningful, life-defining moments centers on three types of occasions: transitions, milestones, and pits. While our winter concerts should never constitute pits (though they’re preceded by weeks of struggling out of many pits), they are important transitions and milestones and should be recognized, programmed, and designed as such.

According to the Heath brothers, transitions and milestones can be magnified by focusing on the following elements: elevation, insight, pride, and connection. Elevation can be manufactured by boosting sensory appeal, raising the stakes, and breaking the script. Whacking a concert-goer on the head with a huge musical instrument does all three. It is a perfect example of using elevation to build a peak moment during a concert that should be a milestone.

Connection and pride are the forces that collide to mark a moment in BRAVO Youth Orchestras’ winter concert each year in Portland. This concert is the first opportunity for their youngest musicians to perform publicly for their families. It’s likely the first time that a child’s family will publicly see her as a musician.

Months before this moment, every new musician starts her journey with BRAVO by constructing her papier-mâché learning violin. Members of each child’s family are invited to join her in decorating the tool by which she’ll prove her responsibility and maturity over the following months.

By the time the winter concert rolls around, children who have stuck with their commitment have earned their real violin. Recognizing this moment as a transition and a milestone, BRAVO builds on the family connection. At the start of the concert, all the new musicians line up single file in front of the stage, papier-mâché violin in hand. Standing across from each child is a family member who helped build and design the instrument the child holds. Students present the papier-mâché violins as a gift to their family, and family members place around their children’s neck a medallion, bedecked in school colors, recognizing publicly the achievement earned through hard work. The pride in the room is palpable.

At Play On, Philly!, insight is the key to marking the importance of the winter concert. Student and parent speakers are invited to share with the audience an anecdote from the year so far. Giving voice to their perspective in such a public venue, at such an important moment, allows parents and students to feel that their insights are genuinely valued by the entire team and family at POP.

At Kidznotes, as we start planning our winter concert, we are thinking about elevation, insight, pride and connection, as well as “Jingle Bells.” We are inspired by the many ways our Sistema colleagues find to mark and elevate concert moments, and hope to continue exchanging ideas. And we are committed to focusing on the moment as much as the music.


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