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Take A Stand Junior Strings
The creation of the forty-member Junior String Ensemble for this year’s Take a Stand Festival was a new step for the TAS Festival – and its success was beyond all expectations. The student musicians came wonderfully prepared. Our curriculum for them went beyond learning the concert repertoire to include leadership skills, chamber music skills, and interaction with a living composer.
The theme of leadership was embedded throughout the week. Sessions on servant leadership gave the students assignments to think about how they could help others. The importance of “leadership from every chair” was emphasized in our rehearsals – with everyone, not just the front rows, taking ownership of transitions, tempo changes, pitch, and keeping the ensemble together. In addition, during our concert for TAS conference-goers, several students took on speaking responsibilities, some introducing our pieces and others presenting projects they had developed that week, to help their programs back home
Chamber music was another thread in both small and large ensemble work. We taught the elements of good collaboration – pitch, rhythm, and pulse, and constant listening. To ensure that this chamber music sensibility was part of the large ensemble experience, we had the students perform the Vivaldi Concerto un-conducted, with everyone but the cellos standing. It was a wonderful learning experience for the students to take on the many responsibilities associated with a conductor-less ensemble. We all learned to move and breathe together, to listen and watch while playing (instead of heads buried in the music!), and to physically show the musical changes, especially dynamics, within the piece.
The students were also excited to spend time with composer Soo Han Newbold, whose work Perseus they were preparing to perform. Ms. Newbold answered their questions about composing and life. The Junior Strings were clearly in awe, knowing that she would hear them play her piece!
Their week was brimming with leadership thinking, focus on collaboration, and realizing composers are real people. And playing better than they ever dreamed they could.