by Laura Messina
In a conversation with my 2nd grade student Julien recently, we were talking about what it feels like to play cello in the concert with all the other performers. I always remind my students that what we are working towards is the ability to play music with others, and our goal is to collaborate to make something beautiful. I suggested that the reason we have to keep a steady beat and play in rhythm is so we can all stay together. Julien added, “When we all play together, it adds up to a steady stream of music.”
I asked another 2nd grader Luna to write a journal entry about how she was feeling after her lesson in early May. We had worked hard that lesson, preparing Stand By Me, learning to use 4th finger, and practicing her note reading. She seemed tired and worn out, so I was expecting her to write something in that vein. Instead, she wrote, “I felt good and happy. My favorite thing was playing on the cello.”
My third grade cello student Isaac has been working on a solo piece for the final concert. After a few lessons of struggling through his piece, Isaac came in last week with a big smile on his face. “I practiced a lot!” he said, and I expressed how excited I was to hear him play his solo. He sat down and started to play. In the spots that gave him trouble last week, he breezed right through. His rhythm was steady, and his fingers landed correctly so he played nicely in tune. When he finished, he looked up at me with an even bigger smile than before. Light was just beaming out of his face; he was so proud of the job he had done. I will never forget that moment!
Working with the students at Chittick and Sumner Schools this year has allowed me to embark on an exciting and different type of teaching adventure. These students are truly special, and they have some of the most creative and musical minds I have seen. In the past I have worked mostly with students in public school music programs in large ensembles and group lessons. The structure of the musiConnects program allows the students to learn instrumental technique with a private teacher, and to learn musical and collaborative skills in chamber music. The best part about music making, in my opinion, is the ability to make music with others. Chamber music offers these students the opportunity to make music in an intimate group and learn to really trust themselves and their friends. Not only are they learning to play music together, but they are also learning to work together, to communicate, to feel safe in a small group of musicians, and to become independent performers.
Playing with the Sumner Quartet has been the perfect companion to teaching with musiConnects. The skills we are teaching the students in chamber music are put into practice ourselves as we rehearse and get to know each other. Four acquaintances in September turned into four close friends by May. Quartet rehearsal with Josh, Carol, and Liz is one of my favorite parts of every week, and I am so happy to have the chance to play with such amazing musicians and great friends. I can only hope that we are instilling the same feeling into the student chamber groups that we coach!
Inspiring. Rewarding. Musical. Hilarious. Insightful. Fun. Creative. Collaborative. Frustrating at times. Joyous. These are just a few words that can describe my first year teaching with musiConnects. Teaching is a job where each day is a different adventure, and every day and every year, I learn more and love teaching more than I ever thought I could. musiConnects is a unique teaching experience, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to work with these students and colleagues. I look forward to next year and cannot wait for future musiConnects students to bring light into my life.