I had a cool conversation with my Concert Band today. It came about as I was taking attendance and taking an opportunity to “check in” briefly with each kid in the class. I asked everyone to respond with a comment of some sort about Band this year–something good or something bad, something that was individual or about the group, anything they wanted to share. The only rule was to be kind, no chatting (good luck with that), and no Chromebooks; EVERYONE was asked to listen respectfully to what everyone else had to say, though it may or may not have worked out that way. Here are a few of the things that were shared.
“Band is way better than last year”
“I like the music, the spooky stuff is fun”
“I’m having lots of fun”
“This class works well together, better than last year”
“We are helping each other a lot this year”
“I’ve met lots of new people in here”
“I lost some old friends, and found some new friends”
“I’ve found my best friend.”
“I’m glad I’m here at JFH”
“My instrument plays better than last year, or maybe it’s just me”
These were all great shares. It took forever to take attendance (sorry Mrs. Spitzer!) but it was time well spent. One comment about missing a current freshman who was a strong leader last year even sparked a deeper group conversation about leadership qualities, and how they could step up and lead by example. Confidence (both having it and needing it) was another topic that came up more than once. I believe that having confidence, building confidence and lacking confidence are hurdles we all need to clear daily, regardless of age.
One of the most valuable things that I learned to do as a kid was using my imagination to entertain myself. As my skills in creative pursuits grew, so did my self-confidence. Computers weren’t a thing yet, so I had to get creative with my free time. I created artwork from whatever I could find, wrote, and illustrated stories, and playacted to recreate my favorite scenes from books and TV. Once I learned to play the recorder in elementary school, I was totally hooked on learning to play instruments, so I joined Band in the 5th grade. While creating something I felt empowered and was able to express myself and say something in my own unique and personal way. This was a huge sense of pride for me, especially when I was only 12. My Mom and Dad were always my biggest supporters of course.
Since I began teaching middle school, I have often wondered if kids still get this type of satisfaction from the myriad of activities, they fill their time with in this day and age. Some might say that today’s digitized kids are less creative than those in the past. I don’t think kids are any less creative, but at times they definitely do seem more stressed and less confident in their own abilities. This is really sad to me, because they are so incredibly talented and capable, when they take the opportunity to create, follow through and share their own ideas and abilities, instead of just copying what they saw someone else do in a viral video.
Most of the time, young musicians lacking confidence will say “I don’t like to play alone” or “I’m afraid someone might hear me”; worse yet, ”I don’t like how it sounds”. Typically when they “don’t like the sound of something”, it’s because they are trying to hide by playing really quietly, and using very little air. That’s counterproductive, since using lots of warm, fast air (among other things) is what makes your instrument sound good. If you have one of these “hide and seek musicians” in your home, encourage them to play more often, and to play with pride. Give them some privacy by helping them to set up a practice space where they can close the door. Tell them that facing into an open closet while playing can help to dampen the sound even more. That might make them more comfortable, and more willing to play by themselves.
I think creativity is an innate skill in all of us, but it has to be cultivated to grow. If kept under the surface for too long, it can take a lot of effort to allow yourself the courage to let it show. In my opinion, we are not fighting the loss of creativity among our youth but need to encourage the confidence to share it. Find the confidence to keep on making music by yourself for now, and also take time to explore some other avenues of your creativity too. You might be surprised what you can do!