My classroom is not a quiet, orderly place.
Students are constantly moving, thinking, talking, reading and writing.
I do my best to help my students find success.

February 4, 2014

Advice from the conductor

I've played second violin in the community college orchestra for 4-1/2 years. It's a mix of younger college students, music teachers, retirees, and a mix of other professionals who enjoy playing an instrument on the side (doctors, programmers, office workers).

Our conductor likes to "stretch our musical muscles," so he tends to pick pieces that fit a theme and challenge us (especially the string players).  We have four rehearsals, then it's concert time.  The short time period guarantees that you will not tire of the pieces, nor will you perfect your part.  There's just not enough time.

We are less than a week from performing Mendelssohn's 4th Symphony.  We missed rehearsal last week due to subzero temperatures and windchill warnings.  As we ran the piece tonight, I knew our conductor, Brian, would have to find a kind way of letting us know the piece (specifically the 4th movement) was not going well.

Brian can tell when we are stressed and need to regroup.  He will put the baton down, rub his forehead, and then share a short story.  It gives us a chance to lower our shoulders and relax.  Weekly, he reminds us to listen to each other (and not play like soloists!) and go with the flow of the music.  We had a few members tonight trying to play the correct rhythm loudly, as to prove they were right.  This wasn't working.

Brian's short story tonight was how a construction company was trying to relate the orchestra model to their business operations.  In orchestra, you perform, analyze, adjust.  Instantly.  There's no time to call meetings and delay projects for months.  Individuals need to adjust what they are doing (or not doing) to do their part to be in sync with their section, which helps the whole orchestra play in harmony.

AHA! Makes me think of school.

I wish that we teachers could adjust quickly to what our students need and to the changing standards.  I think many of teachers do this subconsciously.  They see a need, they fill it.  Others wait, complain, whine, and look for others to blame.  Each grade-level is a team, like a section in the orchestra.  You can tell when there is a weak section in the orchestra.  They stand out.

I'm hoping more teachers will see themselves as part of a bigger organization, like an orchestra.  They will learn their music (CCSS) and practice (apply CCSS).  They will listen to the other sections (grade levels).  They will analyze how they are harmonizing.  They will realize when they need to adjust... then quickly do it! They will realize this hard work is for their team, their students, and their parents.

Back to orchestra... I know I need to spend some more serious time working on my part so that the 2nd violins will blend harmoniously with the orchestra on Sunday.  I can't let my fellow musicians, my conductor, or my audience down.

('s a link to a YouTube video (another orchestra) of the 4th movement...yikes!  Wish me luck!)


  1. Chris, this is an excellent correlation between your orchestra and teachers (or other professions as well). We all need to work together for a common goal. I've sang in many choirs and choruses and there are always those who try to "out perform" and not blend. I'm sure your performance on Sunday will go smoothly and even if there are a few glitches, usually the audience doesn't hear them. Good luck!

  2. So many examples in life where we can apply these lessons. How awesome that you continue to play the violin. I never learned an instrument, it was my greatest desire to play the flute when I was younger.

  3. As an adult I learned to play the piano and the violin. I use the term "play" loosely. I was only ever at the stage where I needed to learn more in order to work effectively in a group. It does take work to move as a smooth piece of the whole!

  4. Great reminder. Really listening and adapting and 'not playing like a soloist' is good advice for all types of collaborations--whether with students, colleagues or family.

  5. I love the analogy. We do indeed all have to work together to do what is best for our students. If any of a student's support system is down, it is so much harder for them to find success.

  6. Talk about teaching how to make connections! good luck with your performance!