I wanted to address the audience at our last concert before I retired. I knew the concert was plenty long and the seats in our school gym were not the most comfortable. Any more than the most brief necessary remarks seemed inappropriate. So I decided to write it all out and insert it into the concert program. Oddly, some of the ideas have surfaced in other blog posts I have written since then. I was unaware of this until I re-read.
For the second year I am not getting ready for school at this time of year. This seemed like a good time to share this with my blog readers. I usually edit, but this is clipped directly from the program file. Feedback appreciated.
To Students (current and former), Parents, Friends, Relatives, Colleagues, et al,
I have had a lot on my mind as my final year in Broken Arrow draws to a close. I decided it would be a good idea to write some things down rather than spending a long time telling you all about it. I do, however, reserve the right to save a few things to tell you later this evening.
I am so grateful for the love and support of so many people who have made it possible for me to do what I do. My student’s success rests directly on the efforts of so many people who have been their for our students, our school, and for me personally. A good teacher can become a great teacher when surrounded by people who share the same cause.
First, I would like to thank my wonderful family. They have tolerated having a music educator/performer/composer/arranger in the family all these years. Although we are all musical, having the Dad of the house involved in so many musical activities is, I think, especially challenging. Somehow through it all we have managed to raise two amazing children and even find some time for church work and for some travel. The dogs seem happy and healthy too. They have truly been the wind beneath my wings.
I would also like to express my appreciation for the opportunity to work with your children as they have passed through my program these past twelve years. There is no such thing as a perfect school system (or a perfect teacher) but we get a lot of things right here in Broken Arrow. Parents are a big part of this, both in support of their own children and in the school system. The people of Broken Arrow have high expectations of our school system and have been courageous and determined in their quest to insure the availability of a great education for their children.
This includes the support given at the ballot box. Our wonderful new orchestra room is a direct result of sacrifice by parents and, indeed, everyone in Broken Arrow. This room serves both band and orchestra students at Childers Middle School. Some people are very critical of schools these days. When public schools are doing well it is because the people of the community stay involved in a positive way to make sure that the local school does not go down the path to mediocrity. I had a student return to my orchestra after attending school in another district for a time. The first day back she said, “You know all those things teachers say about how good this school is compared to others? Well, it is true.” People of Broken Arrow must not take this for granted. This school system needs you and it will continue to need you long after your students graduate.
I have worked with eight different middle school principals in three middle schools here in Broken Arrow. On the whole, they have been awesome. The administrative team I now work with on a daily basis is top shelf. I really appreciate this. It is not always so. Early in my career I worked with a superintendent that was, after I left that school, arrested and convicted of embezzlement and arson. (No, really.) It is a breath of fresh air to work with administrators who truly care for teachers and students.
Teachers have been under increasing fire, it seems. A lot of times, when we have not been feeling the love, my fellow teachers have been there for each other. It makes a huge difference. I could say more about this, but I have a nice essay called “On Teachers” that is on my blog. (thehappyrockway.com.)
Now this may seem a little harsh, but someone needs to say it. We continually compete at auditions and contests with orchestras from other schools that are chock full of students who study privately. We have a good number of students who take up private lessons in high school, but by this time they are already behind the learning curve. The combination of individual lessons by a private teacher and playing in a school ensemble is powerful. Students benefit from the one-on-one attention, and they learn both musical and people skills by playing together with others. If students are having success in class lessons should be considered. You do not have to do what we do at our house. My son takes lessons in French Horn, piano, and voice. One or two will be fine. Congratulations if your child is already studying privately. Perhaps you could share the benefits of private instruction with others. Students who do not study privately are still valued orchestra members. But if you would like to provide this for your students be assured that lessons with a good teacher is worth the investment of time, money and gas for the car. In addition to lessons, there are summer opportunities for musical growth. Tulsafest is held at TCC. Summer strings is held right here in Broken Arrow and is an exceptional value.
Quality instruments are also important. A high quality instrument is a true musical and financial investment. Like financial investments, they can be kept for a long time and, in some cases, sold for more than their original cost.
Sadly, too many students who are really good at orchestra leave the program for other things where they do not have the same success. Or, even worse, for things that offer no challenge or growth. It is really hard to catch up after a year out of orchestra, even with lessons. This is a decision that can mean giving up a lifetime of music enjoyment. I have repeatedly seen average students who stick with an instrument become above average students, both musically and academically. I have seen above average students become academic superstars. The decision to keep playing is a little bigger than what to order at Braum’s after the concert. Watching this year after year has been so painful over the years. It is not about “my” orchestra, especially at this point. In fact, since it is not about me at this point, perhaps someone will listen.
I have also seen students leave orchestra to truly pursue excellence in another field. This is awesome. I always tell students who leave orchestra that I expect them to rock whatever they decide to do. One of my former students won a state individual golf championship. Two others paid for college with athletic scholarships, one in softball and one in soccer. So perhaps not everyone should stay in orchestra. But leave for a positive reason. I have had too many students come into my office over the years and literally cry because they wish they had stayed in.
I have one last recommendation for those involved in our orchestra program, regardless of the role they play. Orchestra is an amazing and great thing. Internationally it is the most common professional musical ensemble. Professional orchestras are found literally all over the world on all the inhabited continents. We actually have two professional orchestras here in Tulsa. My advice is this: Be your own kind of awesome. Orchestra offers a unique experience to students that makes it an important piece of the fine arts puzzle. This is a valid experience for students who intend to study music in college as well as those who play for fun. Orchestras make a great range of music. The instruments truly speak to people. If you try to out band the band or out choir the choir or out drama drama department it is a waste of time. We can stand proudly along side those other great organizations best by doing what we do and doing it very well. It is up to all of us, parents, students, orchestra teachers (and former teachers) to let people know about it.
Thanks to everyone for making my time here a great experience!
At this point I think I need to be quiet and let the music talk.