Inspiration comes when we are willing to dream.
It was my great honor to attend a recent concert at Liberty High School in Frisco, TX. I am a full-time performing musician and composer, but I have fond memories of my years spent teaching beginning strings students. This concert was a glorious celebration of everything public school music can and should be.
Liberty High School is a very, very big school. There is a conductor and an assistant conductor, and five harp students have a harp instructor who aids them in their study. The students are divided into five orchestras. They perform in a state-of-the-art facility, built just 12 years ago, in a district that is growing exponentially. The parent boosters are actively involved, and committed to providing the very best for their young stars.
This is an affluent area, and these students have grown up with lots of opportunities to succeed, but the things that impressed me the most about this performance are the things that don’t cost a thing: discipline, decorum, focus, preparation, determination, passion.
From the beginning, I was struck by a universally displayed commitment to discipline and decorum most teachers can only dream about. Each orchestra entered the stage without a word, went directly to their places, and set up their equipment quickly. Onstage tuning was very brief, just long enough to make sure nothing had slipped out of place since they tuned backstage. Two or three students walked to the microphone to introduce the group’s selections, and each was articulate and poised. The audience of parents and friends was attentive and courteous throughout the evening; fussy children were quickly removed, phones were actually silent, and everyone clapped at the right times. When the orchestra was finished performing, students collected their belongings, then walked off stage in an orderly fashion, trading places with another group of students in the audience. There was no evidence of adult supervision in the auditorium seats; students listened to their peers without visiting amongst themselves, and if they had cell phones, I didn’t see them. Everyone stayed for the entire concert, even those who performed first.
I believe these little details set the tone. Students on stage were able to focus on their performances without distractions from the audience or from those around them. I believe the students actually performed more brilliantly because everyone involved treated the occasion with respect. Someone believed in them, believed they could be excellent musicians, and so they were.
Their performances were truly brilliant. Dynamic contrasts and articulations were right on target. Musical challenges were met and conquered. Clearly, these students had a home practice habit, and they spent years getting to know their instrument, as a solo instrument and as a part of a group. It seems likely that the majority of their class time was not spent learning notes, but mastering balance, blend, the arch of a phrase. Each piece was performed with finesse and with passion. Melodies weren’t just notes to be played; they sang, and they soared. Audience members were lifted, caught up in the music, spellbound. Moments of silence were magical; no one coughed, no one shifted in their seat. Some were moved to tears, not just because these were their children, all grown up, but because the music was performed impeccably.
Why is this concert important? Why is the investment of time, talent, and money that fuels an arts program such as this so vital?
These young people have learned, through a public school music program, vital lessons they might not learn any other way. They have learned that sometimes one must take the lead, and sometimes it’s important to support others. They have experienced the satisfaction that comes from dedicated study, the thrill of sharing strong emotions without words, the value of teamwork. They have learned to see the big picture, and their place within it. They have learned to think on their feet, to compromise, with the give and take that occurs on stage when jitters accelerate our tempos and boost our dynamics up a notch or two. They have learned to trust the conductor to keep it all together. Most importantly, they have learned that it is within their power to create something beautiful, to bring happiness to others, and to fill a large room with positive energy.
Some of these students will direct their talents toward further musical study, at Julliard, the Eastman School, the Curtis Institute. Others will move in a different direction, but they will be educated and passionate patrons of the arts wherever life takes them, and they will do all they can to give their children the opportunities they had here.
This performance inspired me. Let this be the model of what school music programs can be. I want to write music for them. That would be a dream come true.