Lessons in Learning: Loving Live Performance

by Abby @ Quaver on May 22, 2014

in This Month in Music

We love hosting voices like Jeannine Everetts on the Quaver Music blog!

As a lifelong musician and now principal second violin in the Reston Community Orchestra; Jeannine brings a performer and a student’s perspective to the blog that we are grateful to share!

Today Jeannine is back and talking about how to encourage a love of live performance in students!


Learning from Live Performance

symphony performance

When I was a kid, from time to time, we’d go on a field trip to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra perform. It fed my desire to play—to dress in black and create glorious music with other people. But there were always a few kids that looked like they wanted to be anywhere else, and all I could think was “What is wrong with you people?” There was so much to see and hear, I didn’t know what to pay attention to first.

Years later, when I began dating my now husband (who is frighteningly non-musical), he came to see me play. I was beyond excited to share this amazing experience with him. I looked across the audience and found him in the back row reading a book. Yes. That’s right. Reading a book.

After the concert was over, I let him know that reading during a concert, especially one of my concerts, was not cool. He didn’t understand. After all, you go to listen to music, not see it. Au contraire, I responded. If you only wanted to listen, turn on the radio. It’s free.

So we talked about what “seeing” a concert was all about.

We talked about the conductor, and how he or she communicates with the musicians. We talked about the various instruments. Finally, I told him, if all else fails, he could just watch my face, because I am never more myself than when I play.

Music students in our district are encouraged to see live performances. Some teachers even require it with some proof of attendance. I don’t mind signing programs. It makes me feel like a total rock star.

Some of the kids I meet have a transcendent experience like mine. Others are in the “you people” camp. What makes the difference?

Educational researchers conducted a study where Washington D.C. teachers were divided into two groups.

  1. One group read stories aloud in their usual manner.
  2. The other group was given a set of questions for each page, asking the children to identify letters, point out details in pictures, or sight words.

They found that the children with the prompts remembered more about the book—beyond the questions they answered.

The “got the fever” students often describe some detail they’ve picked up on—an instrument they’ve never seen, an unusual piece of music, or a story our conductor shared about the work we performed. Often, those that didn’t were “reading a book,” figuratively speaking. They have no context to know what to look for.

So why not give your students some suggestions:

  • Identify instruments – biggest, smallest, weirdest, loudest, lowest, which ones tend to play together?
  • Guess the meter of the piece – Is it 4/4, 3/4, 6/8? (especially cool if one has a crazy meter like 7/8)
  • Which piece would be best for . . . a movie chase scene, a mystery, your own personal theme music?
  • Watch the conductor – How does the maestro make the players change what they’re doing?
  • Stalk a musician (visually only, please!) – What do they do when they aren’t playing? What do you notice when they do?

Encouraging students to watch live performance is great. It’s even better if we give them some things to look and listen for. Chances are, they’ll pick something else up along the way, and I don’t mean a paperback.

How do you encourage an appreciation of live performance in your students?

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