The 2016 members of the Bridge: Music for Life program at Hugh John Macdonald School have been busy. With numerous performances augmenting our regular class time I’ve noticed something remarkable: my students have grown to love performing. Their joy on stage is palpable. Without a doubt, there is much value in playing for an audience!
As I watch these young musicians stretch themselves as performers, I find myself reflecting on my first experience as a teacher. When I was 18, I opened a music school with a couple of friends and began teaching saxophone. In my studio I had a MacIntosh LC, loaded with a play-along program called Band-in-a-Box, connected to an enormous old amplifier. The first song my beginning students would tackle was the Flintstones theme. We would play it while the computer program provided harmonic and rhythmic support. Finally, I would open up my 13’ x 9’ studio to parents who would squeeze in around the giant computer and even giant-er amplifier to hear us play with our fake band. My thinking was “success creates enthusiasm,” and I wanted young musicians to experience success as quickly as possible. Being able to perform the Flintstones theme for appreciative parents was a tremendous motivator for those beginner musicians.
Fast forward 22 years, and my philosophy remains the same. Over the course of the last four years as director of The Bridge program, I’ve seized every opportunity to showcase students’ talent and passion for music, and to give them a taste of success on their instrument.
This year has brought a seemingly endless stream of invitations for the Bridge band. The Healthy Child Conference (with a national audience of 500 or so people), Hugh John MacDonald’s Village Feast (for a few hundred fellow students and parents), a provincial education press conference (with Premier Selinger himself in attendance), and several Winnipeg School Division events have all included memorable performances by our junior high musicians. Looking ahead, Shine Your Light with the ANANSI performing arts group, Arts in the Heart of the City, and a show at the West End Cultural Centre promise to be highlights on our concert calendar.
Every outing has been full of remarkable advancements as these young musicians rise to the challenge and share their love for music with audiences of every imaginable size and composition. But I see now that musical growth is just one benefit. These performance opportunities are showcasing a myriad of other positive traits as well, qualities like cooperation, self-expression, confidence, discipline, and creativity.
As a teacher I marvel at the growth of the diverse young musicians in the Bridge band—from timid and hesitant to jubilant and assertive. It is, frankly, amazing to watch from the front lines. The joy students in the Bridge have found in performing marks the beginning of a lifetime of music-making and I’m thrilled to be a part of that process.
Look for us at a concert venue near you!