On a recent Saturday night in Orlando, while many people filled the Amway Center at well more than $100 per ticket to see Sir Paul McCartney, I went to a concert as well. Mine had no tour vans, no former Beatles, no enormous sound system, and no one at the end of the 30 minutes held up lighters (or iPhones with lighted screens) and chanted for encores. And I had a magnificent time.
The new music director of my son’s school decided that if a doodle on a page can become a drawing or a painting or a sculpture, then a musical doodle should have a chance to become a song or a suite or a concerto. So he organized Holy Family Catholic School’s first-ever Young Composer’s Concert.
As we all took our seats before the small stage upstairs in the church’s main social hall, the music director explained that the four young students whose compositions were to be played had all come to him with their finished ideas. He encouraged them to polish these ideas, and when the pieces were done, the music director scored them for band, choir, and/or percussion ensemble, as musical circumstances dictated. My son, Joseph, did not compose for this concert. He played baritone saxophone in the band. He took the concert very seriously, waking up early to go to extra rehearsals and making sure (with help from Mom) that he wore a nice white shirt and black tie.
The composers were at the older end of the school’s K through 8 grade spectrum. They were confident without being arrogant. A young woman played a piano piece (with choir and band accompaniment) that she said was inspired by falling rain. One young man had assembled a sprightly ladder-climb of rock guitar chords over a bed of broad-sounding brass, woodwinds and percussion. Another composer didn’t perform at all, but watched from the audience as the musicians brought to life a contemporary piece he dreamed up on Garage Band, a computer software made for composers. And another girl sang a song called “Beautifully Broken,” which she presented as being about “immaturity, acceptance, and animal crackers.”
Not one of the composers was above the age of 13. They had the beginnings of those habits of musicianship that feed genius. These are kids who do more than practice when told. They plink, strum, beat and otherwise play for fun, letting the musical doodles get to the idea stage, and then letting them run.
I heard people humming “Beautifully Broken” as they left the social hall, walking happily among white-shirted kids who were carting music stands back to the school building. Standing in the evening breeze, leaning on Joseph’s bari sax case, I smiled.
We hear so much about schools of every stripe “failing our children,” about needing to “take back our schools.” We hear the sloshing sounds of another tributary of this stream, the Hallmark-y idea that we should do more for our children, put our children first, that “they are our future,” even as the national mania with selfishness seems to increase like gas in a stomach.
Hearing music drown out all the talk with action is a sweet sound indeed. An enterprising young teacher, kids who respond to him and leap a hurdle of courage to publicly show their creations at the cusp of their teen years — remember how hard it was to open up to adults then? These kids did it, and will do more, be it in music, math, science, the humanities, medicine, you name it. What could be better?
The music director promised to make this an annual event if he could. I say, absolutely. On this inaugural night, I was proud to be a citizen of the village it takes to raise these kids.
If I had had a lighter, or if it had been dark enough for my cell phone, I would have held it up.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr
Photos by Adam Barr