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Posts tagged ‘joy’

Dear Orchestra, I love you.

There are many things that we do in life, and this is one of my best. It’s funny how these things make themselves manifest. Every week I meet with a group of people who come together to form an orchestra and we enjoy learning and playing. We make music. We are an orchestra. I know very little about the people. I have no idea where they come from, what their jobs are, if they have jobs, what they believe, like or dislike, what they eat for dinner, what they do or have done in their lives, and yet we do amazing things together.

Last night was our concert. It is nice to recognise where you are and a concert is a way of doing this. We framed it as an informal playing of our pieces: anyone can come, it’s free, we all bring food and drink to share, and we make music. We were in the University Chapel, and I had (not so) jokingly told everyone to dress warmly as the main preparation. Where we are it’s winter, and although it is not sub-zero, the winter in England is cold and wet, and it gets in to your bones. The Chapel is very beautiful, but it is a big, big space with two giant stained glass walls that was built before people thought of insulation or heat retention, and let’s just say that heating is a challenge. There was no problem last night – the place was packed and with 100+ bodies in the audience it was toasty.

Our policy is that anyone can come to be part of the group and basically you turn up when you can and when you want to. Something must be going right because we had 46 people listed as performers on the programme.

What’s so special about this group?

We do it. We make music and it actually sounds good and it’s not conventional and it’s not your usual group makeup, and sod that, we do it anyway and I have not remembered a more purely joyful collaborative concert experience in a very long time.

We have saxophones (who actually save the day more often than not) in the group. We have 5 flutes and 9 clarinets, as opposed to the traditional 2 or maybe 4 in an orchestra. Dorothy is a killer percussionist who even bought her own cymbals for our Tchaikovsky and next term is going to debut on drum kit. Hubert and Eunju bring their daughter to every rehearsal and she is amazingly patient and sweet. Ray and Mark have taken on arranging songs they want to play with the group and next term we’ll see two of our violinists play a solo, Bach Double Concerto, with us.

There’s music in the air like moisture waiting to form clouds and blow across the sky in wonderful formations – making patterns, giving breeze and shade, and bringing storms as well as rainbows. We bring people together to form those possibilities, and last night we made it happen.

It wasn’t about right notes or perfection. It was just about growth, being a part of, and letting music be the medium that carried us and the audience. And what an audience – it was a full house! The things that people said afterwards were not about how theme A was presented with care and made such a contrast to the B section and weren’t those keys in the development a surprise! No, they said thank you for giving my family such a wonderful evening both experiencing the music and performing. That was beautiful. See music is all the more meaningful when it starts with meaning, and here it wasn’t primarily about the sounds, but about the accomplishments, the audacity of someone to believe that after however many years of not playing they could do it again, that even though they never did a grade whatever or maybe never played with others that they could. You can. You bloody well can, and I’m not going to tell you otherwise. I am going to do everything I can to find a way to help you to do it. -and no, it’s not perfect, but neither am I. My goal in life isn’t to be perfect, it’s to be with people. This music had meaning because everyone in the space cared about each other and collectively worked to make it come together.

I wanted to somehow thank the orchestra, so I did one of my odd-ball things and made them all cookies in the shape of them. Orchestra cookies J You can see the trumpets, clarinets, oboes held out to the side, bassoon, contrabassoon, sax, and the strings… Somehow a little gesture of being willing to spend time thinking about each one of them (and producing something yummy) seemed a good way to say thank you, to celebrate each one of them.

After the concert there was such an air of genuine happiness from all. I heard from one of the players that the musician next to them had turned to them after we finished performing and said – that was really lovely. They all came to hear us. -and the first person said to me, in relaying the story, ‘It’s a bit like a children’s nativity where the parents come and their child is just the best thing, but for us we’re adults, and we were the best thing for our people, and that is really special.’ They are 100% right. It is special and such an important thing to cultivate in life. Celebrating others is the best.

Here’s to the next year of music making. Thank you ECCO Orchestra. I do love you.


…and we have beautiful photos thanks to Andrew Worsfold: 
ECCO Concert 7 December 2019


Sharing joy & the quest for excellence

One of my students, Francesca Raimondi, an accomplished teacher studying on the ESTA Postgraduate Certificate for String Teaching course shared her writing about striving for excellence with and for our students. It is with her permission that I’m sharing it – because I found it so inspiring. Joy, achievement, self-efficacy, real learning, it’s all in there. This is also on Francesca’s blog, but that’s in Italian, as that is her first language! I am grateful she has translated it for me.

Francesca’s translation:

Given each student’s features and skills, one of my biggest aim is to teach them to go beyond their limits. I believe everyone can reach his maximum and excellence. Excellence is not perfection, but it’s the highest level one can reach in terms of performance, learning and musical skills’s development.

A student should reach excellence just for himself. He shouldn’t have an abstract idea of perfection. He shouldn’t compare himself with anyone else. But he just should have the constant increase of his skills as a goal.

To put it in statistic terms, he should have an idiographic and not nomothetic approach. This way he’ll be able to create his personal story of success and growth.

This goals aren’t, in my opinion, just for the “most talented” pupils. They’re for everyone.

I expect the excellence from all my students. Even the youngest ones, aged often 2 or 3. And the disabled ones. Each one has his maximum and his excellence, and he can reach them. My job as a teacher is “just” to adapt my work to each one of them and work oh their motivation. I also want to discover and foster their strengths.

Using positive reinforcement, games and motivation, I demand them total earnestness and dedication. I don’t like making distinctions or discounts or this matter.

All of them know they can get better and they’re happy about it.

The cutest example of happiness is Maria, who has Down syndrome and after few months of lessons shows all her satisfaction for having learnt her first rhythm on the violin :


I want first of all teach my students to let anyone say to them “You can’t do this” or “You won’t succeed”. I want them to have high expectations for themselves. And I want them to try once more, practice, engage. Without neither anxiety nor fear but with tenacity and enthusiasm.

This way, when they’ll be grown up they’ll be able to face life’s challenges without being taken aback.  They’ll develop resilience and self esteem, and music will have been for them not just a nice activity. It will have been first of all an opportunity of growth and a great learning for their life that will last forever.”

Thank you Francesca.I love the topic of ‘going beyond your limits’. They aren’t limits, most often we don’t realise they are just corners, or we need to stand on blocks to see beyond the walls – and teachers can help guide us to that freedom of thought and possibility of making those dreams reality. This is music with joy, and I agree 100% Bravissima!

To find out more about Francesca and her teaching, see her blog HERE.