Sunday, May 25, 2008

Live Concerts

Some of the best gigs I've seen are those with teachers I know playing. My former jazz director plays sax in a jazz quintet; my current trombone teacher plays in a funk band along with other faculty. Once, I was at a swing dancing venue and the band playing there was being led by a legendary former teacher of the area. Many of the Concordia faculty play in the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and it's always a pleasure to get to go see them.

The value of seeing live performances can not be understated or overlooked, no matter what level. There's a certain magic that happens between performer and audience that can not be captured in a recording and can not be reproduced no matter how many audiophiles approve of your stereo. And yet, there seem to be so many impediments in the way of getting students, especially young ones, to see live music.

At the most practical level, though, we are talking about the business end of music, and most venues don't cater to elementary students, one classroom at a time. Because of this, many jazz clubs are expensive, many serve alcohol and can't legally admit anyone under 21 years old, and many venues' shows start once many 5th-graders are in bed.

Here's what I have seen done to combat this :

First, our High School's winter jazz concert always invites the 8th-grade jazz band to come and play some and then listen to what's in store for them in the years to come. The High School bands aren't professional, but they're still impressive to the kids whose crowning achievement was to play an 8-bar solo on "Louie Louie." Also for this concert, our jazz director works the budget so that he can bring in a name artist from around the Twin Cities area to clinic with the bands and play a feature and some solos with the top two groups. This has often been a wonderful experience because although some times the guests talk above our level, they often can play at such a level that is completely wowing to even the best musician but also something that your average Joe can dig and get into.

Also, I've seen the Dakota Bar and Grill sometimes open up their stage to various student groups, the business incentive being that you get all the friends and family members in the club, looking at their ads and buying their food. I laud them for doing this because it gives some real gigging experience to a beginner group while forgoing the cover to a really prestigious venue that has seen a lot of great names play there.

The same jazz director as above has also often worked deals with the venues he's played at to reduce the cover or otherwise help get kids in and see good music well played. One especially cool night was when I got to see their quintet play to a packed house at Brilliant Corners, and packed not with students, but with serious jazz lovers; this really gave our director some credence with the students and parents who were there.

However, I know that I come from a really extraordinary program with some really extraordinary people. In my own teaching, I'd like to try and make as many of the opportunities I had available to me available to my students. However, this just opens up a host of questions : Would arranging group discounts make things feasible for low-income families? With the rising costs in transportation, how can I budget that in? Would my administration look kindly upon having parent volunteer drivers? What about the busier schedules that kids have these days? Could they find time to come? Would it be fair to tie students' grades (extra credit or otherwise) to something that they're not legally required to attend? (because I as a teacher can't make them attend things after school and make it count for a grade - isn't that the law as it stands?)

Still, there are so many good things that I've seen come of getting that kind of interactive experience that I find myself with no choice but to try and make ends meet. Ideally, what I'd like to see is this : in class the days before, we talk about what we're going to see; we also draft questions to ask the performers, learn a bit about their art and about the pieces on the program, and learn about concert etiquette for whichever venue we're going to. The day of, however we get there, we show up and hopefully will have arranged for some sort of pre-concert lecture or discussion; I've seen the SPCO and the Minnesota Orchestra do both of these things to great effect. Then, the concert starts, my students are perfect little angels (oh please oh please!), and the concert ends. Afterwards, we hopefully will have arranged for a post-concert talk, formal or informal, for which the students will have prepared questions so we don't waste the time with this person/people. They learn a lot, and we have a brief discussion the next day in class to recap and for me to get some feedback.

In a case where I'd really have some budget to blow, I'd love to bring in a musician from the group to do a clinic with the band and have some one-on-one time that way. Perhaps this could be part of a pre-concert talk if we're lucky enough to have the group come to our school so we can share a concert, have the clinic, and not have to pay for our own busing.

Also, there's nothing stopping me from teaming up with other local schools to help cut the cost by splitting it between two schools. I've already told several of my friends that I'm going to be calling upon them once we're all teaching to do this if we end up teaching close to each other. Heck, if I expanded to enough schools, I could turn it into a regular jazz festival.

Finally, I'd love to know how to get parents involved in this process. I know there must be a myriad of ways to do so, but which would be the best use of my time and energy? Perhaps, if there's really some problem about concert etiquette from the audience at concerts, I could use it as a way to show how people listen to non-rock concerts. Or perhaps I could parents as further cash leveraging, saying that I could double their numbers by bringing parents if they could give us more of a discount. Obviously, I'd need parent chaperons, but the more I can get, the fewer discipline problems I'd foresee.

I'd love to hear what the community has to think about this, and if you've got any ideas you wouldn't mind telling, please let me know. Before too long, I'll try and get a post about fund-raising this whole operation out there.

Happy weekend to you all,

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