I am lucky enough to work quite closely with the good people of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Sometimes they send a quartet out to a school, and I run a facilitated concert with these wonderful players, teaching children about different ways to play stringed instruments, or about concepts like ‘ostinato’, or ‘ground bass’.
But this week, we did something different.
I am at one school where there are a lot of children with really difficult little lives. Lots of family members in prison. Lots of kids having to look after themselves a lot of the time. You know the sort of stuff…. I write about it often. I’ve said it all before. Three terms ago, some girls in years 3-6 came to me and asked if I could start a choir with them, so that they could get together to sing weekly. So the senior choir was born. In term one I had 14 girls. In term 2 it jumped to 22. In term 3 it stayed at 22 – and we had a concert to prepare for.
The ACO was going to send out a quartet to perform with these girls. So I had to come up with four songs that would work well with a quartet backing these young voices, and that the girls would be happy rehearsing for 8 weeks. I thought I had come up with a good four – and then sent the to the ACO for arranging.
Two weeks out from the concert, and the girls were restless. The songs didn’t sound very polished. None of the girls would really look at me. They wouldn’t stand still. I was worried. Would they be put off by the quartet? Would they actually be able to do this, or would the wheels fall off? (Also, I am a cellist – I am not a choral conductor, so my conducting is a bit patchy……)
A week out from the concert and I was cranky in rehearsal.
‘Look at me!! I can help you!’
‘Why don’t you know these words?’
‘Why can’t you stand still?’
The day of the concert came (it always does). One girl who is chronically late to school was waiting at the gate before 8 am (school starts at 9). EVERYONE in the choir was at school. Two of them even told me that they had gone to bed early the night before so they could concentrate.
I started the rehearsal by allowing the girls to hear the quartet playing the accompaniment to one of the songs, in the hope that they would get used to the sound. I started off the ACO players and then watched faces. Now, these girls weren’t to know that they were playing with some of the best players in the country (although I was appreciating that!) – but their faces showed it. Little grins turned to big grins. Jaws dropped. Heads nodded.
‘They’re deadly!’ says one girl.
You know, I shouldn’t have worried about anything.
All that sleep I lost? I should have trusted those little people.
They weren’t put off by anything.
They stood – tall, proud, and looking at me. In fact, most of them didn’t take their eyes off me.
They were still.
They knew all the words.
They sang with all their hearts.
And they sounded FANTASTIC. They performed for their peers, and lots of special visitors. They were wonderful. Their school cheered them. I cheered them. Their teachers were amazed.
So many of the kids in this school are brow-beaten and down-trodden. They are told they are no good, stupid, worthless….. Well, for an hour, my 22 girls RULED THE SCHOOL. They were the best they could have been – and then some.
I was one seriously proud music teacher.