Band, Orchestra and Choir Festival Helps Get Students Used to Feedback

Let’s face it, feedback can be fearsome. Constructive criticism might be good for us, but sort of in the way that kale and exercise are good for us. Even we fully formed adult humans find ourselves bracing, at least a little, when faced with an honest critique. So imagine how daunting it must be to a seventh grade euphonium player?

On March 22 and March 23, Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS) held a district-wide band, orchestra and choir festival. Middle and high-school music students learned from professional musicians over the course of two intense days at City High School. The guest musicians served as adjudicators, advising students and their teachers on each ensemble’s strengths and areas for improvement. The sessions culminated into festivals, organized by the GRPS Fine Arts Department, are important for students because it can be so daunting to perform for judges and receive their feedback.

Grand Valley State University director of bands Dr. John Martin worked with the Alger Middle School band. Led by music teacher Katherine Vermeer, the band performed for Professor Martin, who then delivered his assessment—along with some helpful hints. Percussionist Damon said the feedback from Dr. Martin was really helpful.

In addition to a stage performance, each group participated in a short clinic to work on other skills. Even after sight reading—arguably the scariest part of the day – Burton Middle violinist Emmanuel remained composed.

“When I play my instrument I feel so calm—that’s why I love it,” Emmanuel said.

Nicole Langford led the sight-reading clinic with the Burton Middle School band, infusing plenty of humor and encouragement into her critique.

“I want you to be loud—just under obnoxious,” Nicole said.

A little later, Nicole gave more feedback about student composition.

“I see crossed legs—we don’t do that in orchestra—that’s for lunch with the Queen,” she said to the students.

Adjudicators and teachers explained festival sight-reading rules to students and helped them practice the new piece without actually making a sound on their instruments.

Patricia Wunder, orchestra teacher at Gerald R. Ford Leadership Academy, expressed what a fantastic learning experience festival was for her students. The Ford orchestra performed for Rodney Page, who cautioned them not to be average, because “average is forgettable.”

“Everyone came in together, which is tough,” Patricia said. “A lot of middle school groups—that would be a disaster right there.”

Both festival days were filled with learning and growth, as individual musicians and as broader ensembles. Everyone who participated came away stronger and more enthusiastic about their craft. Yes, feedback can be frightening, but in the end, we think it’s worth it.

The 2015/2016 music festivals were made possible with an Arts Education grant from the SAF.

“I was honored to work with the string students from Grand Rapids yesterday. The string teachers there are doing an exceptional job and you are really lucky to have teachers who genuinely care about the students.”  -Rodney Page

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