Last weekend I put on a workshop and concert for my flute students, joined by members of the flute group I run for adults, Sheffield Flute Choir. We worked together on some aspects of technique (mainly breathing, which involved a rather messy and competitive bubble-blowing session!) and playing as an ensemble - 17 flutes together! The concert included performances from students playing solos and duets, plus a couple of pieces from the flute choir, and finished off with the whole group playing the pieces we'd worked on in the morning. You can see some lovely photos, comments from audience and participants, and a bit of video over on my workshops page. I'm immensely proud of everyone who played, and grateful to those family and friends who came along and were such a supportive audience.
Before the event, I was knee-deep in preparations, lists, spreadsheets and brain-whirling. Afterwards, once the tiredness has subsided, there's always a bit of analysis. When I started teaching, it seemed natural to me to organise these events, because several of my own previous teachers did just that, giving students a chance to get together and play a few times a year. Having individual lessons can be quite isolated - you might only ever play by yourself, in front of your teacher, and maybe to some family members. Some of my younger students are members of groups at school or through the local music hub, and some of the adults are members of local groups (including the flute choir), wind bands, orchestras, and folk groups. But some don't have many opportunities to share their music with others.
The traditional thing to say about events like this is that they're good 'practice' or 'experience' of performing, and yes, I certainly hope and think that they are - that the experience of these workshops and concerts will give people skills which they can take forward to other musical activities. Learning how to work in a group rehearsal, and getting experience of performing 'on stage' is really helpful for joining ensembles and performing in other concerts and exams. The audience for these events is always made up of family and friends, so perhaps not as 'scary' as a 'proper' public concert (although some people say it's easier to play in front of strangers!). But I hope that as well as providing 'useful experience' for other performances, they have their own value. For a lot of students, having is event provided a useful focus - having something to work towards. For some it was their first performance, some had only started learning earlier this year, and I think it's important to have opportunities to do that - whatever level you're at, you're making music and you have something to offer; you don't have to wait until you're a particular standard before being able or 'allowed' to perform. Meeting up with others who are sharing the same experiences is a BIG part of the whole event - I think the chatting over tea break and lunch is just as important as the playing (see previous comment about feeling isolated)! Playing with others is such a special part of playing an instrument. Performing in front of your family and friends (who may only normally hear bits and pieces being practised in another room) is just as much a part of making music as playing in front of an anonymous 'public'. And of course, most other people's family and friends are strangers to a lot of other students.
Going to any concert can be inspiring – watching a professional play can spur you on to practise and improve. But it’s also useful to hear people who are closer to your own level – to hear pieces that you could achievably play in a few months’ or years’ time, to see the things that other people do the same way or differently to you, and to learn from those. Some of the younger students find it surprising that adults can be beginners too, and I think it's good for them to see that you can carry on learning throughout your life. Perhaps even some of the audience might be inspired to take up learning music too!
And for me... I learn something new every time I run one of these. I learn how different students react and respond in a performance situation. I learn what works and what doesn’t, how much time things take, and how many packets of biscuits I need to buy (lots). I always perform myself too, in duets with students, playing piano accompaniments, and preparing a more challenging duet piece with a willing victim, er, friend! I learn more about how to work with groups of players, and that I could do with learning more about how to conduct...
I love going out travelling to students for their lessons, but it's also wonderful to see all these people who I visit together in one place, to meet relatives who I might have heard about but never met before, to see this whole little 'community' enjoying each other's company and sharing in the music-making of their families, friends, and fellow flute players.
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