Why Harmony Bridge?
There are so many things right about instrumental music education in American schools. First, we must be grateful that we even have music in the schools, being one of few countries in the world where this is the case. Our kids have the opportunity to learn to play an instrument, play in ensembles of all sorts, be exposed to styles of music that they would otherwise not experience, find a social place that is safe and welcoming, gain self-confidence, and just have fun.
However, diminishing appreciation for the value of music education by those outside the field is bringing about increased budget cuts and general lack of support, resulting in less staff, fewer days of band, starting kids later, etc. Some programs have been done away with completely.
We find ourselves constantly defending the validity of our programs, and it’s hard not to blame the decision-makers for a lack of appreciation for music education.
It seems we have no choice but to defend what we do, however, at the same time, we must look to ourselves. No matter how valuable we consider our work to be, there are ways to make our programs even more valuable for each child. That doesn’t mean doing more things, rather doing different things. We may need to rebalance our priorities.
So what is it that we do?
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) outlines the National Standards for Music Education, but they don’t dictate exactly what must be taught, with what emphasis, and in what manner. That’s up to each school; up to each director.
What we teach comes down to the choices made by the director based on that individual’s personal philosophy (along with administration priorities, parent desires, and/or traditions of the program).
No matter, what we all have in common is that we are teaching “how” to make music — the skills of reading music and playing an instrument. It makes sense. We must teach the craft. However, this seems to be far and away the predominant focus.
The “why” is certainly not ignored — including gaining an appreciation for music and the arts; experiencing working both independently and as a team; pursuing excellence (although, hopefully, winning trophies and competitions does not become the core of the why).
Harmony Bridge focuses on expanding the why by giving kids opportunities to reach out to people who are hungry for both musical performances and for human interaction. By definition, the performing arts are intended to be shared. Performers learn their craft with the ultimate goal of presenting it to an audience. The material and presentation are meant to uplift, to inspire, to edify others. And, in turn, the performers’ lives are enriched. We must teach that — from the very beginning.
Harmony Bridge is built on the notion that we, as educators, can offer an even more enriching experience, thereby increasing the value of band for the students, the school district and the entire community. Everyone wins!
Following are the guiding principles and goals of Harmony Bridge:
1. Personal Growth The opportunities for personal growth through Harmony Bridge are seemingly endless — from social skills and public speaking, to compassion, self-confidence and self-esteem.
2. The Healing Force of Music Harmony Bridge provides opportunities for students to experience the power of music to uplift and inspire by performing for people in all levels of senior care. It’s more than entertainment, it’s music therapy.
3. Sharing Performing is about sharing. Competitions and other adjudications are not about sharing as much as assessment. That is an essential part of learning the craft, but it’s not the whole story. School concerts typically reach the child’s parents and family. That’s good, too, but it can be so much more. The students need to have a chance to experience the satisfaction of sharing beyond their families, with those they don’t know, and to be appreciated for their kindness as well as their skills.
4. Bridging Generations Bringing students together with elderly people opens doors to connect generations. The students not only perform, but take time to interact and visit with the residents, learning to appreciate and respect the senior population.
In addition, Harmony Bridge offers important musical and performance concepts.
1. Increased performance opportunities There never seem to be enough chances to perform. It seems in band we rehearse 95% of the time and perform 5%. Kids want to perform and need to perform. Harmony Bridge increases performance opportunities.
2. Musical Independence Harmony Bridge adds a dimension to music education of small ensembles on a regular basis. Other than the yearly Solo and Ensemble Festival, it is a rarity in most band programs. The small ensemble helps develop musical independence by giving the students a chance to have a “voice of their own” — something that is typically not part of the large ensemble experience. It gives the student a sense of individuality within the context of the group, thereby building musical skills, confidence, leadership and teamwork.
3.Performance and Showmanship Although the foundation of what we do is the playing of a musical instrument, it can be so much more. A concert is a performance; it’s theatre. The ability to connect with the audience and incorporate elements of stage presence and showmanship will make the presentation more effective for both the audience and the performer. This also builds self-confidence as students go beyond their instrument and music stand. Additionally, these experiences will carry over to non-musical opportunities of presenting oneself in public.
Adding Harmony Bridge to the present curriculum will add depth and value that will both enhance the experience for the child and change the way others view the importance of school band.
Band must be a vehicle to teach the whole person, to teach life-enriching virtues. And by giving the students opportunities to experience music in this broader sense, it will also contribute to an ongoing involvement and love for the musical arts.
Harmony Bridge is not suggesting throwing the baby out with the bath water — but to consider that no matter how well your band plays, no matter how many kids are involved, no matter how vibrant you consider your program to be, that you may be overlooking some things that could make you an even more effective and successful educator, enrich the band experience even more, and make you one your students’ most important teachers … forever.