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Paradigm Shifts and Parents’ Roles

Every once in a while we need a good dose of mother nature to wake us up and make us realize what is truly important. I have had many such moments throughout my life. Each time I experience one, it forces me to get out of the rut of my daily existence. It drives me to take a good hard look at the things that matter – and I mean really matter.

It is so easy to get caught up in our work and our lives. Too often we end up obsessing over little things, things that we believe are important for us to do our jobs well, things that allow us to get through the day and to (supposedly) live our lives. But too often these things don’t really matter.

In his classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Steven R. Covey writes of “paradigms.” He defines them as, “… the way we see the world – not in terms of our visual sense of sight, but in terms of perceiving, understanding, interpreting.” Covey goes on to let us know that these paradigms are also the source of our attitudes and behaviors. He then challenges us to “shift” our paradigm, to force ourselves to look at things a different way – in other words, to a make our own “aha” moment without mother nature’s intervention.

 

A Tragic Reminder

Recently I had one of those moments. It was after midnight when I received an unexpected call from a colleague with terrible news. One of our college students had been riding his bicycle home and was struck and killed by an automobile. I immediately dressed, headed to the hospital, and assumed the responsibility of being there when the parents arrived.

The heartache and pain I was experiencing paled in comparison to the emotions I witnessed as father, mother, and two sisters learned that one of their own would never come home again. As we all sat around crying, I heard time and time again how much his music meant to him, how he wanted to be a music teacher, and how he was looking forward to his next performance at the college.

 

The Aftermath

The days that followed were difficult. Students, faculty, and staff did the best they could to cope with the loss of a 20-year-old young man who was well liked, always had a smile on his face, always had an encouraging word, and always lived life in the moment. A large contingent of our college family attended his memorial service. When we arrived, we were greeted with memories; a slideshow of happier times, and poster boards filled with photographs – photographs that highlighted 20 years of life well-lived.

At the memorial service, dozens of his high school and collegiate classmates – all musicians – recalled the times they had had together and the important role he had played in their lives. One by one they all shared stories about a rehearsal, a performance, a time when he was helping someone practice, or just hanging out in the music room. It was a sober reminder of how short our time on this earth is.

The next day, our college hosted a one-day music festival. Two bands and a choir full of middle school students rehearsed all day in preparation for a short concert. As the first band was getting their final instructions, I looked out to see a standing room-only crowd of anxious parents, families, teachers, and friends. And then it hit me.

Being an old school director and a type-A personality, I like to have all of my i’s dotted and all of my t’s crossed. Organization and order are important elements of my life. I have been schooled as a musician that our audiences need to sit down, shut up, and enjoy whatever we have to perform for them. That’s the way it is supposed to be. After all, music is an art form and we are in school. Unfortunately, my schooling never really taught me why parents attend school music performances.

I would like to say that parents who attend our school band concerts love music, but that simply isn’t always the case. True to form, the parents who attended this concert weren’t there for the music either; they were there for their children. At this moment in time, I realized that music was the vehicle. As I gazed out to the audience with about five minutes left before the performance, I grabbed the microphone and announced, “Moms and dads, now’s the time! Grab your cameras and come on up. Bring your cell phones, your iPads, and take as many pictures as you want. Don’t let this moment pass without capturing it.”

Before my voice had stopped resonating in the room, the front of the band looked like the paparazzi had invaded the Oscars or Emmys. It was an amazing sight to watch parents identify their son or daughter, seeing the students smiling, waving their arms, calling out to mom and dad, and posing with their instruments and friends. They were having the time of their life.

We gave them a two-minute warning and then began the concert. I was amazed. The audience sat quietly, listened, and gave each ensemble a rousing ovation. They suddenly became a model audience. Listening intently, they were quiet and remained in their seats. The frenetic energy that filled the hall just prior to the concert had been subdued.

I believe the simple act of allowing the parents to connect with their sons and daughters made all the difference. You could sense the bond, the love between parents and children. The nonverbal communications and the array of devices that captured the moment was all the evidence I needed to affirm my belief.

 

The Parents’ Role

As students are in their early stages of music study, it is important to realize the role that parents play in their children’s success. None of us fully understands the profound impact music has in a child’s life, but we know that music makes a difference. What we do understand is that parental support is a real key to a child’s success in school.

As teachers, we must remember that just as music is a vehicle that connects students and parents, parents may be the most important link to connect students with music. You might think that this also sets up the classic chicken or egg question, but in this case the answer is simple. Parents are first in this equation, and developing and maintaining parent support is one of the keys to getting students to join band and orchestra and to keeping them active and involved.

Directors must encourage parents to attend all band and orchestra activities. Teachers also need to instruct students to invite their parents. Getting students to understand that having their parents in attendance increases the number of people in the audience and will make performing more fun and enjoyable.

Being aware of the important role that parents play in music and the important role that music makes in parenting is a start. Now it’s up to you to find ways to allow these relationships to flourish, be it pictures before your next performance or cookies and soft drinks after. Hopefully you can make your own paradigm shift without having to get a telephone call in the middle of the night. That early morning phone call was a hard reminder for me to once-again be made aware of the powerful bond that exists in a family that is brought together by music.


If you are looking for ideas to help build support for your program from parents, administration, or the community at large, get a copy of The Music Achievement Council’s “Tips for Success” by visiting: www.nammfoundation.org/for-educators. There, you will find a host of resources for music teachers. In addition to the “Tips,” you will find materials to help you recruit and retain students as well as the “First Performance” concert for both band and orchestra.

The Music Achievement Council is a not-for-profit organization that is sponsored by the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) and the National Association of School Music Dealers. Its purpose is to enable more students to begin and stay in instrumental music programs, to share real-world, successful strategies developed by instrumental music teachers.

 

Charles T. Menghini is president, professor of Music, and director of Bands at VanderCook College of Music in Chicago, Illinois. He began his teaching at VanderCook College in 1994.

Originally from Iron Mountain, Michigan, Menghini attended Northern Michigan University and the University of Missouri – Columbia, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Music Education. He also holds a master’s in Education from the University of Missouri – Kansas City, and a doctorate in Wind Conducting from the University of Missouri – Kansas City Conservatory.

Charles Menghini has written for numerous professional journals and magazines and is also co-author of the Essential Elements 2000 Band Method, published by the Hal Leonard Corporation, where he also serves as an educational advisor. Dr. Menghini frequently serves as a national and international conductor, clinician, and adjudicator. An active performer, Charlie played lead trumpet in the Kansas City Chiefs Professional Football Band for 15 seasons.

Menghini is an educational member of the Music Achievement Council of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) Foundation.

 



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