Thanks for Creating Safe Spaces

Thomas Palmatier • June 2022Perspective • June 14, 2022

In this issue of SBO we feature a unique perspective on the role of travel in a music program. Tom Merrill is first and foremost an accomplished music educator, and though he now works in the travel industry, he challenges us to think of why we travel. Answering this question might reveal very different answers than starting with a mindset of “I want to go to _______!” 

This topic seemed especially appropriate because in the past month, I found myself back in the chair as an adjudicator and clinician for traveling groups. After two years away from it, what a treat it was to hear young musicians doing their best in performance. What did I learn from it?

Many ensembles are playing a grade level or two lower than they were before the pandemic. Good! I heard a small middle school group playing Grade 1.5 literature with excellent dynamics, good intonation, and beautiful expressiveness. Bravo to that director for recognizing his students’ strengths and their limitations and programing music they could be proud to perform. I also heard a high school ensemble struggle mightily with several Grade 4 selections that were completely beyond their technical and artistic abilities. They didn’t sound good, and they knew it. As educators, we must meet the students where they are and develop them from there.

Last month, I shared some thoughts on the power of music to help and heal in places of armed conflict. Sadly, the people of Ukraine continue to suffer mightily. We must not forget that while that conflict gets much of the news coverage, there is war and suffering in many places around the world. This caused me to reflect on the battlefields I visited during my decades in uniform, often trying to bring some sort of comfort to those in need. It brought back the time in Iraq when a few female soldiers spent time singing to an Iraqi woman who was not only wounded but was in isolation because of her gender. The tears of joy and laughter they shared remind us once again, that music can heal. Teachers know one doesn’t need to be in a war zone to heal others. This issue features winners of SBO’s Student Essay Contest and there was one thing present in the thousands of submissions. Students see their band and orchestra rooms as safe spaces. Thank you for being the source of solace for so many young people.

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