When I was 8 years old, my elementary school brought in a vendor to showcase instruments. I chose the flute. My flute career took me from public school music classes to a private instructor, From there I studied at the Preparatory School at the New England Conservatory of Music, and eventually joined both the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble and the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra (now the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra). And while at NEC, I was in several chamber music groups. I played in college and even taught for a short stint after graduation.
I was spending a lot of time reading music, learning how to read other people's cues, and engaging in a difficult, but rewarding experience with peers. I learned how to be an individual in a group and discovered at an early age why a group dynamic is so important. We looked at each other. We listened carefully to one another. We breathed together. We were in synch. And when we weren't in synch, we'd stop and discuss where we were falling apart and how to get back into the rhythm of each other's parts. When you function well together, you can make some pretty amazing music. I never left an ensemble session feeling empty or unaccomplished. If anything, I left knowing I had a lot more to practice and perfect, so that I could be more of a benefit to the group.
Today, it seems when I see kids in groups, they're all heads down in their phones. I've seen my own kids text. They are quite fast. I've seen their friends all sitting together, heads down, all texting, their digits a blur with quippy responses to snapchats and instas and direct messages. Just imagine if they took all that time learning how to play an instrument with those uber-dextrous fingers of theirs!
"You should talk, mom," I hear in my head. It's my son, staring at me as I text, just as guilty and guiltily as anyone else. Maybe this entry is as much of a promise to myself as it is a recommendation to others.
I'm not saying that there aren't kids out there playing in bands, chamber groups or orchestras. And I'm not saying that those kids aren't texting in between sets of music (heck, they're probably taking selfies while playing, that's how good they are!). But in a world when teenagers seem to be spending less time together making eye contact or learning how to collaborate without technology to connect them, why not make a music ensemble their new place to hone those skills? After all, what makes the world go 'round? Music, of course.
To learn more about how music shapes the social emotional development of children (and adults for that matter), check out this article by Rutgers professor Maurice J. Elias:
Use Music to Develop Kids' Skills and Character