Widening world perspectives, instilling confidence in tackling challenges
As I watched the Winter Ensembles Concert this past Wednesday, I was struck by something that is really not typical of student performances that I have seen at other schools before coming to Oak Meadow. What I saw this week was much more joyful, animated by the kindness and creativity of the students themselves. I observed spontaneous joy, friendship and support for one another, the absence of pressure and competitiveness, moments of artistic brilliance, and students who had the freedom to be themselves.
I think this is worth noting for several reasons. They show the value of performing arts in the educational experience of the students, something that is truly at risk right here in our community (and around the nation) as many public schools are cutting back the budget in arts programs. It is also notable because bringing a performance to the stage is such a healthy and empowering experience for the students, while at the same time gives them an opportunity to tackle complex and sophisticated material, including a dramatic performance of “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,” a synchronized swimming comedy skit set to “Con te partirò,” and an instrumental performance of Fauré’s “Pavane.”
After the performance, I asked Oak Meadow’s music and drama teacher, Steve Pixley, to help me better understand how he works with the students in a way that enables them to bring out all of these qualities on performance night. Here is what Mr. Pixley shared with me:
“In preparing students for performances at Oak Meadow, I have a few consistent core goals. Number one is joyful, uninhibited self-expression, a life-affirming human experience I place above all others in both choosing repertoire and directing rehearsals. All children should have the experience of genuinely delighting an audience and lighting up the stage with their smiles and voices.
“Secondly, students are asked to really work hard and stretch themselves by memorizing and polishing large amounts of diverse and often complex material. This aspect of the arts widens their world perspectives and grows their confidence to tackle difficult challenges throughout their lives.
“And finally, what I have found most effective in getting students to (a) master such a large quantity of material, and to (b) embrace it with palpable joy, is to (c) make every selection an artistic collaboration. Students understand that their own creative ideas will be welcomed and considered seriously, sometimes debated or revised by their peers, occasionally tried out and discarded, and quite often incorporated into the show. By the time it gets to stage, a piece will contain new elements from several students. The expectation that every song or scene becomes a creative partnership is the key to the magic of what happens on concert night, when the performers are able to feel the audience’s reaction to being surprised by fresh interpretations and unexpected details and twists that truly express the students’ brilliant thinking and unique personalities.”
Click here for some photos of the 2020 Winter Ensembles performance.