What your children learn in orchestra

What your children are learning in Orchestra

Did you know that participating in orchestra will teach your children important team-building skills that will last them a lifetime?

SP NeumannA few weeks ago, I was listening to a Mount Royal University Conservatory orchestra rehearsal, with Ben Neuman conducting. My mind was on my work, training workshops for team building in organizations, but then I became aware of what the children were doing. They were displaying the most important parts of team-building. By focusing on the rehearsal, I began to see the major components of team building in Mr. Neuman’s approach to rehearsing; the same ones used in team-building with adults.

As a parent of an orchestra alumni, I was awestruck. My son had learned these same skills from playing in this same orchestra years ago.

The children were respectful: they had learned to listen to Mr. Neuman and to each other with focused attention. Their eyes were on him, as leader, when he spoke: he had taught them the cues to follow so that they played as one team altogether. They had learned how to interpret his body language, and act accordingly. What a valuable skill for later on in adulthood, when understanding body language is the biggest part of communication.

Moreover, Mr. Neuman gave them clear instructions on what he expected of them.

Parents, do you have the situation at work where you have to listen carefully to what your boss is saying to you? Notice how your children are learning to listen in that way today in orchestra or ensemble.

In an orchestra, children have ample opportunity to learn the skill of seeing the big picture and being able to take it apart into smaller pieces. Mr. Neuman had taught them to look at the whole piece and then to practice parts of it together so they could each see their individual role in making the orchestra a success.

I marveled at this behavior in the children. Mr. Neuman would pick any measure and have them all play together until it reached a high standard of performance. Not only were they mastering the big picture skill, they were reaching towards high standards of excellence. Doesn’t every team want to achieve their highest goals?

The children also learned patience. This is an indispensable quality for success in a team. Repetition of the measures led to victory. As they persisted in practicing various areas of weakness, they reinforced strong habit patterns that will serve them well in the present and in the future.

How does it happen for the children to be mastering these skills that lead to strong team member performance later on in life? I attribute it to Mr. Neuman’s strong “team leader” skills.

As conductor, he was also emulating what a good team leader does to keep his team focused on reaching their goal. Here are a few that I observed:

  • He told the truth so the children knew exactly where they stood.
  • He created a supportive learning environment.
  • He had many different purposeful ways of doing this.
  • He made it clear to them what each part of the orchestra was doing and brought it all together with synergy.
  • He praised when it was due and used his facial expressions and body language to communicate his ideas in a consistent manner.
  • When he gave admonishments, he did so in a positive, uplifting manner and the children responded with greater self-control.
  • He encouraged them to try their best and how to overcome pitfalls.

As a leader, he made the children accountable for their role in the orchestra. After playing a difficult part of the piece, he asked, ”Does it work?” The children were able to assess themselves and their progress. Imagine as adults how they will be able to know how they are doing on their team. Mr. Neumann also used feeling words to describe how he wanted them to play, validating that they too had feelings.

In order to lighten an arduous task, Mr. Neumann occasionally used drama and humor. How wonderful for leaders to have such sensitivity to how their teams are doing. Over time, all of this leads to higher levels of self-esteem in the children. Since Mr. Neumann modeled so many positive team leader qualities, the children will know what to look for in other team leaders, and how to become great ones themselves.

Another crucial skill is what to do when you make a mistake. This is a tribute to Mr. Neumann’s non-condemnatory approach to learning. He would have different parts of the orchestra play alone to isolate a few measures that needed work. Everyone else sat in respectful and compassionate silence as their peers did their best.

The orchestral students realized that mistakes do happen and it is not the end of the world. At the same time they felt empowered to correct the mistake and improve upon it; to have it become a strength.

This was one of the most profound lessons I had that day that I desired all adults to learn in a team.

If you find that your child has a greater sense of peace, has more self-control, is able to persist in the midst of challenges, and is more sensitive to others, you can attribute it to their experiences in orchestra with Mr. Neuman. He is preparing them for their team responsibilities in the adult world with flourish and with flair.

— Christine LaPierre

Ben Neumann is the coordinator of our Junior Orchestra program, which takes young string musicians, with just one year of private lessons, and brings them into an ensemble opportunity. The outcomes listed above serve many purposes for our students as they move forward in life, and by participating in orchestra and ensembles, they can become fine musicians.

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