Facing the Music

It’s meant to be entertainment, but I’m pretty sure that every educator in the room at the NAISAC plenary sessions is entertained by far more than the sweet sounds of the student groups whose performances precede the speechifying. It’s not just the music that’s on display; it’s the kids.

A few years back I started looking around at my fellow audience members during these performances. No adult has ever listened to kid-produced music so intently just to appreciate the tunes, and it became clear to me that nearly everyone in the room—thousands of us, teachers all—was watching those kids and doing just what I do when I watch: I was analyzing, pondering, and creating backstories for the kids whose expressions, dress, body language, and apparent levels of engagement are on full display for an audience whose members lives’ work is figuring out kids.

It’s a panorama of essential kid-ness: The head bobbers, the silent starers, the earnest angels, the unmade beds, the stage-frightened automata—they’re all there for us to see, magnified on the Jumbotron screens. We can try to imagine what they are like in class, what they’re like at home, how they think, what they’re like as friends, how they feel about the experience they’re having. We empathize, we applaud, we sometimes mentally chastise; we can even imagine on occasion what the choral or orchestra director must be thinking. We can see—or guess—who is Old Reliable and who just doesn’t know the words–never has, never will. We can see who is transported by the music they are creating and who isn’t quite aware—perhaps because of the giant audience before them—that they are actually making music.

The Annual Conference has many pleasures, but I will confess that watching those kids, and imagining what three or four thousand educators are thinking and feeling and taking pleasure in as they watch along with me, gives me an enormous and heartening feeling of satisfaction and community—the feeling that we are all in this together, and that we share something truly profound.

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