I guess most people have favourite quotes and poems and posters which adorn their walls, some faded copies from years ago. A favourite of Music Teachers is one which is entitled “This is why I teach Music”:
and lists a number of “nots” before concluding:
But so you will be human, so you will recognise beauty, so you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world”.
They are pretty profound words, aren’t they? If we consider my field of Instrumental Music, it is an optional activity conducted, in our case, up at the top of the High school, by a collection of completely part-time staff. Fitted in around an otherwise crowded school curriculum. With no curriculum time allocated to it at all – rather, the program runs by withdrawing the students from other classes, with Bands/Ensembles taking place before school, after school and in break times. And we are by no means unique – this is quite a common pattern in Australian schools.
Yet…. “an infinite beyond this world”?
Last week finally saw the long-awaited visit of Dr. Quinton Morris, Professor of Violin from Seattle University, to the school where I teach, as part of his BREAKTHROUGH World Tour. (Finally! exclaims anyone who knows me, as I have been negotiating with him and his agents since October 2014, and God knows how much I have wittered on about him and his potential tour, which has been a long time in the planning). The Mum of one of my students asked me recently how this had come to fruition. My answer…”a combination of Coincidence, Determination, and Persistence”.
Well, after all those months, years, of emails, phone calls, Skype conversations, finally the day came when Dr. Morris and I were to meet in person. The arrangement was that I would meet him at his accommodation and take him and his pianist Ashley Hribar (they had not worked together for a few years) to a quiet local place to rehearse. I had with me (by agreement) two talented students who were to receive some coaching on their violin concertos while also at the rehearsal venue.
I left the girls in the car and approached the door of the motel. The concierge seemed pretty inept with his computer trying to find the room number, so I peeked through the glass entrance doors myself. Two familiar looking figures were sitting on the lounges. I went in and one stood up, grinned broadly, stepped forward, enquired “Kylie?” and enveloped me in a warm hug of greeting. I grinned. This was going to be fine. This Professor was not going to stand on too much ceremony.
The taller, serious looking one, I instead offered a handshake, and soon we were all piling into my car, off to the rehearsal venue and chatting like old friends. It didn’t hurt that I discovered that Ashley, Quinton’s pianist, shared a number of common people in my hometown Adelaide, and we had also attended the same High School. What a small word is Music.
After tutoring the two students and their own private rehearsal together, I dropped the two professionals back to their motel.
So far, so good. What lovely, engaging, people. But the next day, I figured, would be the killer.
So, Thursday dawned. And it certainly was “A killer”
My actual day started like this:
I was at school before 7.30am. I subcontracted moving Music Stands to Bandmaster Eddie and Junior Band Members including my son James. I organised the original sheet music. I began photocopying the Music booklets for the Students. (I shouldn’t have left this to the last day, but I wanted it done carefully, and a certain way including the page turns, and stupidly I thought it would take less time than it did, but then of course I was missing a vital page, ran out of paper and jammed the copier….). Met Quinton and Ashley 8.30am. Got them settled for their sound-check and rehearsal. Met and settled students from our school. Met and settled students from other schools. Met and introduced Staff from other schools. Kept all the visitors supervised and calm until Quinton and Ashley had completed their rehearsal. Got all Kids organised. Helped with initial tuning of instruments.
[The Students were officially registered and badged by another staff member, which was good, and Morning Tea administered by a Departmental Member, which was also good, but then these staff returned to their regular duties at the other end of the school]
Supervised 50 students running around, while coordinating the three Strings Specialists I had invited from other schools, and Quinton and Ashley (from Overseas and Interstate). Instructed all the visiting Staff on the intricacies of the plan for the day in the midst of this. Abandoned them all for the initial Q and A session while I went to fix the photocopier and complete the assembly of the music booklets necessary for the first orchestra session.
Moved the piano on the stage. Set up the stage with chairs and music stands. Marshalled the students on to the stage. Organised seating positions. Introduced personnel. Handed out the Hot-off-the –press Booklets. Commenced Orchestra Rehearsal.
And that only gets us to 11.00am.
Although I started the day with optimism, the Sheet Music Booklet hold-up flustered me, so I was basically on catch-up until 11.00am. After morning tea I essentially left Quinton in charge of the 50 kids, and I was worried that everyone would be looking for me. I abandoned my admin. task half-done, and returned to the auditorium, but I need not have been concerned. He had them “eating out of his hand”. The introductory session – which I had envisaged simply as a quick “hello” took nearly an hour, as he held them spell-bound, and had many a student on the microphone drawing out their own thoughts in front of their peers.
I had to smile as this Professor from 12,000 kilometres away elicited practise tips from our youngest Orchestra member, 9-year old Amy, who suggested that dedicated practise might inspire a shopping trip with treats from Mum. And the visiting Strings teachers were nodding in silent thanks as he extolled the virtues of using a Metronome – not only owning one but actually using it – to keep the beat and “Keep yourself honest”. Being reassured that he and the other visiting staff had everything in hand, I took a deep breath, and concentrated on finishing off what needed to be done.
So, by the time the kids were tuned up and played their first note at 11.00am, I could finally relax and focus on what we were there for – the Music, and the Musicianship of this man who had come half way across the world to share himself with us – Dr. Quinton Morris.
He has been everything I had hoped for, and more.
When we assembled the student orchestra on stage, they were quickly into rehearsing without fuss (which is rare) and he was soon drawing out tiny details, like which part of the bow to use in the Cello rhythms. Suddenly they were playing with panache and finesse (even though the piece was “Viva La Vida” by Coldplay, not Mozart.)
The day continued through, with the students alternating between whole–orchestra rehearsals and sectionals (smaller groups) with the visiting teachers until 2.30pm. Then about half of the kids stayed (we handed them over to our Youth leaders for a few hours), food was served at 5.30pm, then the day’s culmination – the BREAKTHROUGH concert commenced at 7pm.
It was only through God’s guiding hand and providence that there were no disasters.
These we did have, of the minor variety –broken violin strings and forgotten books and jammed photocopiers, literally kept me running around, and begging favours from my Admin. friends at the front end of the school where we were situated.
The Evening performance came across very well in both halves. The students sat in the audience in the first section and listened and soaked in Quinton and his pianist Ashley’s exquisite playing, and Quinton talking and presenting. The students played themselves extremely well in the second half. A standout was the Vivaldi Double Violin Concerto with King’s Year 7 student Lauren as one soloist, partnering Quinton himself as the other, taken at a cracking pace. Incredible on little more than an hour’s intensive rehearsal.
During the first half, I had the rare experience of actually sitting in the audience with friends, as I was not needed to supervise students (as I usually do). I was simply exhausted from all the planning and preparations, plus being on my feet all day. I needed to will myself to concentrate and make sure I fully took in what, after all, was the purpose of the exercise.
As I sat and listened, and allowed myself to be immersed in the beauty of Quinton and Ashley’s playing, for some reason I just kept thinking of the Biblical parable of “The Pearl of Great Value” (the man who sold everything he had, to purchase the perfect pearl) and it weighed on my mind.
That this concept encapsulated my whole issue over bringing this man (Dr. Morris) to town, and my fight for his visit to go ahead.
The project had such a long “lead time”, (coming up for two years) that, in the meantime, our local staff and structure has changed, and some who were enthusiastic about the plans and were working on them with me initially, are no longer part of the Music Department. And under the new structure, the current staff have different priorities, and it has been my strong suspicion that others (in the current setup) couldn’t really see the value in his visit, and may well have cancelled it, had not commitments been made and contracts signed. I have long suspected that some staff saw it as “Kylie’s pet project” and to some extent went along with it to humour me.
Indeed, part way through the very busy Thursday of the Student Workshop, as I hurried around, three ladies, school staff members, were standing together on our main walkway underneath, as it happened, a poster of Dr. Morris.
One asked me how it was all going, prefacing her friendly enquiry with the observation “Your Man’s here, isn’t he?”
“My Man” ?
And, what overwhelmed me at the end of Thursday evening’s performance, was that, in this man, Dr. Quinton Morris, in what he had inspired our kids to do in just a few hours, our King’s Kids – Gold Coast Kids – here we had a “Pearl of Great Value” and some could see it, some, it seemed, could not.
I had parents come up to me at the concert’s Interval, brimming over with how incredible it was to have a musician of such stature at our school. One Mum (her boy plays 3rd violin, so, although keen, is one of the lesser experienced) had come to pick her child up at 2.30pm to take him home for a rest, then come back in the evening, and he said: “No Mum, please leave me here and just come back yourself, I don’t want to miss one minute of this day”. This same Mum emailed me a few days later to say that her son was so inspired he had been playing his violin non-stop all weekend.
My own 13-year-old daughter (who also plays violin) said she had a wonderful day, that Dr. Morris had been inspiring, and funny, and exciting. That her only complaint was that her back hurt because she rarely sat still for that long.
On Friday, Quinton used as the central theme of the Staff Development day: VALUE.
Well, he could not have chosen a topic which spoke more to me, professionally and personally, currently, than that (especially with my previous reflection just the night before) …
At one stage he asked all participants to take paper and pen and look within themselves, and write a few notes.
So then, each person in turn was asked to share their thoughts with the group regarding VALUE – do we feel valued? How do we show each other we are valued? How do our students know that they are valued? Is what we are doing of value?
Quinton’s secondary issue was how teaching and all forms of education (and life in general) had become increasingly complex.
How we are all bowed down in layers of side issues and what he chose to call ‘fluff’. But if we really wanted to be successful we needed to return to the “Harvard Method” of two words:
Plan … Execute.
Yes, just these two. Plan…Execute.
Again, I couldn’t help thinking of all of the ‘fluff’ for me in so many facets of my life over these past months. All my various worries and anxieties and issues which have kept me “oh so busy” while the “main path” has been diverted from, many many times.
Perfectionist that I am, it was also easy to think of all the things I would have done differently for this very project. With different people. Under different circumstances.
And how that the school auditorium should, by rights, have been full to the brim of people sharing this music and artistic expertise, to be part of this inspiration, and to see how fired up the students were. I suggested this to Dr. Morris himself.
He turned on me…
“Who are you disappointed for?” he demanded. “Is this all about YOU?”.
I was a bit taken aback. I agreed it was not.
“Is it all about me?” he continued. I didn’t answer that one.
“Well”, he said. “Don’t be offended for me. I am not offended. I gave up being offended years ago. Three people in an audience or Carnegie Hall – it’s all the same to me”.
“Who did we do it for?” (I liked the term “we” …) he again demanded.
“We did it for the kids” I answered.
“Well, did they get anything out of it” he asked? I readily admitted that they certainly did.
“Well, then, we achieved our objectives” he stated firmly.
Here Endeth the “Pep Talk” from the Professor. What a special man.
Taking this on board, I concluded that Dr. Morris’s residency did indeed fulfil the vision and goals and aims I (and my original collaborators) originally had for it, which was to benefit the students.
- to expose them to high level musicians
- to give them the chance to work with, to be inspired by, to be excited by a person of Dr. Morris’ musical calibre
- to take them, even for a few hours, or a day, out of the ordinary into the extraordinary, and to give them a glimpse of what they are capable of.
Matthew 13:45-46 says:
45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
And you may also recognise these words by Stephen Grellet, a prominent French-born American Quaker missionary:
I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
Quinton Morris: Thank you for passing through our corner of the world.
You have touched our young people. You have touched my colleagues. Most of all you have touched me.
You are indeed a Pearl of Great Value.
Author’s Note: Express permission has been sought from, and given by, parents of featured students in these images for the photographs to be included.
Photo Credits: Mal Rawlings.