Music Ed Monday – The Long Game

by Kenley

I’m writing this as my baby is fussing in the crib beside me — not crying or screaming, just kind of whining.

We’re in the midst of sleep training our seven-month old and there are many days where I feel like what we’re doing just isn’t working.  Even a week into this, there is still a lot of fussing and particularly around nap time.

It makes me think a lot of picking/rehearsing repertoire. As music educators, it’s one of the most important parts of our job: Picking the right rep for the right band. If I had a nickel for every time I said “I really like this piece, but it’s not right for this group…”

The strange thing is that sometimes I pick a piece of rep that I think is a great choice for my band and, despite my best efforts to pre-teach the concepts, it just doesn’t work; it may not even work for a few weeks.

If you’ve been there, you know the questions we ask ourselves: Did I misjudge the piece? Or my group? Why isn’t it working? And then the logical last question: Do I pull it?

Sometimes, the right decision is to pull it, right? How long as an ensemble do we decide to keep banging this square peg into a round hole? And no one is enjoying it at that point either (including us teachers) and we’re just dragging the band up the hill. Now we’re a month behind schedule and we have fill this gap left by this piece that we thought was going to be great.

This is how I feel about sleep training.  There are many days where I just bang my head against the wall and feel like a terrible parent, especially in the beginning.

On the other hand, there are times where my baby actually stops crying and falls asleep by himself and those are wonderful moments. They don’t happen every time, but they happen sometimes. Many parents tell me that’s normal and that I shouldn’t expect every nap to be a magical perfect experience…

… Just like a rehearsal, right? Some days, it’s two steps forward and one step back; and others, it’s one step forward and two steps back.  Those are the days we need to review.

And then the days get better. The baby needs to learn how to sleep and the band needs to learn how to work through pieces they can’t nail on the first read. In short, both the baby and the band need to work through things they can’t immediately do and that’s okay. It’s okay if it’s hard.

In my earlier years, I would give my senior big band a piece that was pretty above-level for them in September. To be sure, the band would usually listen to a recording of it and really like it, then barely get through four bars of it. I reassured them that it probably wouldn’t sound good until November, but that this was the next level and we needed to work on how to learn it. We needed to practice how to practice it.  I still think that there’s educational merit in it, but there’s a particular personal merit too.

As I’m writing this line, the baby is now sleeping. It took a few pick-ups and put-downs, a couple of head rubs, and a handful of shushes (and some screaming later on, on his part), but he did it.  It wasn’t a pretty hour of fussing–67 minutes, to be exact–but he got it.

Baby sleeping in crib

(not my baby, I found this one at hirerush.com)

To bring this back to my big band, they usually started putting the above-level piece together around late November. And let me tell you, when something technical falls into place, it is joy that we rarely experience as educators because there is genuine accomplishment and success in the band and they know it. They worked hard and could do something that they couldn’t do before, then we give them genuine praise for their sincere accomplishment.

There is value in playing the long game.

That brings us back to the question: Do I pull it? If we believe in the piece and believe in the band, are we willing to play the long game, especially when there isn’t as much gratification during the day-to-day? Truthfully, maybe we can structure in more short-term gratification with smart pedagogy and rehearsal strategies, but the long game is the long game, no matter how you slice it.

With baby, we’re in this sleep training business for the long haul. The baby rests better and longer, and also is in a deeper sleep. And hey, we adults have more time during the day to do what we need (like writing a blog post?) so everyone wins, but especially baby.

If it’s the right piece, the band can also be the one that wins, not only by performing the piece well, but actively working through material that’s difficult and challenging for them–I say again, there is educational value in that! It’s a gift in life we can give to our students. Not only can we can teach them how to persist through adversity, but we can do it while making music.

-K

P. S. …aaaaaaand they’re awake. A 20-minute nap? I thought they were supposed to sleep longer and better! Ugh, two steps forward…

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