Working in Concert

A few months ago, I wrote a post about how I had dusted off my trumpet after 35 years and joined a community band. We had our holiday concert last week and I’m still jazzed about it. We had over a hundred people come out in the cold and wind to hear our little band play some holiday classics and some sing-a-longs. The concert was held outside and with temperatures hovering near freezing, it was exciting to see so many families come out for the show.

I have to admit that I was a little nervous about the show. While our band had been practicing for six weeks to prepare for the concert, it would be the first time we had the entire band playing together as one. Most of the members of the band are working adults. They have responsibilities and jobs and family commitments. Although we meet most Wednesday nights to practice for a few hours, we rarely get the whole band together at once. It’s pretty common that we’ll be practicing a song and we’ll reach several measures of silence. Our band director will say something like “This is where the saxophones and clarinets will play” and then he’ll sing out their part. So, while we’ve been practicing songs like “Sleigh Ride” for over a month, we haven’t really heard it in its full complement.

I went into our holiday concert with some hesitation and also some excitement. And while some mistakes were made and I definitely fumbled through a song or two, the concert was magical. The parts that were missing in our previous practices were there. Our conductor didn’t have to sing to account for measures of silence or anything. The whole band had assembled, and we were playing as one. It was definitely a cool experience for me and for my band mates. And hopefully for those in attendance, too.

I’ve been reflecting on that experience for the last few days. I’ve mostly been thinking about how cool it is when individual parts come together to form a new whole. It happened during my holiday concert, but it happens in other parts of our lives, too. Maybe you’re working on a collaborative project with some colleagues and teams are working on different sections. At some point, the pieces fit together to form some unique whole and it can be magical. Whether it’s a musical performance or something work related, I think it’s cool when people and teams work in concert with one another.

I think that’s broadly how schools and universities are supposed to work. Take my classes this semester. While I teach classes individually, most contribute to some larger curriculum that students are navigating. For example, I’m working with a group of teacher candidates this semester in my assessment class. In addition to my course, they’re taking three or four other classes on topics like special education, content-related pedagogy, educational policy, and so on. Ideally, the content across these classes should work in concert with one another to form a new whole for the students. It should be that at least, but I worry that sometimes students are feeling like there are parts missing. It’s like the saxophones and clarinets aren’t able to attend the performance and there isn’t a conductor there to sing out the missing parts. And what should be a cool and magical concert isn’t as cool or as magical as it could be.

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