Rehearsals with an audience: Teaching kids to embrace imperfection(Read article summary)
One dad is invited to a special performance at his son's camp. However, the final concert isn't for weeks. The result is parents and students learning the joy of the process and the rewards that come from making mistakes.
I‚Äôve been a father for nearly two decades now, but not until recently have I been invited to a performance that seemed designed to showcase my children's imperfections.
But that‚Äôs what happened when I attended one of my 13-year-old son Will‚Äôs concerts this summer, and it taught me a lot about what we can do to help kids embrace their limitations, then transcend them.
For the second year in a row, Will has spent his summer at the Governor‚Äôs Program for Gifted Children, a 7-week boarding camp for some of the best and brightest youngsters in my home state of Louisiana. Students there can study literature, art, science, and music, and a highpoint of the camp‚Äôs closing each year is a final show featuring all the young musicians.
But midway through the camp, when students have only been on campus three weeks, parents are invited to a public rehearsal for the final performance called ‚ÄúMidsummer Madness.‚ÄĚ
The intermediate show is called ‚Äúmidsummer‚ÄĚ because of its timing, and ‚Äúmadness‚ÄĚ because, given the newness of the material, it‚Äôs crazy to assume that the children are anywhere near ready for an audience.
But moms and dads get a big kick in seeing how their children are coming along, and the performers embrace the show‚Äôs not-for-prime-time sensibility. They learn to laugh at the mistakes they‚Äôre making before dozens of watchful eyes ‚Äď and to understand error as the trial that touches us on the long march toward excellence.
The live-and-let-live spirit of ‚ÄúMidsummer Madness‚ÄĚ is liberating for Will and his campmates. They‚Äôve all been officially classified as ‚Äúgifted‚ÄĚ ‚Äď a label that, however flattering, can carry some pretty heavy expectations. Their peers ‚Äď and quite a few adults ‚Äď often assume a level of perfection from these youngsters that no child or grown-up can ever hope to meet.
‚ÄúMidsummer Madness‚ÄĚ allows these bright young people to forgive their flaws a little ‚Äď and to overlook the mistakes in their friends.
When Will‚Äôs cello accidentally slipped across the tile floor during his classical music solo, for example, he simply smiled and asked to start over. Mild laughter floated through the audience, but there were, alas, no snickers. He casually reprised the piece ‚Äď his phrasing far from ideal, as even he would admit, but a promising preview of how much better he‚Äôd be in the fullness of time.
‚ÄúMadness!,‚ÄĚ one of the instructors cheerfully shouted from the sidelines, repeating the mantra uttered each time a performer flubbed. The exclamation was meant to encourage rather than mock. It was recklessly risky, after all, to publicly play a piece of music you hadn‚Äôt mastered ‚Äď but there was a thrill in it, too, a musician‚Äôs form of bungee-jumping.
Which is why, when Will‚Äôs brain went blank during his subsequent vocal rendition of the pop song ‚ÄúRadioactive,‚ÄĚ he merely smiled and called for help from the audience in remembering his lines.
I‚Äôm looking forward to Will‚Äôs final performance at the Governor‚Äôs Program ‚Äď the one in which kids put on their Sunday best, then play with a polish that comes only from rehearsing for seven weeks, not just three.
But I‚Äôll always treasure ‚ÄúMidsummer Madness,‚ÄĚ a show that reminds us that our sons and daughters ‚Äď and their parents ‚Äď are still works in progress.