I made a promise to one of my 7 year old beginner students that I could 100% guarantee that she would enjoy herself at her first Bath Strings Academy workshop. I was totally confident. She was not convinced.
Her mother, with boundless and dogged enthusiasm, found a way to get her there, albeit under duress. For the first half hour, F barely let go of her mum, but in spite of herself, quietly joined in all the activities with her usual musical flare. Within an hour, she was marching, singing, dancing and playing with confidence, and went home having made new friends and had a thoroughly good time. The following day her mum wrote to say that F "declared that the best bit was the bean bags, was humming the pony ride tune at tea and even ventured to say (totally unprompted) that next time could she stay for the whole day." Bingo.
The afternoon session too saw a shy young cellist arrive feeling unsure about joining us. Taking part in any new group or activity is nerve-wracking for most people, but it can be acutely stressful for some. This is why we plan our workshops carefully to build social bonds as well as the musical ones from the outset. Tasks are built sequentially to ensure that even whilst there is challenge, each participant feels comfortable. Our cellist found that after watching a video of the brilliant National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain Inspire Orchestra playing Uptown Funk (see it here), we were setting to on a fun group activity, learning the complex rhythms for Coldplay's Viva la Vida. Seeing that he was not going to be thrown in at the deep end and expected to sight-read something difficult, he soon lost his nerves and threw himself into the game. He searched out the "haaaaaaaiiiiiir swiiiiiiiiiiish" and other similarly silly rhythm patterns with his new team-mates, together shouting "bingo!" when they'd found them all. The rest of the afternoon was a breeze.
Seeing musicians blossom in this way is one of the things that makes our work so rewarding. We know from experience that exposing musicians to stimulating, fun and sociable group playing from the very start makes them feel good, sometimes despite themselves! When we feel good, we are motivated, and if we are motivated, our desire to put in the hard work required to progress is vastly increased.
Our work at Bath Strings Academy puts this enjoyment of music at the centre. This does not mean that we play 'just for fun'. We strive for excellence in all that we do, and aim to find the best teaching methods to support those with whom we work to achieve as highly as possible, at whatever level they are working. Each little success, be it mastering a complicated section of a string quartet, perfecting a beautiful bow circle, or daring to introduce yourself to someone new, is something that we celebrate, each a cause to shout "bingo!"