Cultivating a Precious Gem: Engagement

What do SHJO, Gerardo Parra and the “Baby Shark” theme, and the concepts of collaboration and teamwork have in common?

 

FoxsFiresides

[Artistic Director’s message spoken at the fall concert of the South Hills Junior Orchestra on November 10, 2019… appropriate to all performers, teachers, and parents.]

 

Have you had a reason to ask yourself recently, “What am I thankful for?”

Hopefully you can reflect on many things… Your family, friends, health, success, and happiness may instantly come to mind.

How about the privilege of membership in a “musical team” – valuable enrichment provided by both your school program (in which all of our pre-college students should participate) and community groups, like the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO).

One does not have to look far to confirm the benefits of music education and fulfillment of personal creative self-expression. Numerous articles and statistics point to the rewards of “making music” and regular collaboration in a performing ensemble:

I even tried “wrapping my arms” around a definition of this “calling” (one that I have spent my entire life sharing) in a blog-post which features a community TV interview of me by SHJO musician Sam D’Addieco: https://paulfox.blog/2019/06/16/the-importance-of-music-education/.

I do feel thankful! I am grateful to have been granted this opportunity of conducting SHJO and interacting, teaching, and learning alongside our gifted and enthusiastic instrumentalists! These experiences and memories are “priceless” and “fragile,” just like a rare jewel or crystal. I complain for more members (we’re small and turnout has not always been good), but I am also reminded of a comment from my own inspirational school orchestra and string teacher, Mr. Eugene Reichenfeld, who was often heard to say: “Our orchestra may be small, but it is precious – just like a diamond!”

I say, we must cultivate the future of this special musical experience!

Don’t take it for granted! This unique “mosaic of members and music, where all musicians learn, grow, and lead” will only continue if YOU commit consistent time, focus, attendance, and practice. Success relies on your full engagement to SHJO. We need the players, booster officers, parents, and other adult volunteers to join forces!

CBS Good MorningThe other day, I watched on CBS This Morning an interview of World Series Champion Washington National’s star outfielder Gerardo Parra (https://www.cbsnews.com/video/gerardo-parra-on-how-baby-shark-became-the-nationals-anthem/) who is credited for helping to turn things around for the team. Although he may be remembered more for giving the Nationals a new anthem, “Baby Shark,” (chosen by his baby daughter), Parra discussed why he was concerned that the other players on the team did not seem “engaged” and stay afterwards in the clubhouse (some paraphrased below):

  • Parra: “Wow, what a team we have,” and referring to the regular season, “But, even after we won, no one was there to celebrate in the clubhouse.”
  • Anthony Mason: “A lot of people credited you for turning around the team culture.”
  • Parra: “It’s more important for my team that we start in the clubhouse… we dance in the clubhouse.”
  • Gayle King: “But you started that hurrah. You said everybody used to leave and then you said no, everybody, let’s stay! One person came, then one person came, and another person came…”
  • Parra: “Everybody like family. We’re one team, not 25 men.”

When he joined the team in May, Washington was a team with a losing record of 33-38 and 8½ games out of first place in the National League East. Parra himself was mired in a 0-for-22 slump. That’s when he chose “Baby Shark” and got his team motivated! In their last 100 games, the Nationals won 75. Sure, they have amazingly gifted and hardworking players, but what was the cornerstone of their victory? Their teamwork, “power of collaboration,” empathy for each other, and unified sense of purpose! This is just what the doctor ordered for the 37th season of SHJO, and all similar youth or community groups. We need to develop more teamwork, collaboration, and engagement, too!

Thanks, kudos, and bravos go to all musical caregivers and participants for caring, giving, and sharing, and especially uniting together as a team. What really matters to me the most? As I told Sam in the interview, I truly cherish those “ah-ha” moments of realization we see in our musicians’ eyes when they “get it” and reach a new pinnacle of success or mastery of their artistry! I also love observing many peers-helping-peers, multi-generational teamwork, partnerships of musical leaders and followers in the ensemble, and numerous “random acts of kindness” every Saturday morning.

“My” SHJO remains the single most motivating and meaningful event of my week!

Let’s all celebrate a Happy Thanksgiving!

PKF

 

hi-res logo 2018The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow players.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Cultivating a Precious Gem – Engagement.

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Pumpkin” by Lolame

Reference Letters: What To Do?

Reprinted from “A View from the Podium” (Upper St. Clair High School, 2015) for current South Hills Junior Orchestra members and other students seeking recommendation letters from their music teachers.

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If you are requesting a letter of recommendation from any teaching staff member, administrator, minister, coach, or activity sponsor for college entrance, scholarships, awards, or job placement, please follow the instructions of your school counselor AND review/complete the steps below.

Do you have an updated “me-file” on your computer’s desktop? Maintain a bulleted list of accomplishments with dates. Scan archives of awards, programs, commendations, special honors, and significant assessments. This will become the basis for the creation of résumés or portfolios, and background for your college or employment essays.

In person, ask the teacher from whom you want the letter if he/she is willing to do this. This should be an adult in whom you have a great deal of trust and with whom you have had frequent contact. If you have any doubt or misgivings like “Does this professional like me?” or “Will he/she give me a fair rating?” – then you should ask someone else. If you are a current member of SHJO, anyone asking Mr. Fox should have no fear. He will tell you immediately if there is any problem in writing a positive letter.

In my opinion, if you choose the right person to do your letter, you can sign-off your rights to see it before submission to the institution. A student checking “yes” to waiving his/her access to/examination of the reference may look better to the evaluator. Although not required, some may send you a copy of it for your files. That is my standard practice.

Know your deadlines. BY WHEN do you need the reference letters or common app teacher recommendations?

seriestoshare-logo-01As a courtesy to the writer (and modeling good preparation on your part), give at least two to three weeks’ notice (more is better). Remember: “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on the teacher’s part.” It would also be polite to “gently remind” the staff member about the final deadline of the recommendation (at least one weekend’s notice). For SHJO, one Saturday ahead of the final deadline would be ideal.

Unless it is an online application or digital reference, the individual requesting the recommendation should provide in advance a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope to be signed, sealed, and mailed directly to any school or organization.

To facilitate “anecdotal references” and confirm accurate data/details, email a mini-résumé of your achievements, particularly those things that can be mentioned in the letter. Try to complete as many of these as possible:

  1. When did you first begin your musical (or other academic specialty) study? When did you join SHJO or other music group?
  2. What classes, ensembles, and/or productions have you participated at school?
  3. What music or academic leadership positions have you served (give specific dates)?
  4. What are your outside activities?
  5. What have you done as community service?
  6. How are you unique? Describe yourself in three to five words.
  7. What qualities or strengths have you exhibited that the staff member, from working with you, could corroborate in the letter?
  8. Can you remember any funny or significant class or rehearsal anecdote that demonstrated growth in your musical technique, expressiveness, student leadership, “team” or ensemble building, or the 21st Century learning skills of creativity, communications, critical thinking, collaboration, and global understanding?
  9. What is your planned major or minor in college, and how did your association with the staff member (his/her classes or activities) help you gain the experience, insight, or confidence to go into this field?

Good luck! PKF  Revised 3/18/19

hi-res logo 2018

The mission of South Hills Junior Orchestra, which rehearses and performs at the Upper St. Clair High School in Pittsburgh, PA, is to support and nurture local school band and orchestra programs, to develop knowledge, understanding, performance skills, and an appreciation of music, to increase an individual member’s self-esteem and self-motivation, and to continue to advance a life-long study of music. Members of the Orchestra learn, grow, and achieve positions of leadership to serve their fellow members.

(For more information about SHJO, please visit www.shjo.org.)

This and all Fox’s Fireside blog-posts are free and available to share with other music students, parents, directors, and supporters of the arts.

Click here for a printable copy of Reference Letters: What to Do?

Other “Fox Firesides” are available at https://paulfox.blog/foxs-firesides/.

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox

 

Photo credit from Pixabay.com: “Fireside” by pixeldust

 

TEAM = “Together Everyone Achieves More”

A Twist on an Old Fable… Who Really Won the Race?

Photo credit: FreeImages.com, photographer Eric Thibodeau

 

Before you do anything else, I want you to “take four,” fire up your computer, and view this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xevQ2yTyK9Y.

foxsfiresidesWhat is the moral to the final story of these two racers… the turtle and the rabbit?

To all student instrumentalists: SHJO and your school music ensemble represent a “TEAM” – not only inspiring your own creative self-expression and skill development, but learning to communicate, connect “symphonically,” and come together with all the musicians to achieve common goals.

For similar advice, we can go all the way back to the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle:

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

According to Wikipedia, synergy is the creation of “a whole that is greater than the simple sum of its parts.” The term synergy comes from the word synergos (συνεργός) meaning “working together.”

Another way to reflect on this concept is with this parable “Whose Job Is It” (author unknown) demonstrating apathy:

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody.  There was an important job to be done and Everybody was asked to do it. Everybody was sure Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

If you want to create the life and musical success you want, don’t be like Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. Be true to yourself. Take responsibility for your life! Don’t let Everybody, Somebody, Anybody or Nobody stop you from doing what you need to achieve what you want and deserve for yourself and the TEAM!

The “take-a-ways” from this fable? What is your charge “for the good of the TEAM?”

  • Take personal responsibility for defining what life and musical success means to you.
  • Take personal responsibility for building your self-confidence. (Practice!)
  • Take personal responsibility to participate in rehearsals regularly. (Attend every week!)
  • Take personal responsibility for developing the competencies (skills) and preparations (focus on the hard passages) you need to succeed in the music.
  • Take personal responsibility for putting sufficient time seriestoshare-logo-01into the “TEAM.”
  • Take personal responsibility for building and nurturing relationships in the orchestra that will help you promote success.
  • Take personal responsibility in supporting the TEAM in “fun” raising (socials) and fund-raising projects… as we used to say back in the 60s, “be there or be square!”

At a SHJO rehearsal last Saturday, I expressed concerns that the reality of inconsistent attendance and inadequate at-home practice is making it difficult to rehearse and achieve progress. However, rest assured, I know our concerts will be great!

In every fifth-year anniversary milestone of SHJO, we have given back to those who have given us a very special gift… a permanent home. Our fund-raising efforts are lagging behind and we need all Friends of SHJO to “step up to the plate.”

In the future, you will have the opportunity to engage with other booster members and their leadership team to proceed toward our fund-raising goal of $12,000 for a gift to our gracious hosts, the Upper St. Clair School District. Ads and patron donations received as we go forward will be acknowledged in future concert programs, and we look forward to your generous assistance.

You are encouraged to peruse the South Hills Junior Orchestra website. Under “Resources,” check out the free “Series to Share…” additional “Fox’s Fireside” issues by Paul K. Fox, and “Music Enrichment Workshop” presentations by Donna Stark Fox.

PKF

© 2017 Paul K. Fox

 

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This “Series to Share” is brought to you by… the Founding Directors of the South Hills Junior Orchestra (SHJO), “a community orchestra for all ages” based in Western Pennsylvania. Feel free to download a printable copy and distribute to music students, parents, teachers, and fellow amateur musicians.