A young schoolboy watches intently, not realizing that he has not yet taken his eyes off the stage or moved for nearly an hour. They had come reluctantly to the show as required for the music lesson, but were now completely enamored with the professional nature of the ensemble and immersed in rich, harmonious music. The student would then aspire to be part of such an elite group, continuing their musical career through high school and beyond, creating an eternal bond with the musical arts.
While such a romantic story could easily pass for a Hollywood movie script, it describes quite accurately the role of Carlmont’s music students on young musicians.
“As a former college teacher, I can guarantee that the college kids admire the high school musicians,” said Jordan Webster, music teacher at Carlmont. “The best predictor of whether a college musician will continue in high school is if he has someone who encourages him to join Carlmont music.”
Until recently, Webster taught music at Ralston Middle School, where students often reach critical milestones in their music education. Many students are passionate about or enjoy school musical ensembles as early as middle school, as most begin to learn music at the end of elementary school.
“A lot of kids tell me that coming to their music class is the best part of their day,” said Webster. “It’s so different from their other classes, and it’s a space where they can do something incredibly collaborative and artistic.”
In-school music programs for many students are opportunities to escape strenuous academics, which begin to intensify dramatically from college onwards. In addition, music can become a new passion for young students. Realizing a natural affinity and potential in music is where high school musicians come in as important influences.
“Music Mentors provides a great opportunity for guided practice and playing time for beginning musicians,” said Alan Sarver, Director and Founder of Music Mentors. “Being able to have role models that are more fun to work with than a boring adult gives these kids the inspiration to be like their mentors.”
These older students appeal to beginners as great role models, as their accomplishments as young adults prove to new musicians that they also have the potential to reach great heights. By having a closer bond with a mentor and learning, new musicians also develop a stronger bond and love with music.
“Seeing the big things that could possibly be achieved in the future is a great motivator,” said Paul Zhou, sophomore violinist with the Carlmont Symphony Orchestra. “I don’t know if I would play the violin today without my participation in the Peninsula Youth Symphony (PYO) or the school orchestras. ”
For years, Carlmont’s top student musicians have provided a role model for their future successors, and this relationship has never been so pronounced. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, guidelines for social distancing from instrumental music and virtual learning have significantly hampered music programming at all levels.
“I worry about young musicians in middle school or elementary school because a lot of them don’t have the same connection to music as older high school kids,” said Camille Ansel, junior clarinetist at the Carlmont Symphonic Band and at PYO.
The virtual school for middle and elementary school music programs has essentially stopped any development for new musicians. Without a physical teacher to ensure correct technique and playing, the early stages of music focusing on basic skills are particularly difficult.
Along with these circumstances, musicians cannot experience playing in an ensemble with distance learning, a struggle that has impacted advanced high school musicians as well.
While the struggles of getting back into shape can be overwhelming, this challenge is most definitely something that we can overcome with time, patience, and hard work. “
– Camille Ansel
“A lot of music groups have been moved back what appears to be a few years, but the groups not being as sharp as they were before COVID is no surprise,” Ansel said. “The two grade levels of older musicians graduating during the pandemic certainly had a negative impact on music groups as a whole. “
While school music programs now lack two years of ensemble experience and an effective teaching environment, some benefits come with virtual music education.
“It’s true that mentors only get a glimpse of student music, but can’t exactly model technique or breathing for them,” Sarver said. “However, Zoom also provides better accessibility for planning and has allowed us to provide mentorship to college students and give adult responsibility to mentors.”
As the pandemic has significantly hampered music education, it has also highlighted the need for high school musicians to promote music for the next generation. Carlmont musicians maintain the inspiring image of budding new musicians is essential for the passion and improvement of novice and veteran music students.
“The current musicians in the programs are the best ambassadors for the next generation,” said Webster. “Whether they are a music mentor working with a fourth or fifth grader, or performing at a concert for college students, their impact is profound and essential.”