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Assignment: The Power of a Child

Nov 2, 2015 5:00:00 PM / by Benjamin Zander

To dramatize this assignment, I told the orchestra the story of the great cellist Jaqueline Du Pré, who, at the age of five, entered her first competition. She was seen running gleefully down a corridor with her cello held high, like a banner. The parent of another child, seeing the broad grin on Jackie’s face, said: “Well, I can see that you have already played”. “No!” Jackie flashed back, “I am just about to!”

That is the kind of five-year-old—confident, enthusiastic and full of spirit— that we want people to emulate. Jackie Du Pré realized at the age of five that to play music for people is a privilege and a joy. That is a lesson in leadership!

KENDRICK KIRBY–LEE (a tenth grader at Weston High School) wrote on his white sheet:

I am glad I am in this orchestra because it is so passionate. I liked the anecdote about the little 5-year-old girl. I think young people, before they are exposed to the troubles of the world (especially when exaggerated or distorted in the person’s mind) are carefree and happy and will do anything fun without thought about fame, money, and misfortune. I think this is why you said that the orchestra should play like a 5-year-old child; they are carefree and full of joy, which I happen to agree with.

LAURYN PHINNEY (aged 16) wrote:

That was an exciting rehearsal! I love the assignment you gave for this coming week. It’s true that there are so many powerful qualities in children that get washed away when we get older; we lose the spirit, the energy, the excitement, the honesty – and we wallow in embarrassment, self-consciousness, and anxiety. I must remind myself to look at the world through a child’s eyes.

EUGENIA ZHANG (aged 14):

I appreciate your assignment this week because I agree that everyone these days is too stressed out with work and pressure (huh, I wonder where those eye bags come from). So, I will share with you a story from when I was a child:

I was in 4th grade, and my friend was wondering what instrument she should play for the school orchestra. I told her to play the violin, and she asked me why. And I said, “I’ll show you.” I played a Mozart Concerto for her, and it inspired her to play the violin (she still plays to this day!)

This orchestra is also inspiring me in the same way.

MARIA D’AMBROSIO (A Freshman Horn Player at Boston Conservatory):

I feel that I could have approached the Stravinsky reading with a greater sense of confidence. Even after close listening with the music in hand I definitely underestimated the level of complete focus needed to really understand this beautifully complex piece. I think part of coming from the power of a child involves an element of fearlessness and the Stravinsky is not a piece which allows any sense of apprehension.

Here is a third-year college student dealing with a profound personal burden in an inspiringly courageous and creative way: Hayley, our magnificent first flutist in La Mer, has given me permission to print her story.

With regards to the assignment, this one really hit home for me. I was actually able to share the assignment with some other people who really benefited from it as well. This involves some explaining and background though. First, I want to apologize for not being nearly at my best on our tour last year. It was an opportunity of a lifetime and sadly I wasn’t able to contribute in the way that I could. I had let my eating disorder get in the way of it and in August, my heart started shutting down because my body had had enough. I spend all of August in a residential treatment center on 3 acres of land in Philadelphia (quite the contrast from all the amazing places we traveled on tour).

I’m really lucky to be back at school part-time this semester and extremely grateful that I’m able to be in BPYO. It took a lot of convincing my treatment team to try to convey how much it means to play in this orchestra. I am continuing treatment in a day program here in Boston and it was with these women that I shared our assignment. It really had a strong impact on us as we explored the idea of coming from the place of a child and for many of them, remembering a time when they were present and enjoying everything life had to offer. We talked about how you would never tell a child, “sorry, you didn’t do ‘X’ good enough, so you can’t eat today.” Treating ourselves as children can make a difference in how we approach life. Thank you so much for sharing this assignment.

I went back and forth this week about whether or not I should share how this assignment affected me, but I decided that it could make a difference for someone else and that would make it worth sharing. It also just reminds me of how special this orchestra is and how life-changing the assignments and what we learn from playing together are.

I hope it was okay to be open about the impact of this assignment but I felt I couldn’t really explain how much it meant to me, without being honest.

Thank you for reminding us that life can be as beautiful as we saw it as children.

Topics: Shaping Future Leaders through Music, Assignments, White Sheets

Written by Benjamin Zander