Last night I went to my youngest daughter’s final school music concert. It was a phenomenal evening of instrument and song, shared with a packed room of family and community members. Packed, because this school has earned a reputation and tonight would not disappoint. Can you remember the last time you witnessed a standing ovation for a high school band performance??

What came out of these young people, as they played their instruments and sang their songs together, was nothing short of inspirational. You could feel the music.

“Music is what cannot be said, but cannot be kept quiet.”

These words, written on the doors of the high school music room, speak to me of magic and of necessity. They speak to the mysterious power of music and its ability to move something deep inside – for both the one who plays and the one who listens. They also speak of the need to express what is inside in ways that words cannot always reach.

Reflecting on the evening, I found myself trying to unfold the layers and make sense of the magic that I witnessed.

My mind goes first to the music teachers: the ones who held the space and made room for the music to come out. Not just made room, but actually drew out of the students what was already there. The students didn’t know it yet; but the teacher knew. 

After a particularly moving piece by one of the groups, we all laughed as the band teacher popped back to the microphone to declare his delight: “A 9/10 band isn’t supposed to have this much expression,” as he shook his head in disbelief. 

However, I wasn’t as surprised because I saw something else. Yes, I witnessed the same things as the band teacher: I heard the expression in the brass, in the winds; I saw the emotion in their faces as they played; I felt it conveyed through their instruments. 

But I also saw, behind the scenes, their intuitive leader – someone who believed in them, who inspired them, who created the kind of atmosphere that watered the seeds of potential in these young musicians.

Music like that doesn’t just happen.

This particular teacher has been at the school for over 25 years, quietly (and not so quietly, when the trumpets get involved!) working his magic. The fruit can be seen in the amazing world-class musicians that come out of those doors. An outside observer might say we were “lucky” to have this much talent in one little town. 

But I don’t see this as luck. I’m looking from the inside and I believe I know the secret. Behind the scenes is someone who understands the key to unlocking the passion, the emotion and the music inside even the most “unmusical” of children. This secret is a master teacher, someone whose intuition and playfulness draw out music and emotion. 

Experience may play a part, but I see this same spark in my daughter’s young twenty-something choir director. This same intuitive talent of drawing the music out, helping find the voice within, and creating a safe place to sing it out together, and to have FUN in the process.

In all my years coming to see these “performances”, I have never seen it be about performance. That is, the concerts have never been about getting things perfect or just right; it hasn’t been about the outcome at all. From what I can see, the concert is an opportunity to share the process – an inside peek at the joy and melancholy of making music together. And I feel privileged to have had a window seat.

A lump came to my throat as my daughter sang the last notes as part of this group. To see her face as she sang her heart out. And as she sang out with the others, I could see and hear things move in her. I could feel it. The music was alive in her, and would stay with her even as she graduated and moved on.

And I was grateful for this gift she had been given, for the opportunity to find her own voice, and to join her voice with others. I was thankful for the chance she was given to express what was inside and to let it come out.

Isn’t this what we all want for our children? Somewhere they feel safe to express what’s inside – whether it be …

  • through the bass, the violin, the ukelele or the electric guitar;
  • through song or art, in all its forms;
  • through drama or dance;
  • through nature or humor;
  • through story or the written word.

These are the playgrounds our children need – whether they are 5, 15 or 50. We all need emotional playgrounds in our lives for what is inside to come out to play. So that our hearts stay soft enough and our souls stay free enough to experience life in its fullness. These playgrounds set the stage for learning and for living, and without these places to release and express ourselves, we can run into trouble. 

So I wish for you, the reader, opportunities for emotional playgrounds – both for your children and for yourself. Whether you play tentatively at the edges or dive in head first, when you make some room and carve some space … magic can happen!

And as we come to the close of another school year (and the last one for my daughter), I want to extend my gratitude to all those who are behind the scenes, those who are creating these emotional playgrounds for their students – in their own way, in their own corner of the world. I hope you get a little glimpse of the difference you are making. A heartfelt thank you!

© 2024 The Neufeld Institute