This evening was "awards night" for the beginning children's orchestra I conduct as well as all the other orchestras within the organization. The executive director of the orchestras prepared certificates for each child, honoring their year of participation in the orchestra. In addition to these certificates, I made awards for each child in my orchestra, celebrating them for accomplishments like "Outstanding Musical Achievement," "Attention to Conductor," "Cheerful Attitude," and "Exemplary Behavior." As I was trying to think of an award for each child, I was worried that an "Exemplary Behavior" award might seem disappointing compared to an "Outstanding Musical Achievement" award... but then, if everyone were outstanding, then it wouldn't be outstanding, would it?
My fears that an award for good behavior might be a disappointing one were put to rest in a very touching way. Phillip, one of three recipients of the "Exemplary Behavior" certificates, came forward to accept his award with teary eyes. His mother explained to me later that, as an energetic kid, he had gotten into trouble in school lately and his teacher deemed him a "trouble maker" sort of student. He was so thrilled to be acknowledged for the effort he made to sit quietly in rehearsals and pay attention.
I hope the other students' awards meant half as much to them as Phillip's meant to him. From the most overall outstanding students to the ones with good posture, good behavior, or cheery enthusiasm, I truly appreciated each student's contribution to the ensemble, and I meant each of those awards from my heart.
Along with the giving of awards, we also had a pizza party. I was very happy to see that all the kids from my ensemble eagerly crowded around me to talk, or urged me to sit down at their tables, or asked me questions about my life. How wonderful that the fact that I am their conductor, and the enforcer of rules, did nothing to prevent the kids from wanting me to be their friend as well. If anything, I believe that insisting on an environment with high standards of behavior does more to help the students thrive and be happy.
The kids weren't the only ones who left the party with something in hand; the parents chipped in on a gift card for me. Even better, they put together a frame with three pictures of me and the kids from our concerts, and the kids all signed the matte. It's something I'll treasure, a reminder of the first year with the first kids in the first orchestra I conducted - the first of many years to come, I hope.