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How to Manage a Young String Ensemble in Church - Lessons that I Learned Along the Way Pt 1
For one of the church events, I had the privilege of arranging music for a string ensemble. It was crazier than I had expected, but it was such a precious experience I have decided to write a hub about it to share my joys and to prevent my mistakes from being committed by someone else hopefully!
With a really young ensemble (my youngest were in elementary one), I couldn’t have survived without enthusiastic and supportive parents. Yes, LESSON ONE: ENLIST THE HELP OF ALL THE ENTHUSIASTIC PARENTS.
It is likely that many of these parents are musicians themselves (which is why they would allow and be delighted that their precious children get an early start to serving in church) who are veterans when it comes to serving in church during worship - so they would have quite a good knowledge about what you are facing, and what this commitment will entail.
If you are working with parents who aren’t so familiar with what regular service in church looks like, don’t worry at all - it is even likelier that you would have already won them over and you have an army of cheerleaders and transport providers ready to go the extra mile make this experience a positive one for everyone.
Here are some things many parents will be more than willing to help out with
- car rides / ferrying
- carrying instruments
- tuning instruments (especially if the children have not learnt how to tune theirs)
- fixing instruments (in case a string suddenly comes loose)
- providing refreshments and dinner to hungry souls
- setting up the place for rehearsals eg. chairs, music stands...
- practicing with the children at home
- preparing their children for service - mentally, spiritually, psychologically (can’t stress the importance of teaching our children why we serve God)
Many of my children were so young it took a while for them to warm up to me... and they didn’t even have their own email addresses, so I communicated more with their parents. These children relied on their parents to get them to and fro from church, so if their parents were busy they wouldn’t be able to attend rehearsal... It was really a joy for me to interact with these parents - many whom I serve with on regular Sundays, and many whom I grew up as a child admiring as I watched them serve.
Parents are really God’s gift. I had parents sitting next to or behind their kids during rehearsals, encouraging them and whispering to them which note to play when the kids were a little shy or lost. It was a precious experience for me just watching how this simple string ensemble became a family project.
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LESSON TWO: MAKE SURE THE CHILDREN CAN READ THE MUSIC SCORES
One major mistake I made was to think that I was saving paper by writing the scores out in a TINY font size. As a pianist, I get nervous each time I have to flip my page, so I prefer to stretch my scores out or print them out smaller such that I don’t have to turn any pages while I play.
I honestly thought I was doing everyone a favor by writing smaller notes - they have standard music stands - I was kinda sure they’d be so grateful! Until 15 minutes into my first rehearsal, my youngest player started throwing a silent tantrum - well she tried to control herself but it was obvious that she was having trouble following. And it was my fault.
What I hadn’t realized was that the children were seeing the scores for the first time, so if I wanted them to sight read it, I needed to make sure that they could see it clearly.
To make matters worse, my youngest children were playing the second violin part, and those were stem down portions -which made it even harder to decipher. I should have written their part on a separate staff by itself.
I honestly didn’t realize that these children had not developed their sense of harmony yet, so what would be an intuitive harmony did not come naturally to them. They didn’t have a strong sense of the chord either- so that was my oversight - forgetting that I had years of experience and the ability to play by ear, and expecting all these little ones to play on demand was being very presumptuous.
By God’s grace, we were able to rewrite out the scores into an electronic format, using Noteflight. One of the amazing parents introduced it to me and even helped me to write out all my arrangements into an electronic format - which was what the children were more acquainted to, not squiggly lines and circles that I wrote out.
This brings me to lesson three.