Vox ætatis: A symphony of friends & dedicated teachers

We reported last month that Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Ill., had been named the National GRAMMY Signature School for 2013.

I asked Charles Staley, fine arts chair at the high school, to select a few students to write about the qualities and traits that make Neuqua Valley’s music programs as successful and enriching for students as they are (this isn’t the first year the school won this national award).

This afternoon, I received a few answers from Tara Safavi, a graduating senior. She plays cello in the Neuqua Valley Chamber Strings (curricular), Neuqua Valley Symphony Orchestra (extracurricular), and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra (extracurricular). She has also played in the pit orchestra for musicals and participates in Youth and Government.

Below are her written answers to my questions. I think they show how dedicated teachers can make music come alive and bring lifelong friends together. I extend my sincere thanks to her orchestra director, Richard Bauer, and to Mr Staley for their assistance.

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By TARA SAFAVI

How did your classmates and teachers respond to the GRAMMY?

I think winning the Grammy reinforced the sense of community among the members of the Music Department. The award gave us a chance to reflect on how all of our efforts—band, orchestra, and choir teachers and students alike—contributed to our success. Plus, it made people who had not necessarily been interested in the Music Department before take note of our program. Everyone at Neuqua, from the administration to the students, was thrilled to hear about it.

Why does Neuqua Valley have a high participation rate in music programs?

I think Neuqua students recognize the myriad benefits that accompany participating in a musical ensemble. In music, we get to

  • Interact with respected and dedicated teachers
  • Meet a diverse group of people with one common interest
  • Perform a variety of music in different settings
  • Find outlets to creatively express ourselves
  • Take a temporary break from the stresses of academic work

Participation in the music program is really the “whole package.” I think that’s why everyone wants to be in the music program.

Why was it important for you to have music education since elementary school?

Music education has been significant to me because it provided a medium through which I could develop my intellectual and artistic skills, and also simply have fun. I’ve always been amazed at how learning music is a (highly important) form of education, yet it’s also a form of play. Music, like math or English, sharpened my ability to think critically and be disciplined about my work, and at the same time, it also let me create things for myself and take charge of my unique interests.

Actually, when I look back on the music-making throughout my life, I think some of my most hilarious and heartwarming experiences took place in a musical setting. Music is fun! I’m glad to have had such great experiences because of music education.

Can you imagine what your high school life would be like if you had not developed skills as a musician in elementary and middle school?

Since music has been such an important part of my life for so many years, I have no idea what my life would be like had I not done music as a kid. But if I had to guess, I imagine that I would have a much narrower mind. Classical music expanded my mind to a degree that’s hard to describe in words. If I hadn’t been involved in music from an early age, I wouldn’t be able to consider and analyze situations from multiple viewpoints.

I would never have met some of the people I now call my best friends. I would have no idea how to react in high-pressure situations and hone my focus into a final product. I would be a completely different person, and moreover, I would have missed out on some of the most glorious moments of my high school career.

How have your high school’s music teachers helped develop your skills as a musician?

Our high school music teachers emphasized understanding the music that we played: to perform a piece, to them, meant to know its background and context, not just to play the notes in tune or rhythmically correct. For example, when we played the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, our teachers explained to us what Mahler was going through at that point in his life and how his experiences shaped the notes on the page. From then on, we played the piece like we understood, even just a little, what Mahler felt when he wrote it.

Without that knowledge, we would really be a bunch of high school students playing music way over our heads, but our teachers gave us the tools and insight to understand the music. They helped us make the contextual connections that made the music ultimately come alive. Plus, I was able to apply this to pieces I played in extracurricular ensembles and solo work. I now have a desire to understand the circumstances surrounding the music I play, and gaining such new insight has made my musical life much richer.

Has participation in your high school’s music program made you more or less confident in your abilities as a member of a team?

Participating in school orchestra has definitely made me a more confident team player. I’ll admit, when I began high school, I had very little confidence in myself as both a team player and a leader. But being in the Neuqua orchestra program changed that, because every musical ensemble requires its members to take on a variety of roles.

Experiencing these different situations for myself throughout the past four years gave me an idea of what it’s like to be an effective listener as well as a leader. For example, when I was a sophomore there were quite a few seniors in my orchestra, so during that year I gained confidence in myself as a team member, learning to adjust to others’ playing and blend well.

In the next two years I was presented with more leadership opportunities, and from those experiences I learned how to be a collaborative but still confident leader. Thanks to the Neuqua music program, I like working together with others more than I ever did before. Neuqua orchestra made me realize how dynamic and potent a group can be, if all its members effectively work together.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.