Written by & under performance, Program Development.

flute ensI am a huge believer in the power of community. How do you foster a sense of community in your studio? For me it is about providing opportunities for students to learn with each other and from each other. For parents to meet each other and have conversations that go beyond “hi, how are you”. And for the whole studio to feel like we are working toward common goals and are part of something larger than “just” flute lessons.

A few years ago I realized that our typical end-of-semester recitals were growing too long. We had usually performed both solo works as well as a small selection of ensemble pieces. As the students advanced both the solo and ensemble works became more complex and quite a bit longer. It was time for a change.

In my studio we have weekly private lessons in addition to group classes twice a month. The students are groups by level rather than age. It creates a diverse group of students often pairing very young students (age 4-5) through high school beginners. As the students advance there is room to move “up” a group but the age disparity remains throughout the program.

Many teachers have marveled at how kind my students are to one another. Be it two same-age students who are vying for an orchestra placement or two students who are years apart, they genuinely like each other. Could I break up the groups differently? Of course. But we live in a society in which education has become almost entirely age-centered and I think we have lost the benefits that working in mixed-age groups can bring.

As part of my quest for a new recital system, I decided to use the yearly group class schedule to help me make a change. Rather than meeting twice a month all year, I chose to let the difficult “short” months like December and February have just one group class. We then created an Ensemble Month in March leading up to a featured Ensemble Concert the first week of April. Group class meets every week for the month. Rehearsals are intense but we all know that there is a goal to be reached in April. For the month we focus on intonation, playing together, working effectively as a group, and learning some fun, new music. An amazing concert is the product and we all feel an incredible sense of accomplishment.

March is a tough month. Here in new England, the weather is not friendly and spring seems a long way off. Ensemble month has given the whole studio a motivational boost. By the time we give the concert in April the whole studio feels united. The parents have had the chance to watch rehearsals, and have informal conversations. The students know each other, have learned from each other, and show a deep respect for each other.

What felt like a “problem”, when I was faced with overly long concerts, has turned into a wonderful community-building opportunity.

What do you do in your studio that brings your students and families closer? Have you ever faced a scheduling or teaching dilemma that led to a creative solution? I look forward to hearing your stories.