Recently, I attended the 2012 Atlanta Trumpet Festival. It's the ninth year of the Atlanta Trumpet Festival and it's the fourth festival that I've attended as a participating member.
As I've written previously, the Atlanta Trumpet Festival is open to all ages, however the participants are divided into three groups. There's a middle school ensemble, a high school ensemble, and an adult ensemble. Each ensemble rehearses a handful of tunes, which they then perform on the second and final day of the festival. In between rehearsals, the festival hosts master classes and a vendor area where participants can try a variety of trumpets and trumpet accessories. If you're in the Atlanta area and you play the trumpet, you should definitely check it out.
Rather than talk about the master classes and my perpetual inability to play simple concert band music, I thought I'd focus this review on the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, some of its members, and the importance of music education.
ATLANTA TRUMPET ENSEMBLE
In 2004, Kay Fairchild created the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble along with nine of her high school trumpet students. Modeled after a similar ensemble from North Carolina, the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble provided a way for Kay Fairchild's students to play trumpet music in a group setting. Later that year, the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble hosted the first annual Atlanta Trumpet Festival, and both the ensemble and festival have been going strong ever since.
During the final concert of this year's trumpet festival, Kay Fairchild took a moment to update us on the present-day lives of the original nine members of the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble. Now in their twenties, most have graduated from college already, some have had children, one graduated from Julliard, two are middle/high school band directors, one is an officer in the Navy, and one of them recently secured a three million dollar grant to fund an after school music program for children in Philadelphia. Wow!
Although the current members of the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble are still in high school, they have already demonstrated a strong work ethic and a will to succeed. As Kay Fairchild pointed out, they have a demanding schedule that includes daily trumpet practice, ensemble rehearsals, ensemble concerts, marching band rehearsals, and marching band performances. And with all of those commitments, most of them still manage to get straight A's in school.
After learning more about the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble members, I began to wonder if there are any secrets to their success. Perhaps they're the product of great parenting. Or maybe Kay Fairchild deserves most of the credit as an excellent mentor and trumpet teacher. Or maybe there's something about playing an instrument that teaches kids how to succeed and accomplish their goals in life. Nope... couldn't be that!
LEARNING DELAYED GRATIFICATION THROUGH MUSIC EDUCATION
When it's effective, music education teaches students a lot more than simply how to play an instrument. Music students will develop a greater appreciation of the arts, as they're exposed to music that they wouldn't normally hear. Music students will learn to be more compassionate as they try to play musically and blend in with an ensemble. And as Stanford Thompson, a founding member of the Atlanta Trumpet Ensemble, tells us in the video below, music students will learn to accept and appreciate the invaluable concept of 'delayed gratification.'
Before I talk about delayed gratification, I think it's important to look at the dangers of instant gratification, especially as it affects children. As we all know, instant gratification is the sense of fulfillment that we get when something is easily obtained. I suppose the classic example of instant gratification is winning the lottery. With just a dollar and a few lucky numbers, you can win more than you'd make during your entire career. In pursuit of this goal, millions of adults throw away dollar after dollar as they pin their hopes and dreams on dumb luck. Thankfully, children aren't allowed to play the lottery. Children do, however, have plenty of temptations that promise instant gratification. For most kids, the main draws are television and video games. Other kids, especially those surrounded by bad influences, might turn to more sinister temptations like alcohol, drugs, and crime. There's nothing wrong with (legal) instant gratification in moderation, but if your aspirations are limited to things that come easily, then you probably won't achieve very much in life.
The opposite of instant gratification, delayed gratification, suggests that the rewards for your efforts will come at some future point in time. This concept of delayed gratification exists in every phase of learning to play an instrument. If you're just beginning to play the trumpet, for example, it will take several month of practice before you develop a clear tone. After that, you've got many more months of slurs, articulation studies, and so on before you can play simple trumpet repertoire. And if your goal is to play something like the Hummel Trumpet Concerto, then you're really in for the long haul -- I still can't play those turns near the end of the third movement!
Even though it will take many months and years to become a great musician, students will achieve many small successes along the way. The small successes of learning a new scale and mastering a simple etude are milestones of progress. These milestones prove to students that all of the hard work is actually paying off. And, more importantly, these small successes motivate students to continue working toward their goals.
Of course, this lesson in delayed gratification extends far beyond music. Future goals, like attending college, getting a promotion at work, or starting an after school music program, will no longer seem unattainable because the students have a solid framework for achieving success.
In the days that followed the Atlanta Trumpet Festival, I thought about this notion of delayed gratification as it relates to all of the middle and high school students who participated in the festival. While I'm sure many of those kids enjoy playing the trumpet, there are probably a few who only play the trumpet because their parents force it upon them. I think it's those kids who really stand to benefit the most from the Atlanta Trumpet Festival. Spending a couple of days with dozens of their trumpet playing peers, and listening to professional trumpeters play things they never thought possible, those kids just might feel inspired enough to take the trumpet more seriously. And once they're hooked, who knows what they'll accomplish.
If you'd like to learn more about Stanford Thompson and his after school music education program, you might want to visit the Play On Philly website or his personal website. You also might enjoy this video from his presentation at TedXPhilly.