I have probably spent more than two thousand hours in school auditoriums watching and listening to student performers. They have spanned the full spectrum of talent, and if I were to judge solely on the quality of performance some would have prompted me to leap to my feet in ecstatic applause, a few would have caused me to doze off, and a very few would have made me cringe in my seat. Regardless of talent, however, what all of the performers shared in common was the courage and determination necessary to meet the challenge of going on stage and exposing their skills to the scrutiny of an audience. Few things are as terrifying, especially to a young person, and so every performance, without a single exception, has given me pleasure and provoked my admiration.
These feelings were rekindled this week at the Powell River Festival of the Performing Arts. This is a community rather than a school event, but students nevertheless constitute the great majority of the participants. The Gala at the end was a showcase of exceptional talent and as entertaining an evening as I have enjoyed anywhere, but just as impressive were the massed ranks of students of all ages who sang, danced, and recited, individually or in groups, throughout the week. This brought home once again the vital role the performing arts play in education.
Very few of the performers will ever make a living from their art, and so educational reductionists might say that such activities are an unproductive use of school resources. However, memorisation, self-awareness, poise, confidence, commitment, persistence and a willingness to take risks were all evident in abundance alongside the talent, and without those learned qualities the talent might never have made it on to stage. These are also the skills that will enable these students to aspire to, and achieve, ambitious goals in any sphere of life. Perhaps even more importantly, life should be about far more than economic productivity; it should be about humour, anger, joy and despair, and it is through arts education that students learn to explore, understand, communicate and evoke these emotions.
I congratulate all of those in Powell River who have given their students such an arts-rich environment in which to grow and learn. While on the topic, let me send a shout-out to my ex-colleagues in Zurich who have been investing unquantifiable time, energy and skill in guiding the school production of ‘The Sound of Music’ which shows later this week. Whenever a young person is able to stand on stage and hear the applause, anywhere in the world, it is thanks to a teacher who deserves our congratulations and support.