I just finished the most amazing concert at my school. I feel lucky as a music teacher, because it is really in the performances where we see the results of our work. It is also in these moments that I trully find the purpose of what I do.
One of the pieces my 8th grade students performed at this concert was Christmas Eve/ Sarajevo. This post is about the influence it had over my students. Using this particular piece was important to me for it represents my goals as a teacher. I believe that students develop character through meaningful repertoire.
The Cellist of Sarajevo
The Cellist of Sarajevo is a piece by the English composer David Wilde. It was inspired by the story of the Bosnian cellist, Vedran Smailovic. It is a true story about the power of music and a single person’s response to horrific events.
The siege of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, began in April 5th, 1992. It was the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. It lasted for four years, ending in February, 1996. In the midst of the war, Vedran Smailovic did something unheard of before. He played his cello for 22 days after witnessing 22 of his friend die in the war. He returned to the same place at 4:00 pm every day. He played surrounded by the ruins of the city. He performed for each one of the people he lost.
Christmas Eve/ Sarajevo
How Can Students Use Music to Bring Change?
I see students struggling every day. Some face poverty or lack of parental support. I recently dealt with a student who was at the verge of suicide due to a family miscommunciation. I have other students who are being bullied at school and they are afraid to stand up to the bullies. Often, students feel powerless to fight for themselves, or to solve their problems.
I think that presenting students with a story so powerful can do a lot to build their self confidence. It can help them find a very different meaning in music. They see a story of a person, who has gone through horrific things in life, and yet has preserved his hope. They also see how music was used in this very difficult situation to show the strength of a person.
I believe that music classes should not be simply another elective. I think that they need to be a vehicle to empower students. Meaningful music activities can give them a different way of developing their character and responsibility to their local community.
My students and I talked about the meaning of the piece. About the power of music to bring hope. And about our responsibility to influence others through the arts. We discussed problems at our school. We thought of ways to influence others at the school through music. We talked about the local community. We talked about how music can be a powerful tool to change the school culture.
At the end, my students had to write an essay sharing their thoughts about these issues.
I had a great time reading my students’ essays. I always know that I will get the best feedback and ideas from the students. Most of them were in agreement that being involved in something creative is powerful by itself. For example, the work of older students inevitably influences younger ones with their behavior. Students who are using their art to send a message is a powerful way to build a school culture. And, as shown by Vedran Smailovic, music itself is the message.
Could that message spread through the school?
Many of my students thought that seeing students who are engaged in something creative goes agains common school problems, such as discipline and bullying. The message that a school wide performance can send is “We do not have time for negative behavior – we are busy practicing”!
Our next school project- anti-bullying concerts! We will play on!
Links to listening and/or ordering the piece:
I will not post a video of my students playing it due to our public school privacy guidelines.
Here is another post on the same subject I have enjoyed and have been inspired from: