When I was a kid, late night shopping on Friday night was the big social event of the week for many teens. Weekend shopping hadn’t been invented, after all. However, there were a group of us who passed by the thrill of a milkshake in town to travel to Tauranga and practice with the Tauranga Youth Orchestra. I was in awe of the many who went because they had real musical talent. I did not. Looking back, I went because it was my geek-zone. A place where it was safe to be bright. I only remember two members who weren’t excelling in school. One must have been twice exceptional, with amazing musical talent, a brilliant sense of humour, and the worst School Certificate Maths result I have ever heard of. This was before the age of political correctness, and we just put it down to his being English at the time. The other, still at high school, got up several times each night to turn his father, who had multiple sclerosis. Hardly a recipe for top academic honours, but he didn’t do too badly, for all that, and has continued his tradition of caring to this day. He is now a pastor.
Why did these bright people gather? Does music make you academically gifted? There are certainly people who think that it helps. However, there were other forces at work as well. Our repertoire was about 50:50 classical music and the works of Neil Diamond, with the M*A*S*H theme thrown in for good measure. This was the peak of the age of Disco, and quite frankly, you had to be rather geeky to see any merit in the musical selection. I’m still not fully convinced about Neil Diamond…
Making the Youth Orchestra happen were a handful of itinerant music teachers, who freely sacrificed their own Friday Night shopping experiences to cope with our shenanigans and mould us into a musical force to be reckoned with. One of these (who was not personally responsible for the intense Neil Diamond focus) was Jim Langabeer. Jim is still a noted New Zealand musician today. Not only is he talented in his own right, but he was very good at finding opportunities to extend and showcase our most talented musicians in the Youth Orchestra, and his other project of that time, the Symphonic Band. Jim and I take an interest in each other’s activities via Facebook these days, so I was able to ask him about his thoughts on giftedness. Here is what he had to say:
Hi Mary: I peek at your gifted kids stuff on facebook, and feel happy that you are part of a large supportive team. I know that I often felt miserable during my school days, and was glad that homelife offered a few chances to enjoy special things like stamp collecting and playing music!!
These days I have 20 private students and a hundred odd school students, and I try to regard them all as gifted, or challenged, and I really enjoy my work: so many great students who enjoy flying ahead in music, and so many end up becoming friends and teaching me things. I don’t feel that NCEA has improved things for gifted music students: it is so easy to achieve, and get excellence. However many of my students find that they enjoy helping others and doing extra-curricular stuff, and so this makes for a busy and satisfying life eh?
A short note that says so very, very much. Music was a safe haven for Jim too. To see him involved in it, you would never guess that “miserable” was even a word in his vocabulary. Jim’s tangible love of music is energising and uplifting!
The other thing that jumps out at me, after all the conversations on the teacher-learner relationship this Gifted Awareness Week, is the holistic and respectful attitude Jim has to his students. He is open to discovering both talent and challenge where it lies, expects to find himself learning from his students at times, and is informed about the extra-curricular experiences that make their lives complete.
Thank you so much, Jim, for all that you have given to so many young people with an interest, and often a talent, in music!
This photo, by Flickr member Tim Hamilton, has attribution, non-commercial, and no derivatives licenses.