From the Miller House Steps to a University Concert Hall
by Dr. Tim Mitchell
Director of Fine Arts Dr. Tim Mitchell reflects on how Arts Jam began and what we all have to look forward to this evening.
Twenty-eight years ago, a small group of musicians met on the porch of the Miller House for an afternoon jam session. Musicians use the term “jam session” to refer to an informal gathering in which the group riffs while individuals improvise solos and try out all kinds of variations. There is no wrong note as the whole group will adopt and expand on anything that is played. That day, the students and teachers of Flint Hill called their gathering “Arts Jam.” Fast forward through the incredible life of the school to tonight, April 25, 2018. This evening, 168 students in 9 music and dance ensembles will perform on the stage of the Concert Hall at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in “Arts Jam: Collage,” the eighth year for this event. It’s a breathtaking thought. This great leap forward represents Flint Hill’s true commitment to the values and benefits of the arts in education. And, it matches the excellence and quality of learning experiences you see today across all of the School’s endeavors in every area. Arts Jam is a great example of what the Flint Hill student of today is capable of achieving. Yet, the spirit and the vision of the original Arts Jam remains with us, as we gather once again as a community to celebrate our students in the Arts.
Let’s take a look backstage! Today, students began to arrive at the Concert Hall with their instruments, their music, their costumes and more, beginning at 11:30 a.m. Our student stage manager and her crew began to coordinate with student captains from every ensemble who are charged with knowing exactly where their group, and every member of it, are supposed to be at all times during the rehearsal and the performance. These student-leaders learn how to lead and manage their peers effectively. For all students, the experience of preparing on a professional stage teaches them how to lead a project from start to finish. They quickly learn that this is like no other rehearsal they have ever had. There is no time to play the music or to have a run through. Instead, they see that limited time is given to working with the professional crew to build the light cues, to mic the stage and to set up sound for soloists and others. They do learn that there are problems to solve and that there are multiple ways to solve those problems. But, also, they learn that the only way to move forward is through compassion, consensus and communication. Perhaps there is a transition to figure out. It’s quickly clear that learning the transitions is as big a part of the performance as the pieces played. It becomes obvious, only through experience, that the backstage work is as crucial to success as what the audience can see or hear.
Then there are all the sweet moments backstage that I have the privilege to witness: the encouraging look and twinkle in the eye of the music director to his or her ensemble that only they can see; the swarm of excited dancers gathered around the small monitor in the wing watching their peers; the quiet student who steps up in a solo and blows everyone away; and the moment the cast and crew do some big-picture thinking and realize they have a part in something greater than their own roles. They learn that any small difference has an outsized impact. It’s true that 72 percent of business leaders have said that creativity is the number one skill they look for and need. Arts Jam is all about the kind of collaboration that leads to creativity. Yet, the spirit of Arts Jam is also the stuff of lifelong memories that exceed any one type of learning. That’s just as true 28 years later.