A Place For Grace

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / halfpoint

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / halfpoint

After learning how to hold their miniature violins, the next thing 3-year old Suzuki students learn is how to perform a deep, gracious bow. Although the first notes they play will sound like a choking cat, they end their performance with dignity. Bending slowly at the waist, they intone: “One, two, three … hello, toes!” and “One, two, three … up!” Many parents new to the Suzuki method dismiss this exercise as either premature or quaint. (Shouldn’t my child actually learn to play something before she takes a bow?) I was one of those parents, until I understood what Shin’ichi Suzuki understood from the start: Composure is as important as composition. Everyone needs to learn poise.

When poise is learned at an early age—whether from a teacher, parent, coach, or camp counselor—the graceful results last a lifetime. When poise is not part of the program, the results can be staggeringly awkward. To wit: I recently attended a concert showcasing the talents of a handful of the most talented local adult musicians. The concert was free, open to the public, and well-attended. To welcome the audience, an administrator stood in the front of the hall. 

“Um…,” she started, rather haltingly, looking out into the audience. “I … ah … I want to welcome you all here (warm smile). We’re really excited because this is the debut … of … um … well, it’s like the first time this new piano is being played. Well, not the first time it’s being played, but the first time it’s being played in concert. Even though this is not really a concert. It’s technically a recital (hand-wringing). Now, I know I’m going to screw this up, but bear with me. It’s a very long and hard-to-pronounce last name … someone help me here … this piano was donated by the Beindenschlahnder family (nervous laugh). I think that’s how to say it. Anyway, we know you’ll enjoy the show … I mean recital … so … yeah.” (A sheepish smile and another nervous laugh.) 

Where do I start with a critique of this debacle? As introductions go, it was among the most unprofessional I’ve ever heard. I’m quite sure this administrator’s heart was in the right place. She wanted to welcome the audience, thank the family that had donated a new $55,000 grand piano, and express her enthusiasm for the program and its performers. What she did instead was trivialize the event, embarrass the organization, ridicule a major donor, and highlight her lack of preparation. In short, she lacked poise. 

However, the concert introduction contained a basis for so many solid teaching points—so many do’s and don’ts—that can help all of us be our most polite and self-assured selves in front of others. As youth leaders, it’s our professional, educational duty to learn poise, and then teach poise to the next generation. 

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