"The Magic Feather - Who Are The Leaders?"

MONDAY, APRIL 12, 2010

So much learning happens from seat to seat in band. The eleventh grader sitting next to the ninth grader in the trumpet section will likely have as much influence on his progress and motivation as I will from the podium. As a facilitator of this learning, I need to be sure to let this happen. It might be collegial, in might be competitive, it might be both. Either way, it's a big motivator.

There is an aspect of this sort of mentorship that I call the "Magic Feather" effect. Some band members make the band better simply because they play well. Others make it better because in addition to playing well, they model things for their sections and speed up the learning. Then there are those that makes everyone play better, just with their presence. Be it their leadership, talent, charisma: whatever it is, just their being there makes everyone play better. They are the Magic Feathers.

In the story "Dumbo" (or at least the Walt Disney take on it. I am not versed enough to cite the original Helen Durney story.), our hero, a baby elephant born into circus captivity with huge ears. As it turns out, these ears make it possible for him to fly. While he always possessed this ability, he lacked the confidence. He was given a feather, told it was magic, and this gave him the courage and initiative to perform to his potential: to fly!

The magic feathers in my bands don't just help lead their sections. They infuse confidence in them. People find their own potentials with more success when those magic feathers are present.

This is a term I have been using for pretty much my entire teaching career. I certainly remember using it in my first job. I like to think I coined its use this way, but who knows if I heard some other music teacher use it, and just don't remember? My apologies to this person if that's the case. Until further notice, I'm taking credit.

When I first started using it, there was almost a negative connotation to it. Timothy Mouse was screaming at Dumbo as the two of them plummeted toward the earth that he never needed it, and that he could fly with out it. That was sort of my use of it as well. The 'magic feather' was absent, and I knew the felt like they needed him or her to play well. I was using that analogy to point out to them that if they can play with the 'feather', they can without as well.

I now extend the image further into what I hope is a more positive one, that they should not just strive to succeed without the 'magic feather', but rather aspire to become one. They should work to become a force that motivates that band to play well, and not be the need for such motivation. I think that has given this image more impact over the years.

I have also used this image to trick myself into a greater level of confidence in aspects of my own life that are outside of my comfort level, such as athletics. It really works.