My daughter has been playing violin since she was 4 years old. She is now in the 7th grade and plays in her middle school orchestra.
When she was in sixth grade, she was placed in the 7/8th grade orchestra, since most students began in the sixth grade orchestra without any previous string instruction. Although even then she was the strongest player (she had played many more years than everyone else, and her greater skill was confirmed by the results of the county honors orchestra auditions), the teacher made an 8th grader concert master, and my daughter always played in the third chair, first violin. She had previous ensemble work, and I thought she should have been concert master, but I never said anything.
This year, from the first day of the year, she has played first chair, first violin, placed there by the teacher. There is another class section of the 7/8th grade orchestra, and the girl who plays first chair there is not as strong a player as my daughter, and by a much greater deficit than last year between my daughter and the concert master, again confirmed by the results of the county honors orchestra auditions. In the first three concerts of the year (1 evening performance, 1 in-school performance for 5th graders, 1 adjudicated performance at an amusement park), my daughter was concert master.
One week before the final concert of the year, the teacher (not a string player herself) asked my daughter and her standmate, another 7th grader, who also started playing at a young age, but not as early as my daughter, and is not as advanced a player now but still more advanced than everyone else, whether they would mind letting two 8th graders play first and second chair. The reason given was that it was their last concert at the school. My daughter and her friend said that it was fine with them. The other girl thought it was a nice thing to do. My daughter felt that it would be mean not to do it.
I was upset. As a parent who has overseen a child’s instrument learning for 8 years, it is, admittedly, a small pleasure and source of pride to see her play as concert master in the middle school orchestra concert, as it is for her, a small external recognition for years of dedication and effort and mostly internal motivation. I have always understood that concert master is an earned position, and believe that giving it to a “graduating” student (and substantially weaker player) for the final concert of the year devalues the position and shames the stronger student.
From reading other discussions in this forum and from talking to violin teachers, I understand that seating assignments can be rotated, especially when skill levels are relatively close, and that strong players can be strategically placed to help weaker players, but in the entire two years that my daughter has been in this orchestra, the teacher has never done that. Sometimes she moves kids around, but not systematically through a formal rotation, and my daughter has never been moved around the orchestra for any reason, not even to shore up a weak section. Each year, she has sat in the same position all year long.
Other teachers have suggested that there might have been pressure from the other girl’s parents (since it was twice suggested, I can only assume this is a common occurrence). My first thought was that it was just dopey or inane. I can imagine having the 8th graders stand for a special round of applause, or giving them a special part in one of the pieces, or letting them wear something special, an accessory or something like that. But making one concert master? What about all of the other 8th graders? I have also thought it might come out of an all too typical resentment felt toward high achieving kids.
The teacher claimed in an email to me that every student has changed seats, which simply is not true. A lie like that raises a big red flag for me and makes me think she is covering her you-know-what. Why would she have asked my daughter in the first place, if she did not also view concert master as an earned position and that she had earned it? That would also seem to indicate the teacher herself knew she was doing something that she should not do. Succumbing to parental pressure would then seem more and more likely.
Is my perspective completely wrong? Is the concert master not one universally assigned by ability? Are “graduating” students often made concert master as a “graduation gift”?
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