INSIGHT: Failures and the Arts Education

By Ginger Ellingson, Director of Fine & Performing Arts

“You know what the best part of being a Puff is? You fail. A lot. You fail and fail. You fail over here. You fail over there. And then you fail a lot more. But failure […] is just another form of practice. As long as you never stop trying. So… try again. […] eventually, you get better.” Cedric’s inspirational and unknowingly last words to Wayne in the Puffs scene before his untimely demise, are a good lesson for us all. He just left out the most important part—what are you going to do differently next time you try? As part of the artistic process, persistence and trying new things are essential to expanding a skill set and building capacity.

What role does failure play in arts education? By knowing that failure isn’t the end of the story, we reflect, learn, and try again. It allows for exploration and experimentation. We become process-driven, not product driven. In this way, the artistic process is an antidote to perfectionism; you’re never really done, you just have to figure out when to stop. Creating room for failure can be a difficult thing to balance with the desire to be good. But peppered along the way to excellence is a series of opportunities. Some will go well, and some won’t, but at each point of creation is an opportunity to reflect. What went well? What didn’t go as planned? What will I do differently next time?

With this in mind, the Fine & Performing Arts hosts a music series showcasing the work of Upper School students and faculty during the middle band on Fridays in the TALI atrium. SoundBites, which had a soft start last spring and has continued this year, has featured a variety of musicians from vocalists to pianists and singer-songwriters on guitar. While the community benefits from music-filled hallways, the real goal is to provide a casual opportunity to practice performance skills. By peppering the school year with smaller informal performances, we support the formal performances in being more joyful. We will decrease the barriers to music making that come in the form of anxiety and perfectionism. The students will be better practiced at performance: managing anxiety, playing through mistakes, and being vulnerable. The Pops concert this winter is another example of our effort to change the format in which we are sharing music. Join us on March 7th at 4:00 PM for a casual and fun hour of 60’s and 70’s soul music shared by the Rock Orchestra, Voice Studio and Chamber Choir.

Congratulations to the cast, crew, and directors of Puffs, which had a notable run of performances last weekend. An important point to highlight from this recent production is the crew in the booth running the technical components of the show. In a show with this much magic, there is a lot to do in the booth. This was the first time at EPS that students ran every component of the booth, from calling the show, to lights, sound, and microphones. Bravo to the cast on stage, as well as the crew and directors for making the magic happen!

We have seen students, teachers, and our parent community practice each of these strategies all year long. This year, the race felt especially long, the headwind particularly brisk, and the slopes remarkably steep. We went the distance, and now we’re finishing strong – together.