Horn Choir as Learning Community


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Practicing Open-Air Scales from
KOMT‘s photostream.

This fall I joined a 16-player horn choir called the Cor Corps. It’s been a lot of fun to be back playing again after I took a few years off. During our rehearsal last Saturday morning, I reflected on all the ways that this is a supportive learning community.

First, this is definitely not a professional group. Most of the players are people like me who have day jobs unrelated to music. There’s a couple of band directors and retired band teachers, and one player who had been in the Army band. We have a student from the community college, and another from high school. The group is at about the typical community band level. We play because we enjoy it, not because we’re going to wow you with our virtuosity.

For myself, and certainly for some of the other players, we’re also playing because we’re learning together. I’m relearning how to play in ways I’d forgotten since college, and I’m retraining my muscles to remember. Playing horn is definitely an exercise in lifelong learning for me.

Mistakes are accepted in the group. Obviously, we’re trying to play as well as we can, but no one gives anyone a dirty look or tries to blame someone else for mistakes. Everyone accepts responsibility for their own mistakes. Sometimes we run through a piece and, frankly, it’s lousy–so we talk about where the problems were and we try again. We get frustrated, but there’s always this underlying attitude of learning from our mistakes. It’s a very supportive environment, and I’m very grateful for that.

The horn choir is also a learning community where everyone’s contribution is valued for where they are right now. Some players are better than others, and that’s OK. We switch parts around as needed, and people choose based on their personal strengths and weaknesses. One of the players can’t read bass clef, so I switched a part with him last week so he had something he could play. But his contribution isn’t less because of that; we need that part just as much as the bass clef part I took. And he will learn bass clef eventually, just not with only two rehearsals left before the concert. He has the time to learn at his own pace.

As I’m reflecting on this, I’m wondering what characteristics of that learning community I could aim to replicate in the online courses I design. Honestly, I’m struggling a little to figure out how to build these aspects into the design of the course though; much of this feels like it’s out of my control from my position “behind the scenes.” This is something that seems to rely a lot on the class culture established by each instructor.

I’m letting the ideas percolate a bit in my brain right now. If you have ideas on how to translate this kind of learning community to online through design, I’d love to hear them.

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