Parents’ Evening

I have just got in from an epic test of patience – my eldest daughter’s “Musical Parents’ Evening”. I got through it quite well, I thought, even though just a week a go I was at my younger daughter’s musical parents’ evening. Each one lasted just short of three hours. They don’t do things by halves at the girls’ school. But before I get onto the details let me quickly explain how the school system works over here.

Kindergarten starts when you are 3 and lasts for 3 years. From the age of 6 to 10 you spend four years in “Grundschule” – where children of all abilities are thrown together. My girls went to the Grundschule here in Schönaich. It was great for us, nearly all the kids in town walk to and from school so we would happily let them go off in a big group fairly early on and avoid the school run. From the age of 10 onwards the pupils then get to go to one of three types of school depending on their academic ability. The “lowest” level is the “Hauptschule” followed by the “Realschule” and finally the “Gymnasium”. Until a couple of years ago, the teachers’ recommendation and grades were what decided which school you would attend. But now things have softened up a little and the parents can overrule the recommendations and send their kids to a higher (or lower) school than they would have got into on grades alone. The result has, predictably, been that pushy parents are putting their kids into the Gymnasium, even if they didn’t make it on merit. At the moment about 20% are in the Hauptschule, 50% Realschule and 30% Gymnasium. We were lucky, our kids (offspring of world-renowned mega blogger) were both recommended to attend the Gymnasium and that’s where they went.

Even though we live in a reasonably affluent area, I don’t actually know anybody who has kids in a private school. These are all state schools and for what I have seen seem to work pretty well. There are three of four Gymnasiums (Gymanasia?) in Böblingen and you can take your pick. There are no fixed catchment areas so schools all have open days for prospective students to check the place out and decide if they’d like to go there next year. Ariane, and subsequently the kids, were most impressed by the “Albert Einstein Gymnasium” (AEG) which I approved of because it had the best name. The alternatives were Max Planck or Lisa Meitner – who are they? The other thing which we liked about the AEG was their compulsory music lessons during the first two years. They believe that any child can learn to read music and play an instrument and that this in turn has a positive effect on the general learing ability and development. It sounded convincing and the girls were quite musical anyway so we went for it. This was, of course, before we knew about the musical parents’ evenings.

So, there I was, in a baking hot auditorium listening to three classes (strings, song and brass/woodwind) playing various bits of music together. All credit to the teachers and the kids for being able to perform after just a few months learning new instruments – it is amazing how quickly they learn. And still, you only need one or two trombones or violins to be out of tune and time to turn a pleasant head-nodding moment into a nervous wincing moment. The strings, especially, are a challenge. I can’t help thinking you should put frets or markers on violins until people have been playing for a few years.

By the time the three groups have each done four or five songs and the music teachers have waffled on a bit, the first half is over. It lasts about 90 minutes. The kids are all proud to be up there and really seem to enjoy playing together. The audience is full of adoring parents so they’re going to clap and cheer no matter what happens. All in all it’s a good thing and I enjoyed my free pretzel and glass of water during the interval. Then comes the patience test. Any child who wants to can perform a solo piece – or a duet if they like. I guess that about 20 kids (or their parents) decided they needed to get up and do a little piece. Good character-building stuff…

You certainly get a range of talent up there, but no matter how good they are things start getting a bit trying after about the first 10 kids have done their bit. The children who are obviously having private music lessons and are “good” usually play a challenging classical piece which is impressive but lasts for ever and is just a little bit too hard for the kid to play. One piece we heard was a prelude, which the music teacher explained meant “Vorspiel” – literally foreplay. Well that got a giggle at least. Considering it was just the foreplay, it seemed to go on for ever. Worse still, there were lots of dramtic pauses in the piece. By this time I was so eager to get out and back home that I clapped a couple of times during the pause in the hope that everyone would join in and he’d stop. No dice, I’m afraid. All I got was a few disapproving looks from the row in front of me. Considering they were filming everything with iPhones they were probably his parents so I suppose their reaction was quite restrained.

Well, eventually everybody had done their bit and I had done my duty. My daughter decided on a short duet and although she wasn’t happy with her performance it went down well with the audience (nice and short). Her friends all assured her that nobody had noticed any mistakes and she shouldn’t worry. Soon they were running around and giggling again. That’s the best bit about parents’ evenings – getting a glimpse of your child’s secret school world. The monosyllabic answers we get to the eternal question “how was school?” don’t help much, but a few minutes watching and listening to them chatting with their school mates gives us at least a little insight. We all returned home tired but happy in the knowledge that it’s all over for another year.

Bis morgen!

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