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Forte: Building strength takes courage

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We gathered long enough before daybreak that it was still dark at the end of our hour and a half drive. The pre-dawn folded its arms around us as we set off, quiet and firm. We were traveling to perform, music serving as our passport through the dark.

What is the price of this passport?

Countless hours of daily work, the quality of which matters very much to the impact of the performance. As a teacher, it is my duty to provide students with a certain sense of safety — not the kind built of fear, but the kind that invites vulnerability.

There’s a security that comes from physical preparation, in the building of muscle memory through technical exercises. Vulnerability comes from opening oneself up to the possibility of failure, a necessity for the practice of any art form. This is scary enough alone, but to do this in a group, particularly as a young person, is nothing short of courageous.

Some definitions of vulnerability include words like defenseless, exposed, helpless, susceptible. The last thing I want to do is teach my students to be defenseless in a world where even just the color of their skin can invite hostility and danger.

Yet I see how the antonyms to vulnerability will not serve them: guarded, resistant. We can’t share ideas or listen across differences if we are guarded and resistant.

I prefer more empowering definitions which include words like open, genuine, trust without self-judgment. Rather than a helpless victim, this conjures a sense of strength, like a tree strongly rooted, bending with the elements, yet reaching ever-higher toward the stars.

When we take the vulnerability out of music it becomes hollow. But to allow for vulnerability in a group, it is necessary to build and nurture trust — of the group and of the self — every day. In support of this effort, Philharmonia students each created a list of strengths that they bring to the world.

I am humbled by the compiled results (see the Strengths Word Cloud). This is the kind of group that I want to take risks with. This is the kind of group that I want to meet before dawn and travel with, through the dark, to a new place for the purpose of sharing our hard work and vulnerability with strangers.

Wouldn’t you?

Jennifer Moultine, Yakima Symphony Orchestra cellist and teaching artist, is the site director for Yakima Music en Acción’s YAMA Philharmonia program at Davis High School. Philharmonia performed at the Día de los Muertos Fun Run on Nov. 3 in Pasco. 
Learn more about the symphony at and YAMA at

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