The girl's music teacher recently told me that many students drop their instrument once they reach high school. They compared it to sports. The lower level sports are fun. They are social activities. Once they make the high school team, time in the summer is devoted to their sport, practice occurs every day while in season, the competition is fiercer, the coaches may be tougher. Many kids lose the love of the sport and they stop.
I can somewhat understand this. After all, how many kids actually go on to play their sport in college? And after college what options are their for a person who likes to play soccer, or football or basketball? Yes, there are pick up teams and adult teams but so few adults participate in these after college. Unlike some sports, music is an art that can be practiced for a lifetime. I suppose it is natural to phase in and out of musical interests, certain genres of music, intensity of practice and so on but if you have access to your instrument, you can play whether you are 10, 20, 40 or 80, as long as you don’t put that instrument down. Walking away from an instrument is like walking away from a foreign language. If you don’t use it, you lose it.
We have having growing pains with music right now. I signed Grace up at a prestigious music school thinking it would give her access to teachers who have traveled the world playing piano, ensemble groups with other teens, master classes, monthly recitals, and to a network of kids who share her interests. The reality is that she does not want to dedicate herself to mastering a 40 page piece by Hayden. Bach, who was once her favorite composer, is not not looking so friendly now that she made the leap to a harder piece of his music. She shared her feelings. We had a conference. We made a plan. The plan did not work because I cannot force her fingers to play a piece of music she does not want to play. I can threaten. I can offer rewards and consequences. I can set up practice charts. I can withhold fun activities until the “work” is done. In doing so, I will drive the love of her instrument out of her.
I spoke to a musician I highly respect who is working with Grace and he told me that classical music is necessary. It is the underlying foundation to all music, and its influences are seen in artists from The Beatles to The Piano Guys. However, he said classical music should not be presented in a way that the student no longer likes it.
Grace has grown up playing classical music. We had to beg her to find and incorporate other genres of music into her playlist. The love is there. It is just being overshadowed by a strong desire to sit and play The Piano Guys and Doug Hammer. She wants to explore Jim Brickman and find other artist/composers who make her heart sing.
She wants to continue to work with the Music Director from church who is teaching her all parts of the Mass as well as beautiful Christian music. Learning chords is quite different than learning the notes, and learning this in addition to a strict classical regiment was just too much for her. It overwhelmed her and lessened her desire to tackle hard classical pieces. Her focus can’t be on three teachers, with three sets of music, three different styles, and three heavy practice-loads.
So we move on. We give up the classical lessons that took 4 hours of our day with travel time and we go back to the two primary teachers she has always had. Her growth in classical may suffer a bit this year, but she will learn chords and she will learn the Mass. She will perform at Church every month and she will perform in her other teacher’s recitals and visits to assisted living centers. She will play a classical piece here and there to keep her fingers fresh. They will be harder pieces, but not 40 page pieces.
Her teacher and I had a lovely conversation about creating opportunities for her pre-teen and teen students to get together and play. I am very, very excited about the possibilities we discussed and I hope they can come to fruition. If I can fulfill her need to be around other musical teens, then I feel that I have accomplished my goal. If she keeps playing and fills my home with music, I will be very happy. When she plays her church music in the morning and I quietly sing the hymns, I feel like I start every day with God. And that is what music is all about.