Monday, July 21, 2014


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.


Karen said...

I know how hard it is when they are just not interested in something we want them to be. But Grace is very good at knowing herself and just like you said, you don't want to drive the love of music out of her. I know this will all work out and she will still get so many chances to play and learn.

dstb said...

Ugh. Those practice struggles! And no, my son didn't get over them, I did. I stopped pushing. If he practices, he practices, and if he doesn't, oh well. Maybe not the best attitude, but things were getting a little too contentious around here. (More so when he also was taking lessons at that same prestigious music school - at least we didn't have to drive that far). We talked about getting rid of the cello and the lessons, but he didn't want to do that. So, we continue to pay for lessons (we have someone who comes to the house).

He also joined an orchestra. He wonders how the other kids get the new pieces so quickly. Because they PRACTICE! It does seem that he practices a little more so that he doesn't embarrass himself, but he does it with out me breathing down his back. (I will admit that practicing cello for orchestra can be a little boring because there are long rests, where other instruments would play, or you have to play the same notes over and over. The violins get the more interesting parts.)

He still enjoys the cello and I have picked up movie scores and other things for him so he has more music he likes to play. His teacher won't spend a lot of time on those, but he fiddles around on his own. He has no intention of making music his career, but I'm glad he is continuing with it for now.

I think letting Grace find her way based upon what brings her enjoyment will pay off in the long run with a life-long interest in music.


Jessica said...

I think it really is a blessing. It was causing a lot of stress in our family and the time commitment was so much more than I thought it would be. We don't miss the lessons, or the drive, but we are going to miss going out for our weekly bubble tea!

Jessica said...

Somehow Grace gets it done. I don't really care if she practices some of her songs, but the songs for her music director are going to be played in front of many people in church and it drives me crazy that she procrastinates and then at the very last minute pulls it together. I wish she realized how less stressful it is on me if she practiced a little bit every day....and to her credit, she does, just not in the summer. I have to let it go and remember she is 13 and summer is short. I know things will go back to "normal" come the fall.

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