Monday, May 6, 2013

Music—Something for Everyone

I wish more kids did music. Meaning, I wish more kids played musical instruments. 

I know some reasons many don't:

1) music lessons are EXPENSIVE

2) many parents don't consider themselves musical, and they don't feel skilled enough to help their children

3) you have to make your kids practice daily, and most kids, the majority of kids, don't want to practice

4) their kids don't want to do it

5) their kids' friends aren't doing it

6) many people don't like classical music any more, and most instrumental practice involves classical music, especially in the beginning

And there are probably more reasons, but there is a big one that is very, very sad to me that I haven't mentioned yet. That reason is number seven, but it should probably be number one:

7) The schools no longer teach music. Musical education has become something for a small subset of students—the rich or the very, very determined. There are few opportunities for most kids to even give music a try.

I can't describe how much I love music for my kids. It brings so much light and joy into their lives. They know how bad they were in the beginning and they know how good they are now and they know how hard they had to work to get there. It isn't about talent. It really isn't. I don't believe my kids are any more talented than any other kids out there. They've worked incredibly hard to get where they are now, and that is the only reason they can play the way they do. Music has become a social thing for my kids as well—they love the kids they play with, and we love them too. These are some great kids, just good, good people.

We are fortunate enough to live in a smallish metropolitan area that is large enough to have a solid emphasis on the arts in the general community. We have found some great organizations that offer fabulous musical opportunities for children. They are making up the difference where our public schools have failed, and many of them offer scholarships for families who cannot afford lessons. 

The kids get to do chamber music regularly, fiddling jam sessions, recitals, symphonic performances,  competitions, and music camps. Lucy was randomly selected this year to join the NC Symphony on a Play with the Pros night. She's nervous as all get out, but she's pretty excited too. She'll actually get to sit on stage with professional cellists and play the same lovely music. 

Mary and Lucy had an orchestra concert on Tuesday. It was wonderful. They played Shostakovich and Beethoven and Wagner among others. I wish you all could have heard them. Even more, I wish I saw more diversity up on that stage, a greater diversity of kids from every situation. Even MORE, I wish that symphony hall had been filled to the brim with eager faces, excited to support these kids and just listen to some great music. 

I wish I could give that same joy and happiness to more people.

If you have any interest in starting music with your kids, I have two points of advice you can totally ignore:

1) Remember that it is incredibly painful the first year. It starts out exciting (sometimes), but soon everyone realizes how hard this is going to be, how long it is going to take to make decent sounds, and just how much nagging daily practice will take. But if you can hang on through the first year, the second year is better. The third year is better than that. The fourth year is a breath of fresh air. I think there is a hump to get over for every kid and every family, and it is different for everyone, but my two oldest are over that hump, and IT IS AWESOME! I don't have to force them to practice. They are totally self-sufficient now. But it took a long time. And I am not overly musical. I am comfortable with music, but I only play the piano, and I say that word "play" very lightly.

2) There is a particular culture for each individual instrument. Violinists seem to be much more perfectionistic than violas, for example. If you have more of a laid-back kid, the viola is the way to go. (I know there are exceptions to this, but I've talked to several professional musicians about this, and it really is true! Oboists, I've been told, tend to be leaders, a sneaky way of saying they are a little bossy, I think.) Different instruments seem to work best with specific temperaments. The double bass, for example, is a laid-back, mess-around, kind of instrument, because there aren't a whole ton of double bass concertos to learn. But nearly every kind of music needs a bass line, and some of those bass lines require an amazing ability to improvise, which takes a certain amount of confidence. The bass players in the girls' orchestra were head-banging their way through Beethoven this past week, literally. It was hilarious. If you contrast the hulking high-school bass players against the tiny, prim and proper violinists, they couldn't be more different. (Shaemus started double bass at age five, and we LOVE it.)

There is a musical instrument for nearly everyone, I think, much like books! As a parent, look into every instrument available, try to think about what your kids would like the most. Involve them in the decision, of course, but don't be shy about explaining the differences between them and guiding the situation. Talk to different teachers about the temperaments they think work best for their particular instrument. Calvin plays the cello, but I think he will eventually switch to clarinet or saxophone—an instrument with more of a culture of improvising, because he is my kid who likes to mess around on his instrument, make up songs, test out different sounds, and it's not something his teacher is very well equipped to teach him, because he doesn't do it himself. But cello matches little perfectionist Lucy to a T. 

Here are some pictures of the concert:

We love music!

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