All those lessons
I did everything I could to foster my kids'
interest in music
The National Post asked eight "seasoned" parents to
write about an aspect of parenthood they'd wrestled with or felt strongly
about, or something that just seemed to work for them. This is the fifth in our
series, which will run weekdays in this section until May 14.
- - -
Passing Grade 8 piano was the high point. The relief, not just
from the pressure of the exam itself but from the years of practices and
recitals, was thrilling. Of course, it was even better for my daughter, who
actually played the piano.
In fact, music education in our family was one long, triumphant
crescendo. The question is, who got more out of it -- the kids or me? I'm not
just talking about the vicarious pleasure I swelled up with at my children's
recitals. My son can make a tune on the flute, my daughter sings and plays
piano and guitar. Me? I learned about self-discipline, self-confidence,
teamwork, leadership and child psychology. I met people who are tireless,
talented, dedicated and fun. I travelled across Canada with choir children and
hosted visiting musicians from England and the United States at my home in
Toronto. If you believe some people, music made my kids, and by association me,
smarter (Web search "the Mozart effect"). All this without hanging
out in a cold arena!
Truth be told, I dropped out of piano lessons as a child. And at
my school, music was considered a "bird" course, so I took physics
instead. I managed to make it into adulthood without ever having consciously
heard Handel's Messiah or Fauré's Requiem. For his part, my husband was
directed to mouth the words when his school choir sang so his atonal stylings
wouldn't throw everybody off key. In other words, our family is by no means
zealous about the arts.
But my son and daughter, over the years, were exposed to private
music lessons, school band, school choir, church choir, community choir and Sue
Hammond's fabulous Classical Kids series of recordings. I learned to understand
the fuss about the Kiwanis Music Festival -- a logistical marvel of symphonic
proportions. My daughter's name appears on the credits of numerous recordings,
including one with the world-renowned Canadian Brass, with whom she also
appeared on stage.
No wonder I did everything I could to foster my kids' interest in
this amazing world. My part, by comparison, was easy:
- I made a point of taking the family to concerts, hanging out at
music stores and, of course, attending recitals. The Jr. Kindergarten rendition
of Blue, Stand Up is etched in my heart forever.
- For the first couple of years my daughter studied piano, I
faithfully joined her at the keyboard for her daily practices. The pieces she
was learning often had lyrics we could sing together, or we would take turns
plunking out the scales. Eventually she developed her own motivation, and I was
no longer needed.
- On holiday travels, our family made a point of checking out the
local music scene. While my son was studying flute, we practically did a world
survey of primitive wind instruments, which, it turns out, are available shaped
like birds, harpoons and fans as well as the typical tin whistle. My son could
toot out the opening bars of Ode to Joy whether we were in Bolivia, Mexico or
- I devoted one of my summer holidays to act as choir chaperone on
a tour of Cape Breton, a place I'd always wanted to visit. Between concerts, we
went tidal bore rafting; saw the famous miners' choir, the Men of the Deeps;
and drove the Cabot Trail. I was in awe of the professionalism of the 27
choristers, who rehearsed rigorously daily and performed sometimes twice a day
for the two weeks we were away.
- I joined a choir myself and discovered the unique attraction of
being bullied by the drill sergeant of the music world, the choir director.
- Can't forget fundraising. I sold oranges, poinsettias, magazine
subscriptions, wrapping paper and chocolate almonds. And I learned never to
begrudge matching government grants to children's music organizations. I
promise you they deserve it. For every person who receives some of those tax
dollars, a dozen volunteers are behind the scenes flogging chocolate almonds,
organizing silent auctions, washing cars or grilling hot dogs, typing choir
memos, washing shirts, selling concert tickets, serving juice at concert
intermissions and filing music.
This habit of being there for one's children, I've since learned,
falls into the parenting style known as "high expectation-high
support" -- and Walter Gretzky can tell you all about that. It goes hand
in hand with the school of positive reinforcement.
My daughter's wonderful piano teacher, Linda, who let me sit in on
lessons whenever I wanted, was a master at this. When I was cringing at missed
notes and skipped beats, Linda would praise the one chord that had rung true
before gently reworking the piece.
Positive reinforcement -- you praise truthfully, not
indiscriminately -- is a mainstay of the famous Suzuki school of music, where
the story is told of a lesson involving the founder: After a child finished an
excruciatingly bad performance, there was a long pause before Dr. Suzuki finally
exclaimed enthusiastically, "You played!"
Whatever playing my children are doing is out of earshot for me
now, and I use the skills of positive reinforcement and high expectation-high
support to train the puppy that has moved into my empty nest. Bach is on the CD
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