Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mommy, Come Play - Part 2

In  part 1 of this post, I shared my response to the comment "You homeschool?  I could never do that!" I also stated that I had begun to see a connection between that comment and two others that I hear frequently: "What age should I start my child in music lessons? and "I wish I never stopped playing the piano." 
I've wrestled for months with this post.  Rather than try to describe what I'm feeling, I've decided first to "show" you what I'm feeling by sharing what are becoming common experiences with my children. 

(Part 3 discusses specific ideas to implement in music practice with your children)
It all started many years ago when I actually applied with my first two children, the answers I used to give parents as a music "professional."  Not just when to "start" music, but how to practice, when to practice, how often to practice etc. The results . . . well, they prompted me to begin asking other questions. The answers I found have changed my perspective, my purposes, and my approach.

And it has changed the results.

I've made the not-so-surprising discovery that if your purposes are counter-culture, you get results that are unique to the culture you live in.  Funny thing is, you then find that people start asking you what you're doing differently because they want those results.  This says something about the culture to me.

So, what are some of those results that I think are unique?  They have centered around my two youngest children who are now ages 4 and 6. The following are actual experiences from the past seven months:

  • "Mommy, come play with me! I want to play songs in this 'human' book" (Norah says this while placing on the piano a primer method book with pictures of people - different in her mind to the usual music books she sees me playing from that don't have pictures of "humans" on them :).
  • Most nights after tucking Norah in bed she sneaks quietly back into our room and says some version of: "Mommy, I need to talk to you. In the morning, I want to eat cheerios together, then I want to play piano with you, then I want to snuggle in bed and read with you and then I want to draw letters. Now don't forget!"  
  • While playing with Norah at the piano, Lizzy comes on my lap and snuggles, whispering into my ear, "It's my turn next, right?" 
  • While on a business trip recently, the first words on the phone from Norah were: "Mommy, I miss you, can you come home so we can play piano together?"
  •  I have various books or flash cards arrayed on the piano and Lizzy says, "Mom, you forgot one! That's not all the books I like to play with." 
  • After playing through a song Norah chooses from one of the piano books, I close the book and ask, "What do you want to do next?" She quickly cries out, "No!  I wanted to do one more in that one!"  
  • Norah decided she wanted my help "scrubbing" a spot in a song she wants to play for her Grammy. After three times I figure that's enough progress for one day - I want to keep the positive, playful atmosphere so I suggest the next part we could scrub and she looks up from her deep concentration and says, "No, mommy, I need to do it again.  It's not right yet."

This kind of attitude my two younger children have for learning music still catches me by surprise.   Especially since that wasn't my experience starting my two older children in music lessons (but it's getting better - the younger ones are leading us all). You might think at first that it is as simple as my younger children possessing musical "talent" and my older ones not-so-much.  I'd have to disagree. What is different then?  My purposes now. That's the connection between the common comments I've listed.   

Like I said, I tried things the traditional way in regards to music when raising my first two children. (I would argue I also tried things the "traditional" way with them in regards to education, even though it was done at home.)  I followed to the letter the very traditions I had been trained to teach (and had taught for years) to other parents.  But I found I didn't like or feel good about the results (tension during practice time, relief when practice is over, stress at meeting teachers expectations, fighting during practice time, coercing, bribing, manipulating on both sides etc.) So I started asking questions.  Questions like, What is it all for, or How do I teach music to my children without tearing down the relationship with my children?

I found those to be dangerous questions to ask if you don't want to step outside of your culture's traditions. Like my brother said to me the other day, although I can't remember the exact wording, "Living counter to your culture can be scary - it can feel like giving up or losing a part of your culture. "

But when the traditions of the little "world" you find yourself living in cause pain in your relationships, you build up the courage to imagine a world outside of that culture. You start realizing that letting tradition always dictate the purpose of an activity or skill means trusting that your cultural traditions are always in harmony with truth. But are they? My doubts about that dared me to think more deeply about what my purposes are in giving my children experiences with music, with writing, with math, with reading - everything. 

So it probably says more about me, but now when I'm asked the question I'm suppose to be answering in this post, what my mind translates it into is, "What age should I start my child in music lessons so I can meet the cultural expectations I feel pressing in on me?" 

If we're being honest, that's really at the heart of it, isn't it?  We approach all these expected activities that we enroll our children in, wanting to "do it right"; wanting our children to have every opportunity to "succeed." But what is "right?"  What is real "success?" Do our stated purposes for all these activities and skills really connect with the way we go about reaching those purposes? Have we really made sure that the x=1 in 2x + 3=7.  I think we need to check our math.

Think of all the good purposes we say we have as our reasons for placing our kids in piano lessons, or on a soccer team, or in dance classes.  Would we really go about it the way we do if those things were really our purposes?  If I want my child to have a strong sense of worth, would I really want her to feel that her five minute performance of a piece of music equals her worth? Or that she should base her self-worth on how loudly the audience applauds? 

If I want my son to learn to work with others as a team, would I then go about putting him in a situation that dominantly teaches him to only work well with his team; that other teams are the enemy; people to be beaten?  (It's a dog-eat-dog world, they might as well get used to it now, right? You sure?)

If I want my daughter to learn coordination, should I put her in an environment where she learns to mostly coordinate her body in sensual, self-centered movements? If I want her to learn to love and take care of her body, why surround her with the mentality that she's ugly if she doesn't have a certain body type?

Maybe the culture you live in is different.  Or maybe you've found ways to "work the system" and avoid these negative outcomes.  In fact, I see that's what most of us parents are trying to do. But I've always lacked creativity. I've tried "working the system" and I'm finding it isn't working.  So I've started experimenting with new systems; making it up as I go; trying to follow that Inner Guide.  And from the exciting things I'm seeing happen in my children, it's not as scary as I thought it would be - losing that part of my culture.

So I guess my answer isn't the answer you want.  I don't have a magic number for your child when you should start them in music lessons.  No magic or clear method to use. I use a different one for each of my music students these days (this post briefly explains how I run my studio now). And actually, I don't think you should "start" a child at all in music lessons.  Norah and Lizzy chose music - I didn't choose it for them. That is what made the biggest difference - agency.  But they wouldn't have chosen it had they not been exposed to it.  It has been a careful exposure, too.  This is the area I've found my agency has the most power.  I create a certain musical environment on purpose.   

I guess what I'm saying is:  Let your children feel, hear and see you effected by the music you listen to. Let them see you use music to bring a certain mood to clean in, to calm the mood you drive in, to set the mood you learn in.  Let your kids see when you turn music off; learn together when music isn't needed or helpful. They will notice music you avoid.  They will notice if you play around with music yourself. They'll see if you regularly create and communicate with music. 

If you do, you might find a little one crawling up on your lap wanting to know what that "human book" that's been sitting on the piano for weeks is for - that they've seen you having fun playing out of even - or how to strum that guitar or how to hold that bow the right way.  You might then start asking your music teacher to show you a few ways to work with your child so you're ready when they ask again.  You might find that you have fun together; that they beg you to practice; that they want to do things well; that they want to create on their own - express in their own way with this new language; that it's building your relationship; that there are purposes and reasons for music you never realized (even though you may have played music all your life).  That's been my experience these last seven months.

And recently I've found a new purpose (one of many) for music.  I've come to see that music can teach us how to "scrub" our lives.  It can teach us what happens when we live with open ears or what happens when we just go through the motions without "listening" to see if those motions are in harmony with truth. Music can give us a simulation experience where we can see the consequences between living with a "check-list" mentality (going through the motions, without reaching our purposes), or living with purpose and on purpose and reaching that purpose. 

Speaking of purpose, I'd be lying if I didn't say that one purpose I have for this post is the hope that someone reading this will surprise their self by saying at some future day, "I'm glad I started playing the piano again." 

But I wouldn't be offended if you chose some other instrument :). 

(Click here for the final part of this discussion - four quick ideas you can try with your child.)

(4/13/13) Addendum....

It has bothered me that there wasn't a picture in this post.  Thinking of what would go well I realized this one would be perfect  - here is the "Mommy" who sat down and "played" with me at the piano not only when I was young, but whenever I've wanted her excellent practice coaching or just a listening ear.  I can't remember one time sensing she felt obligated to help me or that I had to ask her twice - her enthusiasm and excitement to share those music moments I think made all the difference for me.  Wonder why it's taken me so long to realize and implement this with my own kids!  And how many times has my dad sat down to listen to me or my siblings and not been embarrassed to let the tears roll down his cheeks as something touches his soul? Those are some cherished memories with my "Weeping Will" Daddy :).