Monday, February 21, 2011

How I Foisted Music On The Kids

by Sophie


I'm a silence person. I don't like a lot of sensory stimuli, including jarring imagery or sound or texture. With the exception of first drafts and driving solo, both of which I find best accompanied by loud music, I am content to rattle around with only my thoughts taking up aural bandwidth, if such a thing is even possible. (Do you "hear" your thoughts? I think I do.)

It wasn't always that way. Between the ages of 8 and 18, I played the cello - rather seriously, as a matter of fact. (I know that some people don't know what a cello is so here's a picture of Yo Yo with his.)

Then I quit cold turkey and I doubt I could play any more, though I'm tempted to try and probably will when things settle down around here.

Here's a picture of me with my string quartet and our advisor when I was my daughter's age, going-on-sixteen. I'm the one on the left. (Those of you who remember Gunne Sax dresses will notice two nice examples on Jenny Shallenberger - 3rd from left - and the other girl, whose name I've entirely forgotten. Of course, I made my own dress.) The older gent was our advisor, Mr. Spotts. Isn't that a marvelous name?

And here's a picture of Junior last summer at music camp - drumsticks are a little easier to haul around than a cello:

I include these pictures because I've been thinking of the role music plays in my kids' lives. Right or wrong, I decided early on that music ought to be part of the curriculum and since it was given cursory attention at best by the education people in our state, I made it a rule at home that the kids had to give it the same attention they gave any other subject - and that meant half an hour's practice 3 or 4 times a week. I told the kids that when they reached high school they could choose whether or not to continue, but for five years they had no choice other than which instrument to play.

They complained bitterly. I didn't care. I'm hardly a tiger mom but on this subject (and that of TV, which I regulated with such a complex set of rules that the result was that we hardly ever watched it unless it was something I wanted to see, a hypocrisy I sort of regret) I was resolute. And sure enough, when the time finally came for them to quit, neither wanted to. They played on, and my son will join an orchestra when he goes off to college next year.

There's all these studies - if you're a parent, you've heard 'em - that show that music helps kids with everything from math to languages. Arguably, the study of music gives you a bit of snob cred, though I imagine my whole family is weary of me going "I played that" whenever a classical music piece is co-opted for a television ad.

That wasn't why I made my kids play, though. I'm not sure I can put my finger on the reason. Nostalgia, certainly, and a vague feeling that there should be some depth to the experience of music as funneled through pop culture. But I've loved hearing them practice, even back in the terrible early days of cacophony and missed notes.


Juliet Blackwell said...

I once heard Itzhak Perlman say that no child ever really *wanted* to practice, which is why they must be forced, so they can achieve their greatness. That said, I never made my son play music because *I'm* so bad at it, but I certainly forced him to do other things he had no interest in -- learning foreign languages, traveling -- and later he pursued these on his own. The bitter complaints aren't fun, but they do grow quieter with age.

P.S. I think you must have a Dorian Grey-like picture somewhere -- you look exactly the same now as when you were sixteen!

Gigi Pandian said...

I wish I'd stuck with one of the many instruments I played. I was decent at guitar at one time, but never passed the plateau of playing folk songs of fairly simple chords.

But for now I love to be around other peoples' music and chatter. I'm headed out to a cafe to revise now, where the energy around me will keep me focused :)

Sophie Littlefield said...

Hey J i once saw Perlman perform, with those crazy little stubby fingers of his. It was a deeply affecting experience because I thought (and I really mean no disrespect by this) if such a little troll of a man could coax sounds like that from the violin, then artistic beauty was within reach of all of us.

and thanks, ha! - I think all of us carry a LOT of our 16YO self around with us don't you?

Sophie Littlefield said...

same, gigi...i find chatter to be so great for creating. going to drag Junior off to Peets if she ever gets out of bed (no school today!).

Barbara said...

I need quiet for creating, I'm too big an eavesdropper. When DD was in 5th grade she tried to learn the cello. It sounded like she was skinning live cats in her room and it, blessedly, lasted only one semester. Turns out she's our singer.

Rachael Herron said...

Nobody ever says they need quiet! I'm hugely into music, but most of the time I prefer silence, so it's always a weird battle between the two. And at work, with the 15 different radio channels being monitored, and the TV on in the background -- oh, I just come home and want silence (which is sometimes hard to find at home with La in three bands). I want to do a retreat at a nunnery, one of those retreats where no one is allowed to talk. I think I would love it.

Unknown said...

R--I'll join you at the nunnery, for a day or two :)

S-Saw Itzak Perlman once years ago (at Ravinia :) ) and he was *amazing*.

I treasure silence. Unless I'm working out, then I need rock music. :) When everyone is home here, the noise drives me crazy. Best part of my day is when everyone leaves and I can work in silence.

Love that your kids decided to keep playing. it was a sad day for me when Princess stopped playing piano.

Mysti said...

Just back from Palm Springs, it was quiet enough! Why I love loud, brassy San Francisco is beyond me.

My folks actively encouraged me not to play an instrument after older brother's experience with clarinet. As a consequence, I am a lazy, shiftless slob who had to learn the upside of discipline quite late in life :)

And I married a recovering DJ, so obviously missed the music!

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