Saturday, December 1, 2012

Musical Children

Having married a musical wife, one thing we have committed to do is to make sure each of our kids have music lessons, starting at a young age to continue through as long as we are raising them and have a say in it. Two of our four kids are currently enrolled, a third is close.

Our oldest daughter has been been in violin lessons since she was four. She's ten now, so she's been practicing pretty consistently almost every day for the past six years. Granted, lessons at age four or five weren't quite what they are now she's ten, but nonetheless significant progress has been made. She is now about half way through the Suzuki program's fourth book, but more importantly has really good technique, plays beautifully for her skill level, and is well on her way toward mastery if she chooses. More than that, she enjoys playing, learns pieces quickly, and is not shy about playing publicly. It's one of her core talents.

My second oldest son started music lessons later (for him, the cello). He was more resistant to it earlier and we felt like it was more appropriate for him to wait. He's seven now and even still, he's more reluctant to practice or to play. He's not as careful and he's made slower progress, but even still, he also must practice every day, and he does so reasonably consistently. So, while slower and not as refined, he's still progressing.

 The point is that music is, for us, not an extra-curricular activity. It's part of our core subject curriculum (yes, we homeschool). And all four of our kids will continue to take music lessons through high school. It might not be their passion, they may choose other professions (hopefully since a musician's life is not easy), but they will spend at least thirty minutes a day on most days practicing their instruments. And they will, all of them, be competent musicians at the end of it. Enough to play and perform and inspire even if it's just as amateur players.

Why would this be important to us? First of all, would any right-thinking parent allow their child to stop learning math after the third grade? Literature? Science? Why are the arts not equally as important as math?

When I was young, I took the requisite piano lessons for a year maybe? My teacher moved away from our neighborhood and I was left to fend for myself. I never really learned how to play. Listening to master musicians I assumed they were born with the skill. Sure, they practiced, but they had to have had some genetic predisposition that I was just not born with.

This thinking is wrong, I think practically anybody can achieve mastery given the right desire. It just takes hours of practice, many, many hours, more hours than most people are willing to put in. I would never impose the amount of hours necessary to achieve true mastery on my children on anything. It's up to them to find their passions and hopefully, they will find it within themselves to develop the drive, dedication, and continued focus to spend the hours it takes to achieve the mastery. I just want them to have some level of proficiency in the core subjects and we, our family, feel music is part of that core.

Tonight, we had a chance to enjoy the luminaries at the Desert Botanical Gardens. Throughout the gardens they had about 7 or 8 musical groups playing truly inspiring music. These musicians were wonderful, incredibly talented. And the setting, the gardens, even at night is just a splendor, a jewel in the heart of the Phoenix valley. I came away completely inspired and grateful for the opportunity to really appreciate so much talent - both for the musicians I heard and the many people who work to make sure the gardens retain their beauty.

I can't help but think that we as a culture and a country continue to live (obviously) far below our potential. If every child had the opportunity to learn some kind of art (music, painting, sculpture, drama, dance) and not just the one or two years most children get if they are lucky, but instead regular consistent training throughout their childhood lives, how enriched would the next generation be? Imagine the church musical numbers, imagine neighborhoods getting together for random music nights, street performers on every street, jam sessions in public places. Imagine how much more sensitive we would be toward preserving and creating beauty. We would work harder to beautify our homes and neighborhoods. We would demand more out of our parks and public spaces. We would be less tolerant of pollution.

There's been a lot of talk about the need for more math and science in our schools. I love math and I love science and we need more of it. But I think we also need more artists and musicians. The world would be a better place.