My daughter’s last Christmas concert before college just ended. As I waited for the concert to begin, I thought of her first Christmas concert, 15 years ago.
We started her in Suzuki at age 3; her great-grandfather, grandmother, and uncle had all played violin. When she watched violinists on TV, she would pretend to play one, using a TV remote as her instrument and a block as her bow. Then she got in Suzuki violin. The first thing they did was offer her a cardboard violin. She had thought she would start with a real violin, looked at the cardboard, and said, “I won’t play THAT.” (She inherits her stubbornness from her dad.) She refused to practice and fought us the entire semester. Finally, she showed she could properly hold a violin and bow and put them down and was able to use a real one.
Except there was a hitch – she wanted to play violin HER way, which was not the Suzuki way. At her preschool, she had won a “wild colt” award because of her free spirit and desire to do things HER way. The Suzuki way started with taca taca stop-stop. She had to learn to play rhythms their way. In her first Christmas concert, her teacher played taca taca, and she played stop stop. Over time, she reluctantly realized she had to follow rules to progress and learned her rhythms. Her last rhythm was “wish I had a baby kitten.” We promised her that when she finished her Suzuki Twinkles recital, we would let her get a baby kitten. So she did.
For fifteen years, I’ve been the music mom with both her and her brother. Their musical journey has been a varied path, with ventures in piano, guitar, electric guitar, handbells, percussion, children’s choir, a show choir, and an a capella choir. After 5 years of violin, both kids were burned out and quit that instrument. But their music continued.
Each Christmas, we’ve seen them perform in concerts, with some years feeling like nothing but a never-ending concert with gigs caroling, playing solos, singing with the Philharmonic, and singing at the Nutcracker. At the end of this journey, before she leaves home, I can say I don’t regret a single concert or musical experiment.
When my daughter started high school, she returned to violin – this time, because she wanted it. And she did it her way – playing in an ensemble but also teaching herself to play “Sweet Child of Mine,” by Guns ‘n Roses. When her bow broke during Thanksgiving weekend, she was devastated because until the store opened and she could buy a new bow, she couldn’t practice.
Every child has music at heart. If you’re a parent, do what you can to help your children discover their song and learn to sing or play it. Try varied instruments and methods. If money’s an issue, find budget ways to introduce your kids to music – look for free concerts, library programs, or if you can find nothing else, younger teachers who charge less but still love music. Do whatever you can to add the best music your budget can afford to your kids’ lives.
A child who learns to perform music develops stage presence and discipline. If you don’t practice, you don’t sound good, and kids are smart enough to realize that. Hard work and practice, taking apart a tough piece of music and mastering it a section at a time, and then playing it with other people where you have to watch a director and listen to one another, develops work stills to learn to handle projects for a lifetime. When kids who learn music learn to express themselves with phrasing, dynamics, and breathing, they learn skills that will help them become better public speakers. The best public speakers know a pause can be as important as a phrase, that sometimes pitch goes up and sometimes it goes down, and varying volume is a good thing.
Enough of the logic. The most rewarding part to me tonight was watching a young lady not only poised but willing to help younger violinists – and my savoring those memories of her first Christmas concert 15 years ago.
I wouldn’t trade a moment of those years or concerts. But if I could do them over again, I might notice fewer mistakes and appreciate more of the beauty music can bring to the life of a child.