A beautiful and culturally rich life is not something that just happens. It typically must be designed and nurtured into a young person from an early age. I will tell you about one parent who did just that. He pointed his metaphorical bat at the bleachers and knocked it out of the park. It was quite a remarkable achievement.
First, understand that I am really on your side. Being a parent is a tough job. For one thing nearly everyone thinks that they can do a better job at it than you and they will tell you so if they get the chance. This is especially true if they have never had children of their own. Today’s parent has to cope with more distractions and influences trying to capture the minds and hearts of their kids than probably any other generation in history. Having raised children of my own I can sympathize with your plight but today things are even more desperate then when I was raising kids. It seems as though our society has given us very few tools and many challenges to being an effective parent but when it comes down to the nitty gritty we still need to be the parent. We all want to be friends with our kids; we all want to be appreciated and liked by them but sometimes what they need are boundaries, guidance and some degree of tough love, even when they don’t want it and resent our “input”. One consolation is that often when they are grown and especially if they have kids of their own they will appreciate and respect what we did for them in guiding their lives, even though they may have resisted it at the time.
If this seems a bit off-subject for a blog about music and music education bear with me. Art, culture and an appreciation for the beautiful things in life, such as great music, are gifts that we can give our children. They are things that need to be shown to them at and early age and nurtured into their lives. Left entirely to their own designs kids will often gravitate toward pop culture of the lowest common denominator and that is not always a good thing. How often will an older kid try to turn on a younger one to Bach or Rachmaninov? Maybe if it is the child of your friends. Maybe if they have a similar commitment to yours of bringing joy and beauty to their own children’s lives but probably not from “Snakey Joe”, a kid on the school yard during recess. If they don’t get the desire for a better life from us they probably won’t get it at all. Let me give you an example of something I encounter frequently. A parent will meet with me and say something like this. “We will have to see if Sally Sue likes music lessons or not. I have my doubts but she wants to do it so I said okay. Let’s start with the cheapest keyboard (rental piano, old beater spinet) you have. She is great at starting things and then not finishing them and I don’t want to push her if she doesn’t enjoy it.” Nine times out of ten Sally Sue is standing right there with ears wide open and any child psychologist or expert on human behavior worth their diploma will tell you that she is being programmed for failure not just in music but also in life. She is being told that she will probably not like music and that she is a quitter by nature and that is okay. I understand that no loving parent would do this deliberately and sometimes I think that they may have been negatively programmed by their parents so it becomes something of a generational misstep. Wouldn’t it be better to say this to the salesperson? “Sally Sue has expressed an interest in learning music and we are really, really excited by that. We want to begin with a modest but good instrument and then upgrade as she proves herself in her lessons, which I am sure that she will.” Notice that the parent has gotten the same information across that she doesn’t want to spend a lot of money right now but has done so in a positive and encouraging manner that shows faith in her daughter. We can’t expect our children to believe in themselves if we don’t believe in them also. There are too many incredible benefits in a musical education for a child for parents to be cavalier or indifferent about it.
I saw a fascinating clip about a father that had determined that his son would be a great pianist before he was even born. While his wife was pregnant he went searching for a very good piano and bought it. He played classical music around the house during the pregnancy and then after the child was born. He encouraged his son in his studies and there was never any doubt in his mind that his son would become a great player. The boy is now considered a young genius musician and a composer of considerable skill. This lends credence to the idea that geniuses are not necessarily born that way but can be molded that way from an early age by a loving parent with a vision.