We actually had a family orchestra once. I, Linda, was giving violin and piano lessons to several of our kids as well as carting them all over the valley for lessons. One was trying the trumpet, another was taking harp lessons, one was experimenting with the viola, and we had a little drummer and a couple of aspiring guitar strummers.
We made some feeble attempts at simple chamber music, with Richard on the cello — I took orchestra in junior high school and do pretty well on pieces that have eight or fewer notes, like the bass part of Pachelbel’s Canon in G.
One day during one of our hilarious rehearsals, complete with screeches, missed notes and enough discord to almost sound like the work of some ultra-modern experimental composer, we took some pictures. The shots looked pretty impressive — nine kids and their parents apparently making beautiful music together. Remember, these were not videos and had no soundtrack.
A few months later, we chanced on a notice that some organization was choosing a regional “musical family of the year” and as something of a lark, we sent them a couple of the photos we had taken.
We forgot about the whole thing, but a few months later we received notice that we had won the contest and that our family had been named the Western Region Musical Family of the Year. Apparently they were perfectly willing to judge by the photo, not bringing in any sort of evaluation of actual audio evidence that we could really play.
Thinking about this the other day as we went through some old photos reminded us of our classic musical battles and dilemmas.
As a music major, teacher and violinist, I naturally thought I would have all of my children in piano and string instrument instruction and that they would someday be very, very good — if not professional.
It didn’t work that way. Practicing in the early morning, after school and sometimes into the night was a way of life for many years at our house, but there was never enough time to get around to everyone. I was stretched too thin to get around to all of them to monitor their string practice. I knew other mothers who were seeing a lot more progress and often felt guilt at not doing a more thorough job in their training.
Still, we struggled on and they learned enough that today several of them can play well enough to enjoy occasionally sitting down at a piano or picking up a bow. One out of nine is an excellent pianist and the others enjoy what they learned. As far as I’m concerned, the best thing that came from all those hours of practice in those early days is that our children truly love and appreciate what it takes to create music. Whether it is at a symphony or at a Cold Play concert, they truly appreciate what they see and hear.
But trained, accomplished musicians? Not!
Sometimes as parents, we beat ourselves up a little too much for not producing virtuoso pianists or concert violinists. We wonder where we fell short or how it would have turned out if we had pushed a little harder or found a better teacher or insisted on more disciplined practice.
But here are a couple of things we have learned that should comfort us: First, most kids eventually gravitate to what they love and to what their real, inherent skills and gifts lead them to. It’s great if parents can expose them to enough things that they can find what they love, but it’s the kids, not the parents, who have to find their passions. Interestingly enough, we have five children who are stellar photographers, something to which they were never exposed in formal training.
Second, there are trade-offs between being “highly sharpened” and “well rounded.” There are some kids who have sufficient talent and discipline to become exceptionally fine musicians, and if we have one of those kids, perhaps we should sacrifice everything else to help make him or her the best that he or she can be. But there are big sacrifices involved, and wonderful parents do it knowing that there are many other things that child will miss out on. But the fact is that, for most kids, “well rounded” is a better goal than “highly sharpened.”
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."