|Mozart as a Kid. (Show-off)|
All of the FOMLs are musical. On purpose. My EC and I are in agreement that music is an important part of their development. It has been proven over and over again that music education makes kids smarter, raises their IQs, improves their grades, and makes their lives more satisfying. (There are more benefits - you can research if you want.)
From the beginning of our family, we wanted our kids to A) love music, and B) learn to play the piano. By accomplishing "B," it would quickly launch them into the "more-skilled-than-Dad" category. I do have "A" nailed down. I love music. It has been a big part of my life - but I never really learned to play an instrument well. My voice? Yes. I still enjoy singing in choirs, but this post is about learning to play instruments. I've flirted with the idea of still learning the piano, but always chickened out - old dogs, etc.
When I was a wee lad, I did take a few piano lessons, but not many. Mostly, I remember stumbling through "Teaching Little Fingers How to Play" books repeatedly, and plunking it out the best I could. In my defense, I could play a mean "Song of the Volga Boatmen." As a teenager I fought my way through learning some of the hymns - as long as they were easy on the flats and sharps.
I taught myself how to play the guitar, thanks to James Taylor and Kenny Logins songbooks, and still can play a little bit. I would probably be better if it weren't for my encounter with the chainsaw, and my lack of practice. My EC, however, plays the piano, and now and again she will sit down and refresh her skills. But, her clarinet from High School sits alone in the garage, neglected for some 30 years. I don't understand why she didn't keep up her clarinet skills, I mean people play instruments in Church all the time. When was the last time you heard a rousing clarinet rendition of "Praise to the Man" in Sacrament meeting? I'll bet it's been a long time.
Back to my five kids. They have amassed quite an arsenal of instruments. (And I chose the term "arsenal" intentionally.) We have an old piano, a fancy piano, a trumpet, an electric keyboard, a cello, a trombone, a flute, a harmonica, a guitar, several plastic recorders, a violin, and a lonely, neglected clarinet. Rock Band accessories? I won't even dignify that with a comment. (Yes.)
My eldest, and only daughter. FOML1, got us off to a good start. Part prodigy, part sheer determination, she took to the piano with a vengeance. Early on, I would try and find errands to run when practice time began. Eventually, I started hearing what sounded vaguely like music. Ultimately, I found myself waiting for her to practice, so I could grab a book and go lay on the couch and listen. Now that she has left the nest, I miss her music. (I don't miss paying for the University-level instructors, but it was worth every penny.) She played the flute as well and got to participate in some great band events in her High School days.
She was able to help pay her way through college with her accompanying skills, and I know her piano skills will bless the lives of many. (Right now she is in love with the guitar, but no matter how good she gets, I will always see her as the little girl with stubby fingers pounding out Clair de Lune.)
The next two boys were, shall we say, more resistant. While I don't think we ever asked my daughter to practice, the boys required more attention. The best way I can describe the struggle was "musical waterboarding." Yes, waterboarding as in torture. It was torture for us, as we argued and cajoled them into practicing. It was torture for them to sit still for half-an-hour to practice. We all were unhappy.
The goal was simply to have them have enough of a grasp on the piano to understand music theory, and play a few hymns, if need be, in seminary or on missions, etc. Is that asking too much? Yes, yes it was.
Eventually, we caved in and stopped with the lessons. They weren't progressing, it became a waste of money, and the contention wasn't worth it. (You do have to pick your battles sometimes.) The funny thing is that after the lessons stopped, you would often find the boys at the piano, learning to play popular songs, and hymns, on their own terms. Both boys who have served missions so far took with them a repertoire of a half-dozen well-worn hymns. To their great credit, their appreciation for music was manifest in non-piano ways. Both sang in High School choirs, both played in band, and both fought the nearly-impossible fight of participating in both High School sports and music - a battle that is getting tougher all the time. Heaven forbid that we have well-rounded kids!
FOML4 took some piano, but we let him bail much sooner, because we are much smarter now. And more tired. He sings, and has shown an affinity for the guitar. (Learning the guitar is so much easier now - you can look up the tabs online, and even find YouTube videos, too.) He plays the cello in High School, and is in the choir - continuing his elder brothers' legacy of playing team sports and participating in music. How dare he! Yes, we are gluttons for punishment.
Our youngest is taking piano lessons, and has just begun playing an instrument in 5th grade strings. The violin. Our first violin. Thankfully, our last and only violin. Yikes! I dreaded this moment even before I found my EC. I had heard kids playing the violin before. I have even heard kids play violin in church, and it never ends well.
During his piano practice, and his violin practice, I repeat the Serenity Prayer, and look for that future day when the noise will eventually resemble music. I wonder what percentage of my hearing has been lost in the past few weeks. But we will persist...
I imagine very few of you actually care about my family's music traditions, but there are some of you who will - now or later. Let me promise you that there is great worth in learning music. It is worth the money for instruments and lessons, it is worth the driving and the time. It is worth it in both the short-run, and in the long-run. It makes kids smarter, happier, and of greater use to the Lord.