Saturday, April 29, 2006

A Musical Weekend

We had our regional Suzuki Celebration Concert today, hosted this year in our own community. I was so proud of all my kids... students and offspring alike.

Each group from a community/studio in the region played 5-15 minutes as an ensemble, and then we finished with a violin playthrough, with kids from throughout the region playing Suzuki repertoire together. (Photo above left: Sophie and Fiona in the front row -- middle and right -- playing the final Twinkles, with Noah in the white shirt almost off the frame on the left)

Erin and the next-most-senior violinist and violist in our program did a lovely rendition of a Tango by Michael McLean. The trio are aged 12 (Erin), almost-12 (girl, J.) and 16 (boy, P.). They are so sweet together, definitely growing into social preteen/teen consciousness. It is fun watching the flavour of their banter and musical communication change as they grow up. The Tango was a great piece to see this in. Sultry it was!

Then Noah and P., the other violist, did the first movement of the Telemann Concerto for 2 violas in G major. P. is about twice as tall as Noah, but they are great friends, almost like revered elder brother and doted-upon little brother. They played beautifully together, really casting a spell. There were a lot of teary eyes ... something about these two boys playing so tenderly together.

Sophie didn't really have any special role at today's concert, but she played really well in the group, with a level of focus that she hasn't been able to muster until recently. She was often the kid who was last to be ready to play and whose bowing would be backwards for most of the piece, and quite oblivious to the fact. No more! She seems to be growing up.

Fiona got to be one of two open string soloists for our little arrangement of "Chicken on a Fencepost", a little fiddle ditty we designed specifically to include the beginningest students. She looked great and she played perfectly in time and right on the correct rhythm. As the littlest performer by almost a head's height, and the youngest by about 2 years, she was a crowd favourite.

What I loved most about the day (besides the viola duet) was how comfortable, happy and gracious all the kids were. They played their hearts out even on the beginner numbers, bowed, smiled, were careful to make sure the less advanced students and those from elsewhere felt comfortable, appreciated and included, and accepted compliments with humility and grace.

Tomorrow Erin will be performing with my quartet for the first time. We're the live soundtrack for a slide show and poetry reading multimedia presentation and "English high tea" which is a fundraiser for the local music summer school. Most of the music is trio or duet stuff, but at the eleventh hour we decided to add a couple of movements from an English string suite by Parry that we'd just acquired, and we roped Erin into doing 2nd violin. We've played the pieces only twice so far, but they're sounding just fine -- Erin is a very quick study and her sight-reading skills which finally blossomed about 3 years ago are holding her in very good stead.

Just wanted to brag. These are not cutting edge performances for any of my kids, but I am having such fun watching them grow up musically ... and personally. Sitting back and watching them in performance is such a fun way to appreciate their growth.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Soccer Days Again

Community soccer has started again. The three older kids are on three different teams. Three sets of practices a week. Three different games on Saturdays. It's something totally different for them, and I'm so glad they have it. The coaches are delightful, and soccer puts my children in contact with kids in the community they normally wouldn't get to know.

Erin's team is melded with P.E. at school for the local Grade 6/7 class, since they are, in effect, the team (minus Erin and one other homeschooler) and their teacher is the coach. It works beautifully for us because it keeps her practices out of the precious after-school hours when so many other things have to be scheduled. She's been riding her bike to and/or from occasional practices and demonstrating a lot of independence and confidence as she breezes into and out of the classroom on her own.

Sophie is one of the more capable, elder members of her team, which spans everyone from newly-five-year-olds who trip when running and start asking "when is it over?" after twenty minutes to 8-year-olds who are a head taller than she. I can see her ability to "see" the game maturing from last year.

Noah is the kid who I wonder about. Last year I practically had to bribe him to get him to give organized soccer a try. Team sports are definitely not my thing but I saw all that physical ability on the lawn at home and pushed him to give it a try. He was worried about the competitiveness and about the idea of letting a team down. He hates scorekeeping, at least on an individual level -- becomes almost physically ill in individually graded/scored situations. But as it turned out he was just fine with the team play and handled both wins and losses with grace and without stress.

He has such natural ability. He loves soccer. He garners incredulity from coaches for his sense of the field and his ability to cover the ball and be where he's needed. In goal he's amazing. He has phenomenal instincts and no fear of the ball. He's tiny compared to his teammates but one of the strongest, fastest, turn-on-a-dimest players. That's him in the photo above with the gloves on ... as usual in possession of the ball despite being crowded by a bunch of much bigger players from the other team.

It makes me wonder... am I failing to help him capitalize on this gift he has? I am not a big fan of organized sports of any description and we have certainly not placed high value on this sort of pursuit when compared to, say, music or literacy or gardening. Where would he be if he had grown up in another family, if he'd lived somewhere else and if his mom had yes to the spot in the competitive gymnastics program he was offered and eagerly taken him to practice four times a week, if we'd signed him up for hockey at 6 and soccer every spring and fall from the same age? What kind of a kid would he be if he'd grown up in a family that placed as high a value on sports as we do on music? Would he be happier? More self-confident? Would he have as strong an aversion to competitiveness? Where would his skills be at?

It's fun to wonder, so long as the wondering is not tinged with guilt.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Music Festival Day

I got up at 7:30, laid a fire in the woodstove and put the coffee on, then grabbed a bit of computer time. Sophie, Fiona and Noah drifted out of bed between 8:00 and 9:00. Sophie and Noah got their own breakfasts. I got breakfast for Fiona. I went outside with the dog for a bit of training. The kids drifted to the computer. I came back inside. In the meantime Chuck had got up and headed off to work after breakfast and coffee.

Sophie decided she wanted to cook something sweet. Fiona wanted to help. I set them to work making peppermint creams (1 large egg white, whipped, combined with 340 gm icing sugar and 1/8 to 1/4 tsp. peppermint essence, divided in three, each lumped kneaded with a few drops of red, green or yellow food colouring, rolled into small balls and pressed with a fork). That kept them busy for quite a while as they're slow whippers and kneaders. Noah was settled in on the computer playing Sims2 :-P

Erin spent most of the morning in her cabin/bedroom. She's not exactly forthcoming about her activities there. She was either reading, writing in her journal, working on her novel or composing music. And of course she spent time doing her hair in one of the thirty-some-odd braid/bunch patterns that she's gradually developed skill with. How she manages to do all these complex French braids and inverted braid / ponytail things to herself so neatly with no instruction and no help is beyond me! Anyway, she came in about 11 and had breakfast, then did a bit of piano.

We wrapped up gifts (including some lovely-looking peppermint creams as an afterthought) and headed off to the fifth birthday party of a friend of ours. A low-key party, just a couple of families (comprising 10 kids, aged 1-15) and a bunch of adult friends around a bonfire and playing in the woods. After tofu-dogs and corn chips and cake, my older three started a big soccer game. That went on for a while. We headed out at about 3 pm.

On the way home we stopped off to buy radish and pea seeds for planting this weekend and some copper-pipe end-caps for our GRUBS fundraising craft. (GRUBS is our gardening/environmental club). There was some discussion concerning Noah's desire to purchase a remote control vehicle. He has the money for a really nice one, but is in the 'cooling off period' mandated before actually making the purchase. His best friend and fellow-RC-fan actually advised him against spending so much money. He's mulling it over.

At home Noah (you guessed it!) headed back to his Sims2 game with Sophie. Fiona and I did a few minutes of violin practising. We did the dishes (most of us). I started pulling supper together and got a load of laundry pulled in, folded and put away. Erin practiced her piano performance piece. Chuck came home from a busy morning/afternoon in ER.

At 5 pm Erin, Fiona and I headed out the door with a box of warm pizza, some drinks and peppermint creams for the drive to Nelson for Erin's piano performance. Noah and Sophie opted to stay home with their dad, something we've allowed them to do lately. If he gets called in, they can stay home, but they need to agree to deal with the telephone so that they can assure him that all's well. If they don't feel like doing that, they can come with him to the hospital and hang out while he works. There are lounge areas and his office computer and friendly nurses, so they don't mind that. As it turned out, they did spend a couple of hours there over the course of the evening.

The drive to Nelson is about 90 minutes. The performance started at 7 pm and Erin was playing near the end, which worked out to about 9 pm. She'd agreed to play in just one class at the music festival last week, and we were pretty sure that by minimizing her involvement (most kids play in at least 4 or 5 classes, organized by age, level, composer, era, Canadian works, etc.) she would not be asked to play in the Honours Concert but alas we'd got the phone call Thursday night. Music Festival policy states that if requested, you are expected to play. So we made the extra trip.

She played well. Afterwards they presented awards based on the in-class performances over the previous 10 days. Erin got a small scholarship. Her homeschooled friend Ian (14 and an incredible pianist) was recommended to the Provincial Festival, a competitive level in the music festival circuit, with Erin recommended as alternate. Only five students from the music festival (voice, piano, strings) were recommended as participants or alternates, and given Erin's young age (she still has three more years as a Junior) and minimal involvement in the festival I was very surprised she was one of them. The funny thing is that Erin and Ian both said, point-blank, "I don't want to compete." It's very unusual for students not to take up the opportunity to "go to Provincials" but there it is -- our self-assured homeschooled kids want no part of the competition. (The local festival is pretty much non-competitive, except for the Honours Concert, scholarships and nominations for Provincials, which are done fairly discretely at the end-of-festival concert.)

We were very late leaving to head home, so I called to let Chuck know. Noah and Sophie had practiced their viola and violin. We headed out, Fiona falling asleep almost immediately. Erin and I talked about this and that, including different approaches to music education, competitions, emphasis on listening skills vs. mechanical skills, etc.. We got home at about 11:00. Chuck was in bed. Noah and Sophie were playing with their Sims. I prodded them into bedtime mode. Erin headed out the cabin.

I read aloud to Sophie and Noah from "Eldest" by Chris Paolini. A late night. An odd day.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


"Expectations are just premature resentments."

Someone shared the above quote recently on an unschooling list. I wrote to my Suzuki list that I was finally discovering the magic of a Suzuki parenting relationship free of concrete short-term expectations courtesy of Fiona. Fiona is (so far) a little easier-going and a lot more outgoing than her older siblings. But the difference I notice in being her Suzuki parent is mostly due to the fact that I'd pretty much decided that age 4-5 was the optimal time for me to start my kids as Suzuki students, and so when she decided at 2 1/2 that she wanted to get busy with lessons and daily practising, I just decided to humour her. We started working together doing all the standard pre-Twinkler stuff, but I was pretty sure that she would not make clear progress until after the honeymoon period wore off, she ditched the violin for a year or two, and then started back at it at age 4 1/2. I was not invested in the idea of daily practising or forward progress. We were totally just doing it to have fun.

I was the one who was taken aback when my mom suggested moving her officially off a box to a real violin before Christmas. And then I was surprised again when it was time to start using fingers and bow together. I was not waiting for the next step to fall into place. It did and I almost had to be shaken out of my little "isn't-this-cute-and-fun" reverie to recognize that it had. But here she is, age 3 years 2 months, playing the A section and the B section of all the Twinkle variations (not putting them together very often yet but within spitting distance).

The magic is that she is the one who is driving the endeavour. She asks to practice. She is willing to do hard repetitive work even when it's not totally fun in the moment. She owns her violin-playing. There are no autonomy issues. I always knew she would learn to play an instrument (likely violin) very well, but when she started the work she's doing, I had absolutely no expectations about how or when she would get there.

When one is both the teacher and the parent, and is the one setting forth the goals, it is doubly hard not to get over-invested in the attainment of those goals. With Fiona I've finally got a glimpse of what happens when you don't. If only I can hang onto this orientation as she progresses!