Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First lessons

The three younger kids had their first lessons of the year today. Due to the summer disruption of schedules, grandma's fall holidays and ours, they hadn't had lessons since July. Fiona was so out of the routine of having lessons that she was very ambivalent. She had wanted to stay home with her dad, but decided to come along at the last minute, and then did finally opt for a long hard-working lesson. Like most of my kids, if she can just get started, she goes and goes.

Someone on the MDC homeschooling board was asking why children of music teachers don't teach their own, especially when they are homeschooling parents who are generally more than happy to facilitate their kids' learning on almost every other front. That set me to thinking. I prefer my kids to have weekly lessons with someone else because each lesson is a chance to regroup and focus on what's ahead as well as where they've come from. Life without lessons often feels like one of those weird stretches of hiking trail where you know, because you're huffing and puffing, that you're climbing a significant grade, but there's nothing to give you any visual clue that you're actually rising. Life with lessons feels like a trail with switchbacks and a view. Everytime you come to a switchback, you get a sense of having arrived somewhere, and turning to head uphill again you pause to notice the vast distance you've climbed and enjoy the view.

The other thing that my kids get a bigger dose of by attending my mom's studio is a sense of belonging to a community of similarly-committed children. They meet other students arriving and leaving, they hear about their friends' challenges ("this is something I was working on earlier this year with Paul, and it was hard for him at first too.... ") and feel a sense of commonality. Because music is a performing art, the sharing of it, through playing along with or performing for others, is a big part of it, and I like that my kids have a community of fellow-musicians.

Theoretically we could try to create that routine and do things to develop that sense of community without the outside lessons. But weekly lessons have been the easiest, least-contrived way of doing that for us. There's no doubt that my kids do much of their actual learning from me on a day-to-day basis (and my mom often asks me what she should focus on their lessons), but the structure of weekly outside lessons is a big help to us.

So here we are back in the swing. Almost. Next week is another week off due to my mom's travelling, but after that we're back on weekly lessons. It'll be a big help, although the resumption of lessons is the first part of the fall routine to kick in for my kids, and marks the real end of summer. So there's a "back to the grindstone" feeling, for me at least.

Noah had a really great lesson today. He played the two pieces he's recently taught himself, and played them pretty darn well. At one point my mom asked him "so, when you're playing this line here, what's the piano doing?" He's heard the recording many times, like all Suzuki students have, but it's a new piece and he's never played it with the piano. Young string students are notoriously melody-oriented and listen only to their own instrument's line when listening - the rest is just wallpaper. So I was very surprised when he knew right away it was a trick question, since the piano falls tacet there for a bar and a half or so at that point. "Nothing," he said, without even needing to think about it.

I was impressed that he knew that. I asked my mom, who has been teaching Suzuki violinists and violists this piece in the repertoire for almost 35 years "how many students get that question right?" She laughed. "None. He's the first one ever." This is typical of Noah; he gets the whole piece of music, vertically as well as horizontally.

I really think he should be a composer. Sometimes I wonder whether there's a living to be eked out of computer game and video-game soundtrack composition. That would suit him for sure. Right now he says that his favourite contemporary composer is Mikko Tarmia, who does the edgy symphonic-style scoring for Lugaru as well as several other games, including Penumbra. So I think there's at least one guy making a living at this.


  1. a grindstone is a useful thing though if you have knives to sharpen?

    (Had to look up 'switchback' though!)

  2. (laurena here)- Ben says, yes, there is a living to be made, and by more people than just the one you mention.

  3. I like your metaphor of the switchbacks. Although we are unschoolers, we are using some of the The Teaching Company's videos for the same reason. It gives us a sense of direction and accomplishment--especially in math, which often seems like you are going and going and are never sure you are getting anywhere!

    Your son, the composer: Wow! When I was learning my instruments (Flute and Recorder and Guitar and Voice), I did what most students your mother has do. I paid attention to my part. It was only as an adult that I really learned to hear the whole piece! Your boy sounds like a natural. I hope to hear some of his compositions someday.


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