Becoming A Music Parent


2012-2013 is the twenty-fifth year of my career. Thinking back on the really pivotal events, such as a brief stint teaching early childhood music in year five, completing a masters degree in year seven, returning to high school in year thirteen, or becoming a father later that same year, I am now realizing that as profound as any of these was when my son began studying violin in school in year twenty-four.

Almost two years of this has had some pretty significant effects on my teaching. I will have to admit that it might be that writing about this runs the risk of being a waste of your time to read. Maybe being a parent of a music student is necessary to grasp this, and maybe being a parent of a music student makes reading this wholly unnecessary because you don't need me. You already get it. So, I have to imagine the only person this entry is having any effect on is the author. In any event, I thank you for being a good enough sport to read this far.

When I became a parent in 2002, i began meditating quite regularly on what role I should and should not play in his musical development Obviously, I consider music deeply important, so all at once I needed to find a way to insure that it would be an important part of his life. This means not only encouraging him, and guiding him into opportunities, but also to be sure that I am not forcing it upon him, and making his involvement appear as though it is a chore. It has been a great fear of mine that I could potentially drive him away from music with the weight of my expectations.

Also when I became a parent, I began paying very careful attention to the parents of my students. I have had the opportunity to witness hundreds upon hundreds of parenting practices for the last eleven years, and have taken volumes of mental notes. Every year at the band banquet, I deliver a very similar message that thanks these parents for their support, but also for the exquisite modeling they have given me for my own parenting, in hopes that my son would be the same sort of person that I get to teach, day in and day out. Despite this comment being somewhat of a tradition, I find that I mean it more deeply every year I say it.

And now, in year twenty-five of my career, my son approaches the age of my students. Everything is different. On a purely practical level, I instantly found myself I am being more careful about communications, and much more mindful of how the way I conduct business effects them as parents. I am more aware of how much time they need for tasks like finding concert clothes, and how much guidance they might need in finding resources for their child to be successful. I am far more empathetic about the financial impact on a family of a music student, and the impact that my own schedule has on theirs, and how much notice I should give them should it need to change.

On a deeper level, I posted about a year and a half ago on Facebook that I'd had a bit of an epiphany. For the first time, I pictured my son sitting in a room along side kids just like these. I realized that every kid in this room meant everything in world to someone, the way my son does to me. I look at a quiet little girl with an alto saxophone who always has to be reminded to read the key signature and is always late because it takes her extra couple of minutes to change after Phys-Ed. I now more clearly realize that she is the absolute love of someone's life. As her teacher, she deserves to have me remember that, at all times. This is true for the kid who never stops talking, the kid forgets his trombone on the bus, the kid who can only come once a week because he needs extra help in reading, the kid who constantly shows off on the piano at every opportunity. I try to remember at all times that they all mean everything to someone, and deserve every shred of respect that I expect my son's teachers to afford him. If, God forbid, I am wrong, and for some reason there is no such person in their lives, then that is all the more the reason that, amid my teaching, guiding, coaching, and correcting, they deserve my respect.

I write about this now because I just had yet another moment of realization this week. I work with my son on his violin about once a week, and this has become a time that we both enjoy. I am very grateful for that. I love going to his concerts, and I see a happy boy up there who I know is prepared, and I have a great deal of respect for his teacher. I would love for the parents of his students to feel about me the way I do him. The one thing I have noticed is that my son sits way back in his chair to the point that his feet barely reach the floor. I have also noticed that when the music gets really going, so do his legs. They fly around the legs of his chair like wind chimes in a howling gale.

My first instinct is to explain to him, as I do to my own students relentlessly, that he needs to sit at the edge of his chair with his feet flat on the floor, and that instinct is the right one. That's the best way to play, to study...maybe. Mack loves to play. He loves going to orchestra. He loves going to his lesson. He loves practicing with me. He stands when he plays with me, so I don't see and thus address the leg thing. Fortunately, I have never gotten around to addressing it, because as I sat and watched him, I knew that it was just the joy of playing making it all the way down to his feet.

We can always fix the leg thing, if growing another two inches doesn't do it automatically. In the meantime, I will not crush his joy. I won't draw his attention to it. When he outgrows it, I will miss it dearly. You know what else? I am going to run all those little idiosyncrasies of all my students through that "joy" filter, and see if it really needs to be corrected right then.