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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Piano Lessons

Yesterday my children had their last piano lessons of the school year. They both started in September—my son with the Suzuki method of instruction and my daughter with traditional, which has worked out well for me since they have lessons at the same time from different teachers at the music school. Because they learn different pieces, there has been little competition between them, though my daughter (who is eight) often wants to learn the pieces of her six-year-old brother.

I’ve tried not to compare the two of them, though it’s been hard not to notice Luke’s good ear. After learning a piece, he likes to transpose it to another key, and the other day, he worked out how to play the theme song to Veggie Tales and then taught it to Megan. Throughout the year his teacher has told me how well he’s doing, despite the fact that he likes to make silly faces at the teacher during his lesson. My daughter’s teacher, in contrast, has been less effusive. Throughout the year she’s said that Megan has been doing well, but she’s said it in a curt I-don’t-want-to-exaggerate kind of way.

My first frustration came about a month ago when Megan’s teacher asked to speak to me after class. She said she was concerned about Megan’s schedule, that Megan says she plays and watches TV and does homework every day but doesn’t always practice piano. The teacher emphasized that she will advance more quickly if she really practices every day. I felt judged by her tone and became a bit defensive, I must say, retorting that Megan did practice nearly every day, we don’t watch that much TV, and homework does come before practice. Since then we’ve tried harder to get in daily piano practice, as we have done through most of the school year, though last month it was in addition to the daily lice checks, which along with the fanatical housekeeping took about two hours a day of my time. I didn’t feel like sharing the lice story with the piano teacher and also didn’t have time to explain to her that the hour per day I let the children watch TV is an hour I count on to answer phone calls, pay bills, and generally catch my breath. I suspect she tapped into my guilt about this, but I also felt misunderstood.

Yesterday at Luke’s last lesson, his teacher gushed over what a great year he has had. He has learned more than you’re average first year Suzuki student, has a great ear, and did well at the recital his teacher hosted last week. The teacher printed up a page of Luke’s accomplishments with an “A+” sticker on it. Then I snuck out of Luke’s lesson and waited in the hall for Megan’s teacher to find out if she had any special assignments over the summer. While I was waiting, another mother said, “Oh, I didn’t see you at the recital last week.” Apparently Megan’s teacher also had a recital, and Megan wasn’t invited to perform. I was glad we hadn’t known this when Luke performed since we all assumed that his teacher just did something that Megan’s teacher didn’t. I felt a bit embarrassed with the other mother, who seemed shocked that Megan wasn’t invited.

When Megan left her lesson, her teacher shrugged, as if in disappointment and said, “Well, see if you can find some time to practice over the summer.” Megan seemed fine, but I felt hurt for her, especially after having seen the praise that Luke’s teacher had lavished on him. I found myself bothered by the incident and wondered if I have gotten my own ego too caught up in my children’s accomplishments. I recalled a month ago when Megan did Irish dance in the school talent show. Many of the teachers came up and lavished me with praise for her hit performance. I swelled with pride even as I told the Headmaster, “I’m not the one who danced.”

There is some danger here, I sense, of feeling too invested or identified with how my children perform. I want to encourage them to discover their talents, to learn to work hard, but also to enjoy their activities. I don’t want piano to become a dry obligation for Megan, which is why I’ve tried to make practice fun. I want her to do her best without ever fearing that her best isn’t good enough.

Having grown up without siblings, I don’t know when competition between brothers and sisters fosters a healthy work ethic and when it fosters unhealthy competitiveness. In hindsight I wonder about my decision to keep the children’s mid-year piano report cards from them. Again Luke’s was much more effusive than Megan’s, and I was afraid she would be discouraged that her younger brother was getting higher marks than her. Now I wonder what my motive for this was. Am I protecting Megan’s feelings too much because I’m identifying too much with her? It’s possible that the piano report cards would discourage her, but it is also possible that they would motivate her to practice more.

Part of me wants to write Megan’s teacher a long letter about the head lice and how my mother is in the hospital and how she should really be nicer to me and my daughter. But a bigger part of me realizes that I still haven’t reached a place where I don’t care what others think of me. I have to work on this, to let go of my own desire to always be the best student.

In the meantime, I’ve realized that I wanted to learn piano along with my children, but I’ve gotten a little behind in my own practicing. I suspect that if I start playing the piano myself this summer, it will accomplish two things: It will let me put my ambitions into my own development, rather than pushing my children. At the same time, it will probably get them to practice more because I have noticed, for good or for ill, they both like to compete with me.


Blogger Kathy said...

Sounds like Megan's teacher has a few issues. I can't imagine excluding a child from an end of year recital like that. Seems very harsh.

Enjoy your summer break from lessons. Maybe things will seem clearer in the fall.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you should try Meagan in the Suzuki method.

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are some things that are easier for some children than others. One effective way that piano practice is helping many students is with the piano sofware package from AllegroRainbow. Good luck to Megan!!!

1:57 PM  

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