Monday, October 5, 2009

The New IT child

One minute, you're hunting down a piano teacher, the next you're contemplating the meaning of life and our places in it.

Outfitted with a list of possibilities put together by Blue's last piano teacher, I have been phone calling around town.

The first one seems mentally unbalanced, which is fine as far as personal friends go, but not what I'm looking for in a piano teacher.

The fourth one didn't call me back for a whole week. Until today and this is what transgressed:

"How did you hear about me?"
"My daughter's old teacher (a professor at WSU's Piano Pedagogy School) gave me a list of people she'd recommend in Spokane."
"Did she take lessons from one of the student teachers?" You could hear the woman's nose wrinkling already.
"No, she did the group lessons with the head instructor." This was WAY cheaper and group lesson have an added bonus for social learners such as Blue.
"Oh... well let me tell you about my program. I only teach Spokane's higher end students, I mean, Upper End. (Like cars and purses?) I have high expectations of my students. I don't think we will likely be a good match. But just to give you some idea:" the woman's voice was straight out of Disney Villain-ess school. "My students are highly driven. I have a very demanding curriculum that is very competitive and performance driven. My students are career oriented and most become professional pianists. They're almost all Asian, you know."

I could barely refrain from laughing. Based on my admission of group lessons, this woman had concluded a variety of things about us and our family. I was not in a grovelling mood, nor do I ever expect to be. So I didn't tell her anything that might have changed her mind, should that mind have been expansive enough to do so. I try to keep Blue's life to herself, somewhat. She did excel at piano and was selected to perform for a certain composer who was visiting the school. She is blessed and cursed with an amazing brain, one that doesn't fit in with most third graders. In all of her math testing, they haven't found the upper limits of her abilities. She may come from an income challenged family, but she is by no means limited in any other way. The limitations we experience are usually in other people's very small minds, such as one, Ms. Miller, piano instructor to unbalanced over-achievers.

No, I could not grovel. I had already made up my mind that WE were too good for HER, in her current incarnation. Instead, suppressing giggles, I gave her an earful about the supreme value of mediocrity. This is my sermon-ette: I believe in the value of mediocrity, Ms. Miller. Our purpose in piano lessons is NOT to create a puppet for the wealthy to admire in concert. Our purpose is NOT to fabricate this small human into our wildest fantasy. She is her own purpose and her life is hers to live, alone, as she sees fit. Our only purpose in piano lessons is to expose her to musical thought so that she can, if SHE so chooses, pursue that path. Our purpose is to give her access to the width and breadth of the human experience and all it's joys and possibilities. Music is a deeply spiritual endeavor and I would never tether her experience of it to something as mundane and insane as "demanding curriculum." Certainly, we expect her to practice daily. But we don't push. We don't shove, not in this family. Playing piano in full, resplendent mediocrity is my highest hope for her. Perfectionism destroys the soul and creativity. We do our best, but never more than our best, for then something else, we can not predict what, suffers.

...but, would you be willing to recommend another teacher? One more suitable to our goals?

"I don't know how to put this," she sneered, "But I seriously would NOT be associated with a teacher that you would probably find to your liking. All the teachers I know expect the child to put some effort in to the lessons."


For a music teacher, Ms. Miller really can't hear. I was very clear that we expect her to practice nightly. I never said anything about NO EFFORT. Obviously, the woman herself needs some instruction: ALL or NOTHING are very rarely the only two options. It's dishonest, a lie, and it ratchets up the pressure to no good end.

I laughed. I told her what she already knew, that she was so very right, and that we would not be a good match at all.

I'm telling you this for several reasons, the first being that I think it's funny. The second is because this topic is very near and dear to my heart. I really believe that childhood is for being a child. For finding the joy in life. For developing our souls into things we can hear and understand. And a lot of studies back me up, not test scores, but studies of psychological health and happiness. And a robust emotional and psychological interior, which is best developed in freedom and free play, is the key to happiness, not some stressed-out achievement of perfection. A demanding curriculum and too much practice may make perfect. But not necessarily happy or healthy. "Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure," Thomas Edison once wrote. This is a common and thoroughly f-ed up thought process. And I don't buy it, but Ms. Miller seems to.

What is success? This is the question I want my children to ask themselves. Some among us fit with the greater culture's vision of success pretty well; some actually want what's placed before them, and such as being the greatest pianist the world has ever known. Others among us have an internal drummer who's way off the beat. And we've got to work hard to negotiate our true selves with the real world in which we've been plopped.

For myself, success is a fairly consistent happiness that I expect to go away in times of grief or trial, and expect to return to me in times of relative calm. I've found much of that... not entirely, but much of it is here. Unfortunately, nothing in which I find happiness would I ever do for money: my elaborate meals, my cows, my chickens, my gardens, my children. None of it would I enjoy as a W-2 style job. Usually they say a job you love is one you would do for free. But I've found a job I love which you couldn't pay me to do. Not that I think childcare, chefdom, or farmer are sneer-able occupations, they simply aren't where my earning joy lies. I don't yet know where my earn-ability joys lie, but I'm on the scent.

And so.. all that to say that a week delayed return phone call (now don't lecture ME about perfectionism if YOU can't return phone calls in a timely manner!) got me reviewing some core values. I couldn't help but share.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, what timing. I was just feeling like a monster myself for forcing the kids to bed so they could wake up for their Morning Strings (violin) at school at 7:15am! Ethan cries every time...although he begged to take these lessons. He is indeed still a child and I want him to be able to be one...him and Kira. thanks for the reminder!!

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