Perspective Is Everything
There is rarely a day that goes by when I don’t stop and think about how lucky I am to teach music for a living. Logistically, it’s great. I work from home a lot. I make my own schedule. I decide how much I want to work and assess how much I think I should get paid. I have countless opportunities to upgrade my training, and amazing colleagues to draw inspiration from.
And then I have that conversation with the parent of a teenager that always makes me feel sort of lost. The conversation that begins with “my child doesn’t feel motivated. They keep expressing that they don’t want to play violin anymore. They want to play hockey. (or baseball or football or insert whatever here)”
Fair enough. We all want to listen to our children. And as a teacher, I’d rather teach students who love music and unquestionably practice and achieve and have great attitudes.
But that’s not really the point.
Realistically, the chance that any of my students will become virtuosos or even “professional” musicians is probably between 1-10%.
But that’s not really the point either.
Of course a teenage boy or girl loses motivation when things start to get challenging. That’s pretty much the definition of a teenager’s behavior. Lacking motivation. But it’s sort of biological. And of course they’d rather play hockey. Because once the game is over, they get to go to McDonald’s and go home and watch tv the rest of the night. They’re not responsible for anything past what happens on the ice. It’s an instant gratification scenario.
And in this ever increasing world of instant gratification, the study of music requires daily, focused work. Like no other aspect of a teenager’s life. And that feels foreign. And so they balk.
So why bother at all? Why send your child to me?
Because adult life is competitive and does require hard work in order to achieve. Because they need to learn that skill somewhere. Because music has been proven to improve memory and math skills in children. Because music is soothing and a natural stress reliever.
Because it’s improves just about every other aspect of their lives.
And on top of all that, it feels great to create something beautiful that not many other people can. It builds confidence. Music is fun and inspirational when you put in the effort. But you only get out of it what you’re willing to put into it.
On the other hand, sometimes, just sometimes, people really get it.
I took on this voice student in her late teens last year. She has Asperger’s syndrome, and a few other challenges. One being short term memory loss. I mean, she literally resets ALL the time. And maybe, just maybe, she’ll remember after the 100th repetition.
Anyway, her mom asked me last year if I would also teach her violin and I agreed. And she has been working on the same 4-5 pieces for an entire year. A year.
And they still come to every lesson positive. Smiling. Thankful that they have this in their lives. And she slowly improves all the time.
Next year, she will moving on to University, and I asked if they were planning to continue with lessons. They said absolutely.
There is no pretense or expectation of a violin career. She does it because it improves her life by the development of skills. Her memory has improved so much that she no longer needs to take open book tests at school. She tests like every other student in her school. Thanks to the study of music.
It was a proud moment for me to have had such a profound impact on someone’s life. And not because she won a competition. Not because she got the highest mark on a exam. Because she listened to the lesson and heard me.
And she gets it.
Once in a while, true success comes from the most unexpected place. So the next time I hear the parent of a teenager tell me they have lost their motivation, I will know exactly what to tell them.