The Joy of Music

Last week, Gus had his 7th grade spring band concert. He plays percussion and seems to enjoy it. Here are the 4 songs they played:

Just as I developed a good musical foundation from violin lessons (thanks, Linda!) Gus developed a good musical foundation from piano lessons (thanks, Eileen!). Playing one instrument makes it easier to learn another, so he picked up percussion pretty quickly.

At home, we have a set of practice bells (like xylophone but metal). Gus will frequently walk over and play a song or two. I love hearing the sounds, but for the most part, Paula and I stay out of it. While it was important to us that he gain a foundation, now his relationship with music is all his. If he wants to play, that’s great, but I can’t make him want to.

Quieting our reactions (and reducing our encouragement) was a conscious decision we made after reading something my mom wrote. It’s a chapter about me and my difficult relationship with music from her slowly evolving book, Walden Three (here’s the same story from my perspective). In that chapter, my mom talks about my musical successes and comes to this conclusion (bold mine):

“Knowing oneself” includes being able to distinguish between … what one does because of human encouragement and what one does because of effective interaction with the environment. Unless one can make such a distinction, it is very difficult to make life choices based on ones skills and preferences. With respect to Patrick, I believe that the very consistent positive reinforcement he received for playing the violin prevented him from learning his own reactions and relationship with it.

I couldn’t agree more – hearing how great I was from others actually got in the way of my own musical explorations. The only reason to be a musician is because you love it … if other people like the way you sound, that’s just a bonus. When you start getting more nourishment from their praise than your own love of music, that’s a problem – one that I still haven’t resolved for myself.

Since reading my mom’s words, we’ve tried to dial back our praise for anything Gus does. Obviously, we’re proud of his successes and we support him through his struggles, but we want them to be fundamentally his, not ours.

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