The kids are home from school and the first thing they want to do is veg. In front of the teevee powervegging, too. But in a divorced family, it’s Dad’s job to watch the clock and know just how long before their Mom comes to get them. Dad has to watch carefully to make sure there’s enough time to practice piano.
We don’t live an extravagant life by any means, and I’m constant scratching for money and new projects. The one thing we could live without but don’t is piano lessons for the kids. They enjoy it, and rarely grumble when it’s time to practice. They sometimes even sit down and fiddle around with the 1934 Kimball just for fun. I consider this a necessity in their lives for many reasons.
I often say that before about eighth grade every kid should have three things picked out – a sport, an art, and a foreign language. It’s their choice as to which of these forms of advanced expression they pick because it’s very personal. I’m not one for the visual arts, so I can’t help them along much in that area. We have a lot of soccer in our lives, and my youngest is also interested in Tae Kwon Do and tennis. We speak a fair amount of both Spanish and German to them just to see what happens. But piano is the one thing that they’ve been committed to since the beginning.
My youngest started when he was 5, and learned to read music before he could read English. He’s really into it right now, and thinks about using this in a band one day. I’ve been trying to get him to listen to everything from van Beethoven to Scott Joplin to Fats Waller to Hoagy Carmichael to Supertramp just to get an ear for what the instrument can do.
My oldest is a bit more interested in singing, but piano helped her learn to read music as well as ground her in the musical arts. Seeing everything laid out in a keyboard suited her visual style of taking in the world. She’s not as sure of where she’s going with it now that she’s a teenager, but that’s OK. She’s done very well, and is now learning to both play and sing “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes”. It’s a big step, but it’s what she wants to do with it.
Why do I insist on this? I had about 6 years of piano instruction myself, and can do at least part of “Maple Leaf Rag” when I’m practicing. There is nothing quite like sitting down at the piano to play or perhaps fold down the stand and write a new tune. It focuses the mind like a kind of mediation.
We’ve been fortunate enough to find a good music teacher in Kristin Sponcia. She’s also a teacher at McNally Smith College of Music here in Saint Paul. She has a unique combination of patience and enthusiasm that makes her an excellent teacher of kids. If you’re in Saint Paul and you’re interested, let me know and I’ll hook you up with her. Also, she has a great act for bars and restaurants (hint).
Where will this all go? I’m not sure, and I’m not trying to make professional musicians out of my kids. What I am trying to do is teach them all the basic skills that will give them a chance to find their own way of expressing themselves. They are also learning the value of hard work and patience in shaping expression into something like an art. I also get a chance to learn a lot about them as people, which I love more than anything else.
Piano is a bit of an extravagance, I know. But I think it’s an essential supplement to the rigors of algebra and grammar, multiplication tables and spelling. Life as a human is more than just a bunch of facts and figures, it’s about creativity and opening up the mind. Piano lessons are the most important thing I can do to give my kids that gift.