Thursday, January 15, 2009

Piano Problems

This post is pure venting for me, because, see, I am in something of a dilemma. I am one of those people that absolutely hates to be the bad guy. And last night, I had to be the bad guy. I had to let Dalton’s piano teacher know that after the end of this month, we would not be continuing lessons with her. Ugh. It was terrible.

The Christmas night when Dalton was 4, he told me through deep, heavy sobs that Santa did not bring him the one thing he really wanted more than anything, more than chocolate, and more than a new bike – he had asked Santa for a piano. This was certainly news to me, and it sure would have been nice if Santa had shared Dalton’s secret wish with me – so that, you know, we could make room for something like a piano. I should say right here and now that I am not anywhere close to being musically inclined. In all my fantasies about who and what my children would grow up to be, a pianist was never in there. Rocket scientist – yes. Peace Corps volunteer – you betcha. Soap opera star – why not? But musical genius – nope, had not occurred to me.

Well, as luck would have it, my father had a piano gathering dust at his house and he gave it to us. The only string attached was that we put Dalton in lessons – the piano was not to be used as a toy. We quickly found out that it can be difficult to find a teacher willing to give lessons to a four year old. But finally, finally, finally we found an absolute angel of a teacher. She was kind, encouraging, compassionate, flexible, and perfect in every way. She told my son that his music was his special gift from God, and he believed her with every ounce of his being. It was a really wonderful three year relationship.

Here is Dalton at his recital last year (age 7). I realize he completely chokes towards the end. He told me later that he all the sudden remembered where he was and he got freaked out.

But then. We moved. To Massachusetts. In September. And there was this mad dash to find a school, find a piano teacher, find the grocery store, find my sanity (this one is still on the “to-do” list - maybe it’s packed in that small purple box that I shoved into the back corner of the attic). As soon as we got here, I typed in “Piano Framingham” into Google and started making phone calls.

Well, the teacher we ended up with seems sincere and dedicated to her craft. She has lots of experience. But after that first lesson? I walked into the studio and Dalton’s cheeks were flushed the color of ripe strawberries. His eyes were just on the brink of dripping. I stood there and listened while the teacher told me how terrible he was! That there was soooo much work to do. His finger position was lazy. The staccato notes needed more sharpness. He is too used to playing from memory instead of reading the music. On and on. I could tell that Dalton felt that his special gift from God had somehow abandoned him. He was devastated and in the car ride home, he quietly said he wanted to quit. But I talked him into giving it more time.

And so we have given it more time. And it did get better. The teacher started commenting on how much improvement she has seen in such a short time. But guys. He has gone from practicing every chance he finds, to practicing maybe two nights a week. And that is only with the promise of 10 M&Ms for every 30 minutes.

So last night, I told the teacher we had made the decision to retreat. My plan is to find music he enjoys playing (think Taylor Swift, the Eagles) and try to teach him here at home as best I can until we find another teacher. I just can’t stand watching his love for music fade away. But did I do the right thing? Should I make him tough it out? Should learning the form and function of music count more than the passion for it? I am so afraid that what I do here will be inadequate or just wrong. The teacher made her opinion clear – that I am doing the absolute wrong thing by pulling him out. And she is the professional – right?

It feels as though our family mantra has gone from “Live, Laugh, Love” to “Change is Hard” and there is something so defeating in that for me.


Tyler James said...

You did the right thing. If he's not enjoying it, his learning process is impaired. I believe that you can learn and have fun in the way that he did once before. Sometimes, it's sequential and not the order that is recommended - fun before fundamentals, but if it has to be sequential perhaps that should be the order.

When I was in junior high, I played the drums. It was a ton of fun until I took lessons. Then, I hated it. I quit the lessons, but there wasn't anyone there to encourage me to keep playing. I wish there was. You are doing the right thing by following up with lessons at home or the promise of a better teacher. I wish I had that kind of support.

I sold my drums to the kid across the street, who played them every day for years and without lessons. Yet, he started his music career right then. He had so much fun and got better that he played for several years on his own and then went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and is now a successful jazz musician with 3 CDs. Fundamentals came during the fun, but more so later in life when he truly wanted to get better at the fun part.

Melissa said...

Another pat on the back. If he stays with this teacher, he's going to learn to HATE it. There's still time to save his love of music by finding a teacher that will teach him the way he needs to be taaught.just my .02

Barb said...

Candi, you had the wrong teacher and you did the right thing. I've seen this time and time again --where teachers forget that their number one priority is to keep the love the learning alive --given that the odds of them having a student who is the next Van Cliburn are pretty slim.

We actually ended up with a better piano teacher than we had in Texas but it took a while. Check out the music teachers at the schools --they have experience motivating kids and keeping it fun.

ARGHH. I hate stories like this. Your poor boy.