Today I am posting a letter for you from my friend, Mrs. Rachel S. She has educated her four children at home for many years. I greatly admire her dedication to excellence in both academics and the arts. Her two oldest children have placed at the state level numerous times in piano performance. I asked her to share her heart for music education as well as her methods. Enjoy!
“The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
~ Johann Sebastian Bach
Music can be a great gift in our lives which wonderfully enriches our everyday life. Your mom asked me to share a little about how our family has made music a part of our lives. It is an honor for me to be part of this “journal of love” that your mom is working on for you, Lissy. I hope you see it as the precious gift that it is. To stay on the topic of music, though, here are some ideas we have used in encouraging our children to make music a part of their lives.
When we brought our firstborn home from the hospital, tucked into our free diaper bag was a CD called “Smart Symphonies.” We always skipped the first track on the CD because it was a commercial for Enfamil. We might not have used much Enfamil, but we certainly listened to that CD! My son tells me he still remembers the songs from “Smart Symphonies.” One of the things we have done to make music a part of our lives was simply to listen to good music...A LOT! We spend a lot of time driving around town in our van, and often we pop in a good classical music tape or tune in to the classical music station. It is fun to discover that there are certain composers you enjoy more than others and to begin to recognize their music. If you are operating on a tight budget (and who isn't?), the library is a good source for a wide variety of classical music. We also enjoy uplifting hymns or “just-for-fun” music, but a large percentage of what we listen to is classical music from all the different time periods. One of my favorite traditions is playing through Handel's “Messiah” at Christmastime. Our family enjoys doing crafts and art projects of all kinds, and we usually have classical music playing as we paint, cut, color, glue, and create masterpieces.
When I was growing up, there was an outdoor bandshell in our town where we would occasionally hear concerts put on by the area symphony orchestra (music under the stars: the stuff that dreams are made of!). A church in the area put on an annual patriotic concert that we often attended. I remember hearing stirring Sousa marches, fun and jazzy Broadway tunes, and typical classical offerings. We have tried to have our children experience some of that, as well, in taking them to concerts, plays, and recitals that are available in our town. Our local symphony orchestra offers a “matinee” performance that is a rehearsal of their evening performances. For a fraction of the price, we are able to enjoy basically the same performance that people pay much more for in the evening. I am constantly looking for opportunities offered by the colleges and universities in our town. Often these performances are free and well worth our time.
Three of our children have a natural inclination for music. One child could not care less, even though he has been exposed to the same experiences as the others. As a side note, every child may not become an accomplished musician or have a great love for music, but I believe that as parents we should share the gift of music with all of our children. For the three of our children who had an interest, we decided to start with an instrument that they could easily play at home: the piano. Our first piano was not a phenomenal instrument; we bought it from a former church pianist for about $500. For a couple of years, it sat in our home without being used. When our oldest child was in third grade and our second child in first grade, we took the plunge, contacted a piano teacher, and started private lessons. We were told that a child should not start formal lessons until he can read well, and we followed that principle in starting private lessons. The early years were not exciting. Starting an instrument is a discipline, and I haven't heard of too many children who willingly practice on their own. Practice time is put on our lesson plans and treated like any other school subject. Practice must be regular and habitual. We have a kitchen timer on our piano which keeps track of practice times. When our children started piano, they had a 15-minute lesson and practiced 15 minutes a day. As they progressed, they moved to a 30-minute lesson and 30 minutes of daily practice. Now our older two children, who are fairly advanced, have a 45-minute lesson and practice 1 hour a day. Our youngest child has a 15-minute lesson and practices 15 minutes a day. Today our two older children participate in about four or five competitions per year. When we started piano lessons, we did not plan on having them participate in competitions. Now the main reason for having them compete is to give them a reason to practice! It is amazing how the level of their practicing and playing increases when they know they will be playing for an audience. Will any of our children pursue music as a career as a result of their piano competitions? Practically speaking, probably not, but participating in competitions has pushed them to a higher level of excellence.
The instrument we feel has the most opportunities for our children is the piano--in church, at nursing homes, for giving private lessons, and for personal enrichment. Our older son has a guitar that he likes to plunk around on, and our older daughter has done a little bit with playing the violin; however, we have only had them take private lessons in piano. Every family has to choose things that it will make a priority; we have chosen to make piano lessons a priority for our family. We have sacrificed some things to make sure that our children have a good piano teacher.
I hope these ideas are helpful. Each family's experience with music will be different. I hope that music is not a gift that sits on the shelf for you, Lissy. Open the gift and enjoy it!