Last week, I helped my son move into his dorm at the University of Colorado to pursue a double major in music (piano) and mechanical engineering. I’ve been a music teacher for over 25 years and have taught hundreds of students, but parenting musicians has been the greatest challenge with the best rewards.
My husband and I are so proud of our son who is creative and smart. He has worked very hard academically and musically to earn his way into college. Prescott’s teacher, Dr. Suzanne Newcomb, has been a critical part of his success.
When I was moving him into the dorm, I asked if we were too hard on him. I’m a self-identified Tiger Mother and I admit to an unwavering sternness about practice. There have been times when Prescott didn’t want to practice and I used light punishments to get him to sit down at the piano. For instance, if he wanted to go play with friends in the evening but hadn’t played piano, he would have to practice before he went out. I can remember days when we shouted at each other and several times when one or both of us would cry. My husband and I agreed early on that music would be a high priority in our family and that practicing would be enforced in the same way as household chores. When the trash needs to go out, somebody has to take it out. No arguing.
So back to that conversation with Prescott in Colorado, he assured me that he was glad I had been firm with him. Prescott has been teaching piano students of his own and he saw firsthand how important a parent’s role can be in the success of the child. He said that while we were unwavering about the commitment to practicing, we were also steadfast in our support of his progress. He is incredibly proud of the pianist he is today, but he also knows that the success wasn’t easily achieved. Prescott is a resilient young man who sees every challenge as manageable, even if it’s a messy road to the top.
Parenting musicians isn’t easy and we won’t see the results for many years. Nonetheless, I do believe that parenting musicians is the most rewarding job on the planet. Even if the child does not grow up to be a famous musician, the lessons learned by studying music can reverberate through a lifetime. We want our children to be resilient, creative, collaborators. Music teaches these skills and many more.
I don’t want to gloss over the fact that parenting musicians is hard. It doesn’t always feel good and sometimes it creates drama with our children in the short term. This makes me think of reality TV when a contestant on a cooking show says “I’m not here to make friends.” However, I believe that children are looking to their parents for guidance and consistency is key to trust.
I have written in other parts of this blog about how parents can be involved in their children’s musical education. Check out the following blog posts:
I’ll add one more thing: as a parent, as soon as you figure out one thing that works, you’ll have to do something else. We have to be constantly evolving with our children and their needs.
Now that my children are becoming adults, I have a great relationship with them. My son now lives over 1000 miles away. I can’t and I wouldn’t tell him when or how much to practice now. It’s all up to him, but I think (hope) I have given him the foundation to know that hard work leads to great rewards.