Monthly Archives: May 2018

Must Passion Become a Profession?

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“I have a passion for music. I don’t want a music degree because I don’t want to be a concert musician [as in a solo artist] and I can’t really afford it. What do I do with my passion for music? I’d like to generate an income from it. although I already have a job outside the music profession. What to do when you have a passion burning in you?”

An interesting dilemma for a grown-up would-be professional in the music world.

Why should you do anything with a passion but enjoy it? As a teacher I hear this a lot from my students: they love music, ergo they should make a living from it. I discourage any of my young students from devoting themselves only to music. I firmly believe you have to have Plan B. So much can go wrong in the life of a musician from slicing a finger and occupational injuries to the unfortunately common occurrence of just plain not being able to find a job. Some of my students get misty eyed and their lower lips tremble when I say this, but it’s my moral obligation to tell them the truth, even if they don’t want to listen.

What we often forget is that music makes everything better. Until it doesn’t. That is, it isn’t music that’s the problem, it’s thinking that our passion must be our profession. I would like to remind everyone that lots of people have a passion for cooking or the, er, amatory arts but that doesn’t mean they must make a profession of it… Why do young musicians feel this way?

Part of the problem is their teachers, both passively and actively.

1. Passive encouragement. You, the teacher, are a wonderful person, you play divinely well, you probably perform a good deal, or you make sure your students go to concerts where they see glamorous soloists. You are the very embodiment of what a musician (and hopefully a teacher) should be. You are a fantastic example – and there’s the rub. One of the reasons you teach is probably (not necessarily) because you can’t make a good enough living playing. Your students don’t notice this. They just see the romantic, glamorous part of you that they want to see and, let’s face it, you probably don’t go out of your way to discourage it either. Ego alert! It’s also a wonderful affirmation of our teaching that our students want to follow in our footsteps.

2. Active encouragement: (You) “OMG, this is a fantastic talent which must be developed at all costs. He/she’s the 21st’ century answer to Heifetz!” The only problem is that we may forget that there are a lot of fabulously talented young virtuosos out there who can’t get a decent job or develop a satisfying and remuniterive solo career. And we often forget one other even more important thing, in my view: if a student has a talent for a musical instrument, he probably has talents for other things that should be at least explored if not developed. If we insist that our students (and their parents) dedicate themselves body, heart, soul and bank account to music, then we may be doing them a disservice. We must also remember how easy it is to convince parents that they have a wonderful prodigy on their hands (even if it isn’t true). It takes very little to turn a perfectly normal mom into a stage mother. So we must tread carefully. Do we really want to encourage another Lang Lang (with corresponding father)? In my experience, for many being a professional musician is often a vocation or a calling, much like becoming a priest, and there’s little a teacher or parent can do to discourage this – but we have to be on guard about unduly influencing those on the fence. The fact that a student “can” doesn’t mean she “should.”

Nourishing a passion and making income from it are often two different things. No one should Continue reading

21 May 2018

The Paranoia of Progress

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“How do I help the mother of one of my students manage her anxieties about her child’s rate of progress?”

Another excellent and thought provoking question on a private music teaching site.

Often parents identify themselves too much with their children. “If my child is a success, that means I’m a good parent and if my child is not a success, well………” This causes anxiety. So the problem can be broken down into two aspects:.

1. Parent is comparing her child to other students. This is often fatal to the learning process. Kids get enough of that in school with everyone comparing grades and test results. Music lessons are about the only area where there is no competition (formal) or comparison. And it should stay that way – a safe haven to learn safely.  But if students and parents are making comparisons, it’s often because of the second problem:

2. Teacher is consciously or unconsciously making comparisons herself. Here I am not talking about ambitious teachers who prepare their students for a constant round of competitions. I mean normal teachers who can easily fall into the trap of: “this one is better than that one, has more talent, is more in tune, holds his instrument better, etc.” We are human beings, too, after all. However, this is a dangerous, ineffective, harmful and counterproductive habit. One of the best pieces of advice I could give any teacher is never compare your students. Why? They will know it if you do and what possible good could be achieved?  Children are very sensitive. If you compare your students to each other, then they and their parents will, too, so we have to be on guard about our own thoughts.

But there is a way to truncate this whole thing and resolve the problem of the anxious mom: Continue reading

7 May 2018