What I Wish All Parents Knew….

Not long ago on a forum for teachers, the question was asked, “What do you wish that all parents knew?” What a question! But I do have a little list…

First of all, that parents (and the rest of the human race) knew that music is a core subject, just as important as reading and writing, even if it isn’t taught in school. Notwithstanding all the studies that abound on the internet that the study of music makes us all better in myriad ways, many parents seem not to be aware of this. Why? Because the schools don’t seem to be either. I wish I could count the numbers of times I have seen desperate elementary, middle and high school teachers lament on numerous forums how little support they get, how their jobs always seem to be in jeopardy, how they are constantly told that music isn’t important as a subject, how they are overworked and under-appreciated not only by parents, prinicipals, but even by other teachers. It’s disheartening, to say the least. This, of course, makes it very easy for parents to ignore the studies. If their local school doesn’t think music is important, then why should they?

An excellent example of school board short sightedness: my grandsons live in a very high-income county on the east coast with high property taxes and excellent schools. They have a string program in their elementary school (up to fifth grade) which is very well attended. The teacher does a magnificent job, way above and beyond the call of duty, and after their end of year concert I went to congratulate her. She then told me that there was some question on whether the funding would be pulled for this excellent program and she, an accomplished string player herself, would be forced to teach band. In third grade. Where conventional wisdom says that children that young really shouldn’t play most wind instruments as their lungs are not fully formed. And in an area where lots of these children were taking private lessons in stringed instruments anyway. Fortunately, disaster was averted and the program continues for yet another year. But the fact that the school board even considered stopping a very successful program and substituting band sends a very big message to parents: playing a stringed instrument simply isn’t important, even when you have a thriving string program. It’s more important to train a band to play at football games. What chance do parents have?

So, I wish all parents realized that music, especially the study of the piano and stringed instruments which are more suitable for small children, are important and that they should make sure their school boards know it, too.

I wish all parents realized that the discipline necessary for learning a musical instrument will help their children in other areas in their lives. That the same discipline applied to school subjects should be applied to music – it shouldn’t be a choice to do homework OR practice. I never cease to be amazed at how many things parents expect of their children, but when it comes to practicing a musical instrument – society tells them that it should be “the child’s choice” which translates for the parents into an excuse not to impose the necessary discipline. The problem is that unless they study a musical instrument, scholastically talented children who never have any difficulty in school may not acquire the mental and physical rigor that can be a big help when they run into something truly difficult when they grow up. I tell my students and parents that there’s nothing more difficult to do on the face of the earth than play the violin well. Therefore, if they practice it, they will acquire all kinds of benefits that will serve them well later in life (if not immediately): the main benefit being that they will learn how to face, work through and solve difficult problems that seemingly may have nothing to do with music. My older daughter, who has a MM in Violin Performance,, and who has achieved various successes in her professional life outside music, says she owes a great deal to the violin. I read somewhere that Einstein solved the mathematical problems of his General Theory of Relativity playing Mozart quartets. I also read that 60% of CEO’s of multinationals play a musical instrument to a professional level. This last statement may be apocryphal, but where there’s smoke…

But just to show you how pervasive and insidious the arguments are against music, I once got into an discussion (very civilized) on Quora with a young man who feels that you don’t need to go to college to major in Humanities – that you can go it on your own.  I replied that I disagreed with him on all levels but that in particular no serious classical musician could do that because you need the atmosphere and exposure to other students, chamber music, orchestra, etc. He replied that music didn’t count – that it’s a trade.

Yes. Let that sink in. And this young man considers himself to be educated.

My answer was please not to insult what I and many others consider to be one of the most spiritual activities of mankind to be a trade. It is taught in many of the best universities, unlike plumbing and carpentry. It was also considered to be part of a liberal arts education – until recently no one was considered educated unless he or she could play a musical instrument. The young man had the grace not to reply. I hope he has gone on to fill in this gaping hole in his self-education – or enrolled in a university with a music program.

I wish all parents knew that music should not be a competitive sport. That a student should try to be better, not better than. It’s also very easy for a teacher to transform a normal mother or father into the musical equivalent of a Little League parent when you have talented students. So parents should beware of ambitious teachers who have no qualms in this regard.

I wish parents knew that you don’t play the violin to get into a better college, but that you play the violin to play the violin. This would take a lot of pressure off students and allow them to enjoy music more instead of treating it as yet another competitive exercise. Playing the violin will certainly help you get into a better college or university, but playing it in order to get into said university changes your whole attitude toward music. Music is a spiritual activity that requires 100% involvement of the body, mind and soul all at the same time. If we bring music down to the mundane level of what or where it’s going to get you, we miss the point of it. By all means, put it on your child’s college application but don’t forget why we play in the first place.

I wish all parents realized that helping your child to learn a musical instrument also forms a lasting bond between you, even though it may not seem like it when you’re in the middle of the “practice wars.” Your child will know eventually that you cared enough to help him, argue with him, take him to lessons, observe and pay for them. Children used to learn much of what they knew from their parents – even trades. But now the schools have taken over. So being actively involved in your child’s music education, is a great way to be more involved in your child’s life. How many times have I heard the wistful refrain, “I studied the (name your instrument) when I was little but my mother didn’t make me practice…”  You rarely, if ever, hear someone saying their parents made them practice, even practiced with them, and they’re sorry..

Above all, I wish all parents knew how much fun music can be. If you go to a party where there are engineers, you never hear them say, “let’s get out our slide rules and make a project for a bridge just for the fun of it.” The same for doctors, “okay, we’re all here, let’s do an appendectomy…” But get a bunch of musicians together and before you know it they’re playing just for the fun of it. Yes, outside of being a professional, getting a good job or getting into a good college, musicians love music so much that they actually enjoy playing in their down time. Of course, to get to that level, you need parents who realize this and are willing to impose the necessary discipline (see above) and who seek out teachers who reinforce this attitude.

Finally, I wish all parents knew the incredible rewards of playing an instrument. In short, I wish parents knew everything we do…

18 November 2019

6 thoughts on “What I Wish All Parents Knew….

  1. Greg Lawrence

    Great blog. I especially resonated with the paragraph about the reason to learn music/violin. Many of my students they the years
    did/do just to have on their college apps. Musicians, especially private teachers, in the USA are still considered outliers in our society. USA is about making $$$$$$. Most of my High School pvt students are too stressed out over the pressure of getting into
    a prestigious college. Most have little to no time to practice due to the incredible academic pressures they are under.

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Absolutely. It’s very discouraging. And it’s true in other countries as well. Thanks for your kind comment.

  2. Joyce Oxfeld

    I studied violin, around 8 years old, when I was loaned a tiny violin, and began to learn to read music, and perform it. I have a number of learning disabilities , so keeping up on Academics, and Rostered Orchestra, had me enjoying the playing, but dreading the nerves. I also have trouble memorizing. I was continuing to play, until I was sidelined before I could get more professional work. I was developing Essential Tremor. Now my Dr.s are treating me as a Parkinson’s diagnoses. I was just ask my General Physician yesterday about finding the bottom line on treating my problems. I am now also approaching my 66th Birthday.

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Absolutely! And if you have read some of my other posts (there must be 95 or do by now) you will see that I agree with you that the study of a musical instrument teaches a child what I call the habit of success: a methodical, step by step approach to solve or master any problem you might encounter learning an instrument which you can then apply to any of the other problems life throws at you. Thanks for your cogent comment.

  3. Bonny

    Thanks, Eloise, you put it very succinctly. I’m behind you all the way on this, as I hope you know! And I’m on this mission too – right now my stressed-out students are singing their sweet little teenager hearts out to ‘The Suzhou River’ song and I’m grateful they at least have this time for music in their week. I plan on sharing your blog too.

    1. Eloise Hellyer Post author

      Thanks for your comment. I’m honored that you will share it. Keep up the good work with your students!


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