Monday, August 6, 2007

The Blessings of Music

My husband and I play no musical instruments; we don't even read music well enough to sing in parts without a lot of support, yet we are raising children who are very musical. Naturally we are frequently questioned as to "how" and "why" this came about. The answer takes me in myriad directions since our early endeavors resulted solely from Divine Providence, and now include research into brain theory, Talent Education, and the motivation of children.

Our eldest child's lessons began at age 4 ½ after she saw Itzhak Perlman perform on Mr. Rogers and asked if she could play the violin. A friend introduced us to the Suzuki method, and more specifically, to the book Nurtured By Love, which outlines Shinichi Suzuki's belief that every child can learn to play a musical instrument. Ironically, it was this method, and this book that eventually led us to homeschool as well!

As we became immersed in a Suzuki "family", we met talented, well-adjusted teens and their parents. Conversations led us to the conclusions that music education would be a part of our curriculum that was as indisputable as religion, Mathematics and grammar. I was simultaneously teaching at a large, Catholic high school and observing my students there. Those who continued to study music were more focused, better able to meet deadlines, and generally exhibited the traits I hoped to see in my own growing children. My husband and I were convinced that the time and money we were investing in music lessons could have bigger rewards than we had ever imagined.

Not long after this, the "Mozart Effect" became popular. As one element of the Suzuki program is listening to high level recordings of the pieces the student is learning, our children were immersed daily in the works of classical composers. Brain theory was also showing how brain development was affected positively by such listening and by music lessons in general. These ideas were intriguing, but became secondary to the fact that our home was (generally!) quiet and peaceful, and the children were developing a skill that, with a lot of diligence and hard work, brought them great joy.

It became clear that the lessons being learned extended far beyond how to play the violin. As peers dropped out of other activities, or indicated no interest from the start in things they felt would be "too hard", our children often took up the challenge with extra effort and enthusiasm. It seemed they had learned that hard work makes anything possible! Suzuki's emphasis on each child reaching his own potential also developed within each of our children an internal desire to do his best, while not relying on whether or not that "best" was better than anyone else's. Instead of fearing not "measuring up" to some outside standard, our children tended to be satisfied doing their own personal best.

All this has transferred to academics as well. Though "ahead" in some subjects and "behind" in others according to general standards, our children move on from where they are, and know that hard work will take them to the next level. As in their music study, there are ups and downs, great strides followed by plateaus, but they do not exhibit a tendency to give up. Our teens also comment on being "too busy to get in trouble", having picked up piano as well over the years, and have developed wonderful friendships with others who share their love of music. Though we had no desire to encourage music majors in college, there may be a couple in the family, and, in the meantime, the children earn a decent bit of money performing for small parties and other gatherings, and great joy when their talents are needed at Mass. The blessings gained from our musical journey are something we desire to share with other parents who are considering music lessons for their children.

contributed by Mary from Wisconsin

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