Raising a musician

by Beth Graham

By now you know I did not raise an athlete. I, at one point begrudgingly, raised a classical pianist. Begrudgingly is probably putting it lightly. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth.

My son was a high achiever from the beginning (despite being born seven weeks early as we were warned he’d probably always be “behind”) and excelled in math and science. His high level of intelligence first came to mind when I had him tested as a four-year-old for kindergarten readiness (he has a fall birthday). When the teacher asked him to name five animals, he confidently replied, “Rachel, Katie, Michael, Kevin and Jake.” Those were five kids in his pre-school class. He named the animals. True story. And as a mother sitting in the back of the class listening, praying this teacher proclaimed my son well-advanced to attend kindergarten early, I was mortified (as the phrase “riding the short bus” popped into my head). But as the teacher explained, this level of thinking actually does indicate intelligence. Whew!

So back to the musical acuity…as a child pianist myself, I began teaching my son at the age of five to play. Despite my 12 years of lessons decades earlier, he surpassed my abilities the first year. So we ventured down that path of private instruction (which I’m proud to say he had the same amazing instructor for the next 12 years). So here’s where it gets weird…

He played the piano so often, and enjoyed it so enormously, that it became a source of punishment for him. He wasn’t into video games or TV as a pre-teen so we couldn’t take those privileges away from him as punishment. So not allowing him to play the piano was his punishment. Sad, I know. And I know several musician friends who are cringing as they read this. Fortunately, he was a great kid who rarely got in trouble so little damage was done.

As he entered late middle school and we began asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, anticipating a budding doctor in the family or an engineer, he proclaimed he wanted to play the piano. That announcement rocked our world. Not that we didn’t support it (we actually did not initially), but it was completely unexpected of such an intelligent being. (I know, I know…math and science smarts go hand-in-hand with musical abilities.)

And so, we sucked it up and allowed him to be in charge of his own destiny. And it was the best decision we ever made. (It was much easier for me to accept than his father.)  Shortly after we acquiesced, I remember seeing this quote: “Serenity comes when you trade expectations for acceptance.”

And so, he continued on with his music with plenty of detours into a performing arts high school, a rock band, and even singing lessons. I even became that “groupie” parent for a period.

In the end, he has big dreams. He is now a music composition major at a prestigious university and plans to write scores for films in Hollywood someday. I’m counting on that Grammy someday! And almost more than talent, he has incredible passion for a future in the arts.

The moral of the story: you can’t fight passion. Passion leads to success. It’s a requirement for success. Whether your kid loves music, sports, animals, or the dreaded computer, if it’s a true passion, ride it out. See where it leads. I don’t think passion is something that comes and goes. It’s either there all along or it’s not there at all. You can’t force it and you can’t fight it.


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