Musical Torture – How Music Lessons Build Character in Kids, But Also in Parents!

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When I hear the words “music” and “torture” together, the two year debacle when my daughter Rebecca and I took violin lessons comes to mind. I’m not sure who was tortured more-the two of us who had to play, or those who had to listen. But perhaps the greatest form of torture is the one from which we still wake up screaming in the middle of the night, twenty years down the road: having to perform in front of a crowd.

The Pressure to Perform

And little is more nerve-wracking than the local music festivals, where children compete because their parents, and their teachers, signed them up. Last year I paid the fee so my oldest daughter could tie herself in knots over two piano pieces, which she diligently practised until I was singing them in the shower and while I was washing dishes and even when I was kissing my husband. Both the pieces sounded good, but one was excellent.

Until that fateful moment when she actually had to play it. Though flawless at home, in competition Rebecca rushed through and made several mistakes. The only words to describe the feeling afterwards were heartbroken, crestfallen, a wreck. And that was just me. Rebecca was little better.

After Rebecca felt that she flubbed her first piece, I learned about a new kind of pressure that is much more intense. It is one thing to be scared that you yourself will mess up. It is quite another to be scared that your offspring will. And trust me, that fear is worse.

Is the Pressure Worth It?

I sometimes wonder if forcing children to do something that we as adults would never consent to do on fear of torture is really fair. We do it to build character so that they will learn to compete well, to practice, and even to lose gracefully when necessary. For some kids, though, forced public performances may turn them off of music completely. For others it’s the impetus they need to practice and perfect a piece. Fear of looking like an idiot works wonders, and that child who wouldn’t practice piano all year is now living at your piano, banging out notes that will hopefully one day sound good together. We have to know which category our children fall into: the kind who will be scarred for life, or the kind that just need a little kick in the pants for motivation.

There’s no doubt that playing in public and actually surviving does much to calm the fears of those of us for whom death would be a welcome alternative to public performances. Giving children the confidence to know they can do this, even if they think they can’t, does count for something, especially in the long run when such things will inevitably be asked of them again. Forging ahead in spite of past disappointments and losses is another important lesson, and one for which I feared my daughter and I may not have the fortitude.

Nevertheless, after our morning incident, we returned home so Rebecca could have a good cry. Then she threw herself into practising her piece for that afternoon. When it was her turn once again, I had to resist the urge to root against the other children in her class. I had to hold my breath and tame my shaking hands as I listened to my little girl give an almost flawless performance. She came in second, and she was beaming from ear to ear.

When Kids Respond Better than We Do

When it was all over, Rebecca and I had a little talk. She didn’t pray to win, you see, because some other kid may have needed it more. Only God would know that. She just prayed to do her best. And she felt she did, so she was happy.

After listening to her, I’m quite sure she doesn’t need to build character. I think I do. So next year, both my girls will be in the festival, for my sake.

Sheila Wray Gregoire is the author of four books, including To Love, Honor and Vacuum: When you feel more like a maid than a wife and a mother. Do you need help organizing your home? Get your FREE household organization charts, including chore sheets, organization checklists, and more!

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