by Khoo Hui Ling
When starting The Music Studios, the dedicated team of teachers and I unanimously agreed that a lifelong friendship with music was the best gift a music teacher could give to a student. The tagline does have a nice ring to it, but what does it really entail? Since The Music Studios is a recent development and this is the very first blog post, I thought it meaningful to share some ideas about that. To all music teachers and parents, I hope this will provoke some thought into the worth behind sending children for music lessons.
I’ve found “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery to be an enlightening allegorical read that has inspired many facets of my life. It is about a little prince from another planet, and his encounters of adult life from a young child’s innocent perspective. The little prince learns many lessons from his love and pining for a rose from his home planet, which leads to my first point below.
PART 1 - FALLING IN LOVE WITH MUSIC
“People where you live," the little prince said, "grow five thousand roses in one garden... yet they don't find what they're looking for...
They don't find it," I answered.
And yet what they're looking for could be found in a single rose, or a little water..."
Of course," I answered.
And the little prince added, "But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”
As a teacher myself, I know too well the defeating sense of futility when we brandish a Kit Kat in front of a young beginner’s face in a bid to incentivise them to play the right notes for a piece beyond their current ability... because they are expected to pass an exam grade by a certain age... so that perhaps they could gain direct school admission into certain secondary schools...
The phenomenon of children growing to dislike music is not a difficult mystery to unravel. Not to mention that there is always that final blow of defeat when after half a year the child confesses that he or she actually prefers gummy bears to Kit Kat.
I’ve since learnt my lesson. I now make it a point to explain that the first step for any total beginner at the piano is to fall in love with music. It takes a lot of experimentation, or perhaps none at all, to help a young child experience this breakthrough moment. Sometimes, it’s that fleeting feeling of exhilaration, of spontaneous freedom when moving to music. Other times, it is when they hear a piece of music that simply resonates with their entire being. Often, it is being in the presence of a charismatic musician who inspires. Maybe, it is about being exposed to all kinds of music without judgement. And most certainly, it helps when children are immersed in a musical environment.
I was a toddler during the days when my dad owned records. Songs by Nat King Cole, John Denver, The Carpenters and countless others always hovered in the air. Records soon became obsolete, heralding in the age of CDs. This is when I remember my first breakthrough moments; it is of role-playing the train Rusty in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Starlight Express with my dad. The excitement of counting down to the start of the race, the sheer joy of chugging like a train sitting atop my dad, and the inspiration the young train Rusty gets from the older train Starlight Express made music an essential tool of play. When I finally started on the piano, the love for music was already implanted. It never was a case of clocking in the required hours for practice. Of course, I was also fortunate to have had wonderful teachers who could tap into this love of music and channel it into the study of classical music.
(For anybody interested in sharing my enthusiasm for Starlight Express, I've included YouTube links to my favourite pieces from the musical below. It's a musical where the trains are acted out by lines of rollerbladers!)
Most children start off learning to play an instrument without having first fallen in love with music. It is not long before children combat perceived milestones such as examinations and participation in competitions. Parents look to these as tangible results; proof that their child is not falling behind. Music teachers depend on these very results to create a credible reputation. We haven't even gotten started at the comparisons that happen when music teachers and parents get together. I wonder what kind of message this sends to the young ones though? Inevitably, a majority of these students quit after attaining a certain level, never to touch the instrument again. The reason often cited is that they were not talented enough, or they had not enough time. Actually, the real reason is that the love for music was never cultivated.
I urge all music teachers and parents to rethink the worth of learning music. When music is treated as a subject just to excel in, music becomes merely one of five thousand roses in a garden. Children might end up learning the instrument only for the certification, for approval from adults or for the surface satisfaction gained from outshining their peers. This kind of interest is not sustainable.
But when a child falls in love with music (or any endeavour in life for that matter), they realize that all they are looking for can be found in a single rose. They would then find the intrinsic motivation to sustain an interest that lasts a lifetime. Every person is unique. Teachers and parents need to accept that for some children, it takes time and a good deal of trial and error to inspire a young one's love for music at the initial stages. In the long run, it is well worth the effort.
I would clarify here that a few Kit Kats or gummy bears along the way would not hurt, just as examinations, competitions and festivals could be a healthy means towards an end.
The first musical steps a child takes sets the tone right for learning. Do anything and everything to help them find love simply for the art.
However, as they always say, it takes more than love. There is indeed truth to that. Love for music is the first step after which comes learning, discipline, and maturity. Stay tuned for Part 2: OPENING UP TO MUSIC, Part 3: MAKING THE DECISION TO INCORPORATE MUSIC, and Part 4: ENJOYING THE PROCESS.