“When my mother died, the music stopped in my house,” said Isabel Heredia. Her mother wasn’t a professional singer, “but she had a fantastic voice. She sang at parties.”
“It’s such a big deal for non-pros to come in and play with the orchestra, throwing themselves into the ‘deep end.’ Our orchestra musicians are respectful and supportive of them,” says Larissa Agosti, who coordinates the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra’s Rusty Musicians and B-Sides programs, which let avocational musicians perform side-by-side with this Canadian orchestra’s pros.
“Music is my life. I will never stop playing cello,” says Vanessa Johnson, one of the young people whose early experiences with music are featured in the book The Music Parents’ Survival Guide (2014). Since more than four years have passed since it went to press, we are checking in with some youngsters to see how they are doing, focusing on those who participated in free after-school programs inspired by El Sistema, Venezuela’s music-education system which emphasizes ensemble playing right from the start.
“My status as a musician hasn’t been a large part of my public identity since the beginning of high school. I took lessons and practiced at home, and that was it. But even that yielded other, more private lessons that my flute seemed to teach me. Those lessons will stay with me for much longer,”
The lazy days of summer pose a special challenge for music parents. With school and regular music lessons on hiatus until the fall, it can be hard to persuade youngsters to continue to practice their instruments without the prod of needing to prepare for a lesson or a school ensemble rehearsal. If there isn’t a certain amount of vacation practicing, however, some of the musical gains children made during the school year may begin to melt away.
Walking the music parenting tightrope isn’t easy for music moms and dads. Figuring out how to be helpful without turning into an overbearing nag can be tricky, especially during a youngster’s early adolescent years. Those often-turbulent years can upend many aspects of a child’s life, including music.
“I was lucky all the time in having great teachers,” says clarinetist Richard Stoltzman. When I asked him about special ways his early teachers helped him, he mentioned his elementary school band director who was “enthusiastic and cheerful, no matter what,” and also a private teacher he had in high school who taught him how to practice with purpose.
“My thanks to my parents is vast,” says Toyin Spellman-Diaz, oboist with the Imani Winds woodwind quintet. “Without their help, I would never have become a musician.” Many professional musicians I’ve interviewed have responded as Ms. Spellman-Diaz did, saying that their parents helped in so many ways: from locating good music teachers, schools, and summer programs, to getting them to lessons, rehearsals and performances on time, while also figuring out how to pay for it all.