I wanted to share a story about skydiving that relates to piano. This Christmas, my side of the family went to my brother’s house in Arizona for the first time. My dad always has one “family bonding experience” up his sleeve, so we can not only have a good time together, but the people who have married into the family feel like a part of the family. These family bonding experiences create something to talk about for the rest of the time we have together. Past experiences have included fishing, paintball, going to a waterpark, etc. But this year, my brother wanted it to be even more memorable than before. He and my dad decided that skydiving would be our family bonding experience this year…even though my parents elected to stay safely on the ground watching our kids for us, finding out what it would be like to raise them if our parachutes did not open…
To give you a background, I used to be a person who would have gone skydiving in a moment's notice in college, but had to really contemplate doing it as a parent with kids. What if the parachute didn’t open? My husband refused to go; he has more than a healthy fear of heights—almost a phobia about them. However, on the day were supposed to go, he surprised us all by saying he would try to go if there was a spot still open with our group. Once we arrived at the skydiving place, we signed many forms then were ready to go! Then, we had to wait for our turn for an excruciating two hours. During those two hours, we all had plenty of time to pray.
I prayed, “Dear Jesus, please make our parachutes open. Please let us survive.” My husband, however, prayed not only to survive, but “Please God, if you let me, help me to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime moment.” So we actually jumped out of the plane, and had a terrifying and exhilarating 8000 foot free-fall before our chutes opened. However, when it was all said and done, my brother asked us who would do it again. Some of us said “no”; we’re glad we did it once, but once was enough. My husband’s response surprised me, though. He said he would do it again! He loved it!
In conclusion, this relates to performing with piano. How? The way we felt looking out of the plane before jumping is a lot like some students feel before performing. It is both scary and exhilarating. Some people thrive with that feeling, and it leaves others weak in the knees. However, my prayer for students always is that they not only pray to survive each performing experience, but that they enjoy it, too.
We had a great wind ensemble director in college. His name was Mr. Olson, and he always had a quick wit about him. I will always remember the day he said, "You college students are so dumb." A shocked silence followed; he had our attention. "You say you know what music you like, but really, you only like what you know."
Mr. Olson was right. When students play the piano, what piece do they want to play? Fur Elise by Beethoven, Rondo Alla Turka by Mozart, the theme from Star Wars...that piece their mom likes...and the list goes on. I'm fine with teaching those pieces, but it is my job to produce well-rounded students who know not only the most famous Bach, Beethoven, Mozart pieces and movie themes, but their other works that include Chopin, Debussy, Khachaturian, and other composers, also. If we adults took the time to expose them to more of the classics, the more students' tastes would be expanded, and it would be easier to get our children to practice. In lessons, students are asked to play pieces they have never heard or seen before more often than not . How do we get those pieces to become familiar? By repetition. Uh, oh...here is where practice comes in!
Also, try finding your (intermediate or advanced) students' pieces on ITunes, YouTube or on MPR helps so you can listen to those pieces performed in various ways. (Beware, not all performances are credible, but some can be really good, too!) Sometimes I take a couple minutes to show an elementary student the piece they are playing the melody of played by a full orchestra on YouTube. Although this takes up a bit of lesson time, I can see the light bulb go on in their head when they make the connection with how their piece is supposed to sound, or hear it written for an orchestra. Suddenly they're not just playing the piano; the melody is the violins, the bass line is the cellos, etc. They smile, and that piece often ends up being their favorite the next week. It's well worth the two minutes it takes to show them the "professional" version of their piece to see that light bulb go on in their minds.
I am not an athlete, and I strongly dislike running, and had taken about a 15-year break from anything resembling it. However, in my 30's, I decided that it would be a good idea to begin jogging, as I knew it was time to take care of what God gave me. Strangely enough on those first few jogs, I suddenly felt like I could relate to some of my students who did not enjoy practicing. I would put off running; productive procrastination took over, like doing the dishes or folding the laundry. Finally, when I would go out, negative thoughts would take over, such as "I hate this, I hate this..." in time to the pace of my run. I kept checking the clock to see if it was over, only to find only a few minutes had passed. But I kept on going, and subjected myself to this "torture" on the schedule I had set. In time, I actually started looking forward to my run, that break in my day to enjoy being outside, the solitude, the challenge, looking for 5K's to do, and everything about it.
Now, instead of thinking, "I hate this, I hate this," I am trying to re-frame my point of view. Instead of looking out the window, seeing snow, and taking the day off, I try to say, "This is an opportunity to run in the snow." Or, "This is an opportunity to train in the rain"..."This is an opportunity to do my best when I don't feel good."
One more note: It seems like things always get worse right before a breakthrough, with both piano and fitness. In running, they talk about hitting "the wall." If you can get through the "wall" of resistance, maybe it's a child who has decided they don't want to practice any more, keep persevering; there is often a "second wind" on the other side.
I still can't say I am good at jogging, but I can say that I LOVE the exhilaration that comes afterward, and the renewed energy that it brings. I can finally race my children around the yard, without thinking that I'm dying. I'm not fast at all, but in the end, the pain was all worth it. As an adult, I had the foresight to keep going, even though it was not fun.
In contrast, children often live in the moment. They may not enjoy practicing, but it's up to their parents to have the foresight that this will all be worth it in the long run. Even if they do not become a concert pianist in adulthood, there is intrinsic joy in putting years into an art that they can enjoy for a lifetime.
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