Thursday, July 8, 2010

Lessons of Summer

All three of my kids have been taking weekly music lessons this summer.  They've been practicing regularly, if not always daily, and they seem to be enjoying practicing more than they do during the school year.  I suppose it's because our summer schedule is more relaxed and open.  During the school year, it's often a challenge to find an extra 20 or 30 minutes in the day that's not devoted to homework or after-school activities and events.

Sebastian plays trumpet and viola, Louisa plays French horn, and Elias plays piano. 

Louisa's taking French horn lessons from Mary Williams, who will be her band director at the high school this fall.  Ms. Williams is enthusiastic and encouraging, which makes it easier to convince Louisa to get out of bed for an 8:40 a.m. lesson – a cruel time for a teenager on summer vacation. 

(The promise of a post-lesson smoothie from Goodbye Blue Monday also seemed to provide some motivation this morning.)

Sebastian is taking trumpet lessons from Paul Beck, his sixth grade band teacher (who also directs the Northfield Community Band; the band's last concert is tonight at 7:30 p.m. on Bridge Square).  Seb's also taking viola lessons from Kara Erstad, the St. Olaf College student who gave him lessons during the school year.

Elias was hoping for a summer break from piano, but I convinced him it was a good idea to keep up his lessons with Dewayne Wee, an incredibly patient man who conveniently lives within biking distance of our house.

I know the amount of time my kids practice would not meet the standard of my great-grandfather, G. Oliver Riggs, who believed that beginning band students should practice a minimum of 30 minutes a day, and older students a minimum of 60 minutes a day.  I was reminded of his guidelines yesterday, when I read his June 1925 report to the St. Cloud band committee while researching at the Minnesota History Center library.

At the time of the report, G. Oliver had been director of the St. Cloud Municipal Band for two years and had formed a 164-member boys' band.  According to an article about the report, published in the St. Cloud Daily Times on June 3, 1925, G. Oliver had this to say about practicing:

"The boys in the Boys' band have been faithful about attending rehearsals but have not kept at their home practice as they should.  The parents of the boys, at times, have done fine in keeping their boys at their regular daily practice, but most of the time too many parents have neglected this and have fallen down on their part of the job.  It appears that too many parents have never understood and do not at present understand the great importance of daily practice at home for their boy, and that it is the parents' job to keep him at it."

It's reassuring to know that parents back in 1925 also had trouble getting their kids to put in the amount of practice time required to really progress as a musician.  It's also humbling to read G. Oliver's words and know he would not accept excuses – then or now – that families are too busy for something so important.

How do you keep your children motivated to practice?  Sometimes, it helps to have a goal, like a performance or recital.  Another article I found on microfilm yesterday, from the June 4 St. Cloud Daily Times, describes a recital that G. Oliver's wife, my great-grandmother Islea, organized for her 18 piano students.  It sounds like quite a recital – it included not just piano students, but also some saxophone players from G. Oliver's boys' band and a toe dancer (is that the same as a ballerina?).

Perhaps we should organize our own My Musical Family summer recital.  I think it sounds like fun. 

I am now accepting applications for any musicians or toe dancers out there who'd like to participate.  I'd also accept belly dancers.  I won't ask you how often you practice.

1 comment:

  1. I think a My Musical Family summer recital is a great idea! Count the Mibus Family in - it will give us some incentive to keep practicing (or, in my case, to actually practice my mandolin!). I don't think you'll catch me belly dancing though :)