What I learned as a Suzuki parent in 2016
Approaching the end of 2016, it’s the season of annual reviews, reflections, and retrospectives. It’s also the season for hopes and plans for 2017. Since for me personally it has been an interesting and challenging year, I decided to reflect on what I’ve learned over this past year.
Suzuki talent education is truly universal.
One of our adventures during 2016 involved moving to another country. Although our move was only from the U.S. to Canada, we were struck by how universal the Suzuki experience is. At the first Saturday morning group class, my daughter walked right into the first group and started playing. Same pieces, same bowings. Everything was exactly the same. Even if she had been unable to speak the language there would have been no barrier to making music with her peers. What if we all could communicate that way!
Music can be a great source of resilience.
Over the course of a year, we moved three times. One of the few constants in our lives was music. Even if everything else changes, there’s always music.
Switching teachers can be very tough.
My daughter is very fond of her first teacher whom we had to leave behind. We found a wonderful teacher in our new community but the transition involved lots of emotion. Technical progress can always wait; deal with the emotions first.
What piece your child is playing isn’t a good measure of progress.
I’ve begun to notice much more divergence in progress as measured by where my daughter is in the Suzuki repertoire and her development as a musician. There are so many little details of expression and stylistic interpretation that can be emphasized. You can spend a very long time working out every last detail. It’s all time well-spent. Since my daughter has been playing in orchestra and now a string quartet, there are many other experiences that bear on her development as a musician. It’s pointless to look at chronological progression through the pieces as a measure of progress. The answer to the question “What are you working on now?” isn’t the Vivaldi A-minor. It’s “Being a better violinist.” or “Being more patient with myself in practice.”
Sometimes letting go is the best course of action
Because our lives have been a little disordered this year, I’ve had to let go of a rigid schedule for review. But in the process, I’ve learned that letting go of the invariable need to get every little thing done every single day can be the best course of action. Sometimes you have to “zoom out” and look at the big picture. Sometimes progress doesn’t come in day-sized pieces.
The world needs Suzuki more than ever
Suzuki’s hope was to unite the world in peace by teaching kids to be patient, gentle, kind and hopeful citizens. This past year has seen far too much crudeness, hate, and division. We desperately need more of what unites us.
What I wish I had done better
Even the most effective Suzuki family has the occasional tense or nonproductive practice. Our experience this year was not exception.
There are times that I let my own personal frustrations get the better of me.
My own personal hot button is inefficiency. Like most families, we have a busy life. Time-wasting (what my own mother used to call plain-old dawdling) is a sure way to raise my blood pressure. I’m working on turning the problem upside down. Instead of seeing it as a surplus of inefficiency, I’m trying to see the problem as a deficiency of interestingness. By making practice more interesting, then everything else becomes less distracting, relatively speaking. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m working on it.
Sometimes I struggle to stay positive and creative with practice.
When the workload looks insurmountable or I’m low on sleep and exercise, I get too “transactional” with practice. It’s best to see our work in practice with young children as a balance between organizing the material to be practiced vs. setting it up as a fun positive experience. When time and patience are short, it’s easy to push the balance toward the “work” side.
Looking toward 2017
I’ve become more and more interested in the idea of the practice of life as a series of experiments. We’re all feeling our way through the experience of life, making it up as we go. Similarly when practicing with our children at home, we are making it up as we go. I have always noticed that my daughter, now 8 years old, was more cooperative with trying new ways of playing something if I framed it as an experiment. “What would happen if you slowed your bow speed here so you stayed closer to the lower half? I wonder…”
But what would happen if we tried that sort of hypothetical stance on a larger scale? What if we decided to try month-long experiments? For example, you might decide to play a particular game every day for a month and see if our outlook during practice improves. Or we could decide to devote the entire month to trying little mini-experiments to improve certain techniques. There’s something very honest and appealing about admitting that we don’t have all the answers, but that we are willing to play around with ideas and test them out.
I’m looking forward to trying all of this out in 2017, seeing where it takes us.