Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sing, Sing a Song!

I love to sing. I always have. Church songs drew me closer to faith; even as an atheist, I'd sit in the college chapel and feel spiritually connected when the notes fell around my ears. From the age of 5 I loved singing in school, in assemblies and concerts, and joined a little community choir for fun. Sadly, because I also played the clarinet, and didn't have the strongest voice around, the focus ended up on my instrumental mucisianship, with my main opportunity to sing as part of the congregation in church.

As we know, though, things happen in mysterious ways, and although a recurring hand problem stopped me performing with a local music Ensemble, I joined their singing offshoot and cannot properly describe the feeling of togetherness, fellowship, fun and achievement recent practices which include Vivaldi's Gloria, Bruckner's Ave Maria and the Lachyrmosa from Mozart's Requiem has brought. (We also do more lowbrow stuff!)

But this post isn't really about me. There's a situation I was emailing about the other day which sounded like it had turned into a blog post, so it had :-) I kind of feel I should be trusting in God a little bit more about my children's gifts and how they will be used in their future. But also that I am responsible for currently discerning what to do with 2 little girls aged 5 and 6 who love to sing and make music. Should I be a Tiger Mom and enrol them in music lessons as they have expressed an interest in piano and violin? Should I take them to a Saturday morning theatre school? Should I be champing at the bit for school to lower the age for the choir so my elder daughter can start participating in practices and competitions?

I had a chat with my singing leader about this. She is from the 'anyone can sing' school and is awesomely talented at making amazing noises emanate from a bunch of amateurs (as well as other things.). She is also of strong faith and says she and her husband regularly consult with God for discernment about the extra-curricular activities their daughter takes part in. But she didn't provide me with a definite answer, because, in discussion we concluded that we didn't think that there was one. Yes, you can follow your child's talents and desires by providing outlets for them to develop. It's a parent's choice what path this will take. And it's not necessarily an easy ask.

Shortly after our conversation, an opportunity came up for my daughter to take part in a new music group for 3-8 year olds that is being established locally. She was invited to 'audition', which made me suspicious immediately, but I was assured it was a process to meet the children, rather than a competition. (I did wonder what would happen if someone without a good enough talent for them auditioned.) As a professional singing teacher was involved, I thought it might be good for Sophie to get rid of the Bieber-isation she currently brings to everything, including faith songs. (She has only heard one Justin Bieber song, I hasten to add, but it's enough!) We ran through Doe-a-Deer on the piano. We arranged an audition time, and one for her little sister.

I was actually relieved on the day when Sophie decided she didn't want a part of it after all, even if it meant missing out on something good in the future. I still went, to apologise in person that Sophie felt daunted and didn't want to participate, and took Imogen along as she was insistent she wanted to sing. But going in to the (non-)'audition' room was intimidating in itself, and I'm a grown-up! The singing teacher explained that one of the things they would be doing was seeing how nervous the children were about performing in public. Obviously Imogen took fright and refused to sing, so we left pretty soon-ish! I ended up giving a speech about how I didn't think young children needed to be put through a process which was so daunting to get to join a singing group, and that my music group doesn't put adults through that. I didn't mean to offend - I think the people running it have their hearts in the right place.

But they underestimate the joy of singing every child can have, not just the uber-confident kid who will belt out pop hits on demand. And I think I have my answer to what a parent should do with a musical gift - entrust it to God, who was pretty much in on it in the first place. The day after the auditions, Sophie sang all the hymns sat up at the front in Church at the Family Service while Imogen was singing with me in the pew and even managing to read along with a bit of the chorus. They beg for their favourite songs to listen and sing to in the car on the way to school. Yesterday I had to Google clapping songs for them for the playground. This morning they were managing I Hear Thunder in a simple round (instigated by Sophie not me I hasten to add!) Some of the best fun the girls have had playing with the baby (8 months) recently has been when I get down the percussion instruments and they all make music together - such a leveller! And I feel this is what music should be about.  The pure, simple joys of making music for enjoyment's sake - because it (over)flows out of them.

What I have learned is, if they are born to sing, they will sing. There will be numerous opportunities in their path to develop talents if it's meant to be. There's no point putting them through pressure at such a tender age. I'm aware that being involved in music involves having the confidence to perform, but if that confidence is needed, it will be there.

To conclude, we're progressing the musical education in the same way we are Sophie's interest and talent for art, where visits to the city art galleries open her mind to possibilities. I've begun a simple piano scheme the girls can dip in and out of at home, with no pressure to practice, but the chance to learn where the future might take them. I'm trying to introduce more family singing, and get them to hear a wide variety of music and comprehend some music history. As an over-achiever myself, I know that a focus on doing what one is gifted at can be a curse as well as a blessing. For now, as with academic learning in the classroom, as long as they enjoy it, we'll go with it. As caretakers of these children and those responsible for drawing out and nurturing their talents, we're not going to be pushy parents and suck the fun out of music. If the 'right' music group comes along (and I suspect the school choir, when Sophie is old enough, will be just the ticket) they'll embrace it and feel comfortable...(and maybe, with God's help, and if it's the right path, toughen up a little for the competitions and examinations ahead.)

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