Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Know when to hold 'em

Anyone old enough to remember the lyrics to the Kenny Roger's song, "The Gambler" will know the phrase, "know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em". This is pretty sage advise when dealing with a student who has lost interest in playing an instrument.

Despite your love of music, it's important to realize that not everyone shares your enthusiasm for performance art. Some people march to a different drummer. (pardon the pun).

Case in point.........

I developed an interest in playing a band instrument in the fourth grade after seeing the local high school band perform at my elementary school. Unfortunately, the only instrument my folks could afford was the clarinet my mother played 15 years earlier in the University of Dayton Marching Band that resided under her bed. The pads were as old and hard as a jalopy tire!

After three weeks of squeaking and squawking, my teacher (the same HS band director) wisely advided me to quit.
Being only eight years old, I emotionally recovered as soon as football season arrived.

The I started junior high........

I must have suffered from ADHD decades before the condition became a popular diagnosis, because my grades were horrible and I found myself in the principal's office for fighting on more than several occasions. Upon one unscheduled visit to the office, the same band director that started me on clarinet wandered into the office.

"fighting again?" he quipped. "Yup" I replied.

Then he uttered a phrase which changed my life.....

"Do you want to hit something that doesn't hit back? "

I left the office under his "custody" and started a very successful journey as the school's bass drummer. I must admit that; during a fews rough days, I broke more than my share of head and mallets. Miraculously though, he didn't seem to mind. My grades improved and the office visits for fighting disappeared.

Eventually, I ended up becoming a band director with a unique perspective on knowing when to hold em and when to fold em.

My advice? Don't force a student to keep playing an instrument if they have totally lost interest. If they are destined to be a musician later on, trust me, they will find you. There is an old Buddhist saying that goes, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear"".

Many parents are trying to live their thwarted dreams of becoming a successful musician vicariously through their children when their kids resonate more with sports, dance, or visual arts.

After a heartfelt discussion with a student, learn when to hold 'em and when to fold em when advising the parents on the future of music lessons.

As for me, if I had been forced to continue making horrendous sounds on my mom's beat-up clarinet, I am certain that a successful career in music education have never been my destiny.

Because of my own past, I tend to guide self -motivated students rather than encourage parents to force music students to "stick" with an instrument in which they have clearly have lost interest.

Just be ready to embrace those same students when they return with renewed interest!

Good gigging!

Larry Marra


1 comment:

Christopher Sutton said...

A great story, thanks for sharing!

For me there's a slightly different moral to the tale though: That it takes a bit of time and experimentation for a student to find the instrument that best suits them.

I'd certainly agree that forcing a child to stick with an instrument chosen by their parents or by the child's instinctive selection will do them no favours. But perhaps simply backing off and hoping they come back to music is a bit too cautious - instead, maybe it should be assumed that a child's first instrument will only last them a month or two, and it will take trialling a few before they find a good match for their character, taste and ability.