Thursday, January 15, 2009

So how far do you go?

So how far do you go for a kid that has talent?

This is Abby at the ripe old age of just-turned-four. She'd been playing the violin for about six months at this point. Like all my kids, Abby has heard violin music literally since she was conceived. She started begging to play violin almost as soon as she could say "violin." So like a good Suzuki Teacher who's also a mom, I started her in lessons at the age of three.

Its been an interesting journey to say the least. We've had some great moments, so silly moments, some proud moments, and some moments of genuine music making. We've also had tear stains on the violin moments, frustrating moments, and moments where I think "If I have to listen to one more Twinkle Variation I might pull my hair out." But the truth is, Abby has talent, and she works hard.

I've always had Abby studying with a teacher other than myself. I think its important for my kids to have the experience of learning from someone else. There's a couple of advantages to this- first, someone else has to be the bad guy. ("Remember, your teacher said you have to do this 10 times, not me!) Second, they have the experience of mom being just mom and not the teacher as well. And third, I'm much more motivated when I know that I'm taking her to a lesson with one of my colleagues/friends each week. So when we moved in September, I knew that I was still going to have to bring her to Salt Lake once a week for violin lessons.

Our new lesson schedule started last week. The move became a very natural time to transistion to a new teacher, and the new teacher is very organized, very disciplined, and very demanding. All in good ways. I knew this going in, which is why I called the teacher up and begged her to take us on as students. But I'm finding myself a little overwhelmed at what's being required of us at this point. Today, I drove 90 miles round trip for violin lessons. Next week she has an individual lesson, a group lesson, and a two day workshop. That's four 90-mile round trips. I have to check Abby out of school early every week, and we don't get home until around six at night. I have to get a babysitter for Ashlynn so she doesn't have to miss school and sit through a boring lesson. The amount of practicing required is enourmous. We are up each day at 6:15, practicing by 7:00 so that she can leave for school at 8:30. Yup. An hour and a half of practicing six days a week. The amount we're paying for these lessons could almost cover the lease payment on a car. (No, I'm not going to say the exact amount, because then I really would seem insane!)

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not complaining, really. I'm just realizing how big of a committment this is, especially for a girl that just turned seven. I'm admitting that I may be living my dreams vicariously through my daughter. I didn't start playing violin until I was twelve, and always felt so behind. The Suzuki kids always played with such ease, and had so much more experience. I've been determined that she would have the opportunities I didn't have. And she likes it. Most of the time. I would re-evaluate if she hated it, or if it wasn't working, but she's doing well. She's progressing. She's learning music at an incredible rate. And she loves performing.

The goal of Suzuki Music isn't necessarily to produce world class musicians. Its to produce good people with good hearts. I see how much music lessons benefit Abby. She's a little bit scatter-brained, and violin keeps her focused. She's learning goal setting, patience, and the ability to break something huge into managable chunks. She's learning to work with a team, to take instruction from adults, and to be comfortable on stage. And she's learning a bunch of really incredible musical skills.

But I still worry. I worry about the toll this takes on my other kids. Max is so little that he's portable. For now, he's happy to be with me, nurse when he wants to, and hang out. Ashlynn is happy doing gymnastics and playing with her babysitter on Thursdays. But I'm worried about equal time, equal money spent etc. Ashlynn's current passion is gymnastics. Those of you who know me know how uncoordinated I am. There's no way I can help her with gymnastics, and there's no daily practicing to be done. Plus, gymnastics is a drop them off and come pick them up afterwards activity. But is she going to feel shortchanged down the road because I didn't spend a whole afternoon every week pursuing her talent? Abby gets so much time and attention right now- how do I make sure that Ashlynn doesn't feel slighted?

Sigh. Another round of mommy guilt. What are you gonna do?


  1. Stacy,

    I wish my parents had force me to stay in piano :(.

  2. Tough questions! I think by virtue of the fact that you're thinking about this, you will do the right thing, whatever it is. You will be in tune with the needs of all your kids. Maybe Ashlyn will be fine with you showing your love in other ways? It seems like she is happy with the current arrangement.

    I understand the challenge of learning to support a child in interests that don't match yours. I never dreamed I would be out there playing basketball or soccer with my 6-year-old, considering I hate sports and suck at them. But he doesn't care that I'm not good, he just cares that I do what he likes to do.

    I'm just curious at what point Suzuki kids begin to practice more independently? I could see the practice time with her becoming more of a challenge in a couple of years when Max is a bit older. Sariah cannot deal with me even giving Dallin 15 minutes at the piano. For some reasons, with other private students, they understand the boundaries and respect them better. With siblings, it's a mess.

    If the time ever comes that you have to back off on Abby's music, I promise it will be OK! 12 years old is late to start, but 3 is early, and she already has a huge head start. I would venture to say that most professional musicians weren't practicing 1.5 hours a day at age 7, and they were still able to be very successful as musicians. It's a trade-off: she's learning important skills and having great experiences now, but learning balance is also valuable.

    You'll know what to do and when to do it! :)

  3. I'm with Lisa--you'll know what to do! Eva is quite talented on piano and violin (maybe not as much as Abby) and the practicing has seemed burdensome at times, but I can see pay-offs as well. I've tried really hard to make sure she can be a kid when she wants to be a kid. Sometimes that hard! She doesn't practice violin as much each day but she does practice 1.5 hours a day--she is older, though. I think Lisa's right that Abby has a big head start and that if you decide to back off everything would still be great for her. I do think this kind of commitment will be more difficult as the other kids get bigger, but I don't think it would be impossible. For example, Eva practices 90 min a day, Ethan 45 min, and Ivy 20 min. It's a lot of work for me to make sure that happens--but still possible and rewarding. You'll know what's best for Abby!

  4. Hi,

    I know this is an old post but I just found your blog searching for Suzuki violin mom blogs. I was reading this post and heard all the same questions I constantly ask myself about how much to do for my 8yo talented violinist. It is really difficult balancing all the kids' activities, time, and resources. Just wondering, now, a couple years later, what your thoughts are?

    All the best,

    ps. If this posted twice, I had difficulty choosing how to comment and I think my son's google account was signed in. I don't know if I deleted it correctly. Sorry.


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