Sunday, March 29, 2015

Emelia, The Keyboard, and Me

Emelia has a great ear for music. For as long as she's been able to talk, she's been able to recognize music she's heard before. Even covers. So for a very long time, I've encouraged her to take music lessons. We never forced her into taking them -- I figured that if she was made to take them, she'd grow to resent taking them, much as I had when I was a kid. There were drawbacks to this approach -- when she was five, she asked for, and received, a ukelele as a souvenir. On the ride home, she picked at it and sang out the alphabet as accompaniment, declaring that she could play the ukelele. Sadly, that's been the ukelele's high point, as it was strummed more times on that car ride home than it has in the succeeding three years combined.

Last December, I brought up the subject of lessons again, and she "gave in." She wanted to make sure, however, that she didn't have to perform in front of anyone. I told her to pick her instrument, and after a bit of back-and-forth, she selected the piano. We have a curbside special of a keyboard that I came across around the time she was born, so as far as I was concerned, she made a fine selection. We signed up for lessons in January, and as we ended up with a late afternoon Thursday slot, we've made it work so that I sit in with her during the lesson. Steven, the instructor, is absolutely great with her -- he's generally very positive and I've yet to see him lose his patience, even when she starts plinking while he's trying to talk to her. I sit in the back, taking notes on what songs she's supposed to learn, and things to look for/work on as she practices.

During the week, she and I go over her assignments -- maybe once a week she practices on her own, but the rest of the time I'm there with her. Sometimes she gets frustrated, but we work through the parts that challenge her, and so far at least, by week's end she pulls it together. I may not be as patient as Steven is, but I seem to be doing ok. I tell her to stop saying she's sorry when she makes a mistake -- that she only needs to apologize if she's goofing off/not listening/not trying. I'm sparse with my praise, but she understands that when I say it's good, it's significant. And I'm able to let her know when she's made enough progress during a practice even when she's not all the way there.

My approach seems to gibe with her.  She doesn't dread practice, sometimes asking me when we can work on her assignment, and other times playing her assignment on her own after we've gone over it earlier in the day. Without prompting, she has repeatedly thanked me for encouraging her to take lessons, and has said that she loves playing the piano. When in Florida last month, rather than being shy and uncomfortable with playing in front of her grandmother, Emelia called her over so she could perform for her.

It's only been a few months, and of course she'll likely get sick of the piano, lessons, practice, everything. But I'm enjoying not being there yet. My daughter has a tendency to keep working on things she's good at rather than tackle things she isn't -- at some point, I'm going to have to use her experience with the piano as proof that she can get good at something even when she starts off knowing nothing about it.

I have to be honest -- when trying to anticipate the things I'd most enjoy about being a parent, it never entered my mind to think piano practice would make the list. It's nice to know that a middle-aged man can keep learning too.