“Summer has a mind of its own.” I read that somewhere long ago when my kids were little, and I think about it every summer because it remains true. Every summer is different, and it never quite turns out how I plan it. For example, I thought I might have more down time this summer. Ha ha…No.
Currently my 14-year-old is in a virtual music summer program, and it’s fantastic but intense. On the weekdays the program goes from 9:00a.m.–9:30p.m. with breaks and four hours of practice time built into the schedule. There are some activities on the weekends too, but less, and the weekend mornings are free. It might sound like a rigorous schedule, but it’s pretty typical for a music conservatory or summer program. And my 14-year-old loves it. He’s in his element and interacting with other pianists. (Yes, I wish it could be face-to-face. Hopefully next year.)
I’m happy to see him engaged, and I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much can be done on Zoom. (I’m sure it helps that most of the kids want to be there.) I have enjoyed watching some of the faculty recitals, “interactives” (i.e. studio classes) and master classes with my son too. If my son is performing, I am always there for that.
It’s not easy being in a house with a piano playing over four hours a day, making sure lunch and dinner is right on time because the day is very regimented, and helping in other ways too. I’m also spending extra time with my 11-year-old because his brother is busy, and I’ve got my regular chores too. I love it, but I’m a tired mama.
My husband is also being put to the test as he has given himself a crash course in sound engineering and microphones. He helps my son set up all the equipment, and we both help make recordings of his performances. Simply put, it’s a lot of work to be the parents of a serious musician. I could probably write a book about it, and maybe someday I will.
My plan this summer was to plan my 14-year-old’s 9th grade literature class, but I’m not making very much progress with that. Oh well. Somehow it will get done, though maybe it won’t be everything I imagined it would be. Summer has a mind of its own, and homeschooling in general has a mind of its own. We can plan and plan, but ultimately, our kids will lead us down the path they are meant to go. Every day and every experience opens new avenues, and sometimes the detours end up being the road we were looking for all along.
This is my third year writing about my son’s main interest—classical piano. In fact, I think we can stop calling it a project now. This is his chosen vocation, which, yes, I believe a child his age can have because I’ve seen it over and over again in my husband, myself, and in the biographies of people I admire.
My son may have many vocations over what I hope will be a long life, but being a musician is definitely one of them.
There’s not much more I can add to what I have already written except to say that he’s still working hard and making good progress. My husband and I continue to provide him with the time and tools he needs, and we all enjoy attending classical concerts at the nearby university. He has been entering local and state-wide competitions and doing very well in them.
We decided to take the plunge and create a YouTube channel for him. He is excited about it and hopes he’ll get a lot of subscribers. You can follow his progress over the coming years, if you care to. I feel some trepidation about putting him out there into the world, but I also know that sometimes you have to take risks in life. I hope you will check it out and subscribe.
I will write about important piano events in my monthly updates, but this will be my last project-based post because as I mentioned above, this has gone beyond a homeschool project. Many thanks to everyone who has supported my son’s endeavor.
At the end of May, my 10-year-old marked a full two years of taking piano lessons. In less than two years, he advanced to playing late intermediate/early advanced repertoire. This is quite remarkable, and for me, it finally sunk in just how remarkable this is over the past year. Of course, my husband recognized it right away, and I give him full credit for his swift and fierce support!
My son has some natural talent, and I think it’s safe to say that becoming a classical pianist has become a serious goal for him. But I can’t underscore enough how hard he works at this goal. It’s been inspiring to watch, and my husband and I are so proud of him. Not only does he practice a lot, he loves listening to classical music and learning about composers. His knowledge about music, music history, and modern pianists is remarkable in itself. And we don’t have to make him do any of this or fuss at him to practice. Not at all! My husband is always right there with him, encouraging him and sometimes advising him (he’s not a musician; he just loves doing research), but if my son didn’t want to do this, none of this would be happening.
I’m calling this post our “piano adventures” because it’s been an adventure for all of us. My husband and I have learned so much about classical music right along with our son, and we love it! Just like with all my sons’ interests, I have loved getting a real education and exploring and discovering things that I didn’t know about before. Not only do I love listening to classical music now, I love learning about the world of classical music and how pianists learn and grow. On this adventure we’ve also met various teachers and learned how they work too. This year we found a new teacher for our 10-year-old, and our younger son began lessons in October with another teacher. The 7-year-old is not as passionate about playing the piano as his older brother, but so far, he likes it. He is certainly benefitting from having such a talented older brother and everything we’ve learned about on this journey.
During this past year, our 10-year-old entered his first competition, which was the state competition. He placed in the top ten, which for two years of piano lessons, is wonderful (in my biased opinion).
But my son has a long and challenging journey ahead of him. There are many talented, young pianists out there, and he’ll have to work very hard, if he wants to compete. If he continues to want to pursue this goal, we’ll give him all the support that we can. If not, that’s okay too. I have no idea what to expect, but I hope it continues to be a positive experience for him.
If you have a child who wants to pursue classical music, please e-mail me! It would be great to meet other families who are on a similar journey.
Autumn is one of my favorite times of year, and this autumn has certainly been full of interesting happenings both in my home and in the world at large. I have gotten a little exhausted at following the news and social media, so I’m limiting my time on that. While I’m disappointed with the election results, unlike so many people, I wasn’t surprised by it. I respect the democratic process, and I’m going to hope that things will be well. This doesn’t mean I’m not concerned or wondering what I can do. I am charged with the duty to raise my boys to understand that we must act out of kindness and love first and foremost. We also need to learn how to walk a mile in another person’s shoes so to speak, which I think many people on both sides think they are capable of doing, but they really are not. This includes trying to understand why others make the decisions they make and even why they decided to vote the way they did and not assume the worst of everybody. Even if that’s very hard to do, we must try.
One of my favorite posts I’ve read lately is by Jennifer L. W. Fink, who writes about what I’m determined to do better than I could. If you get the chance, go read How to Raise a Decent Human Being.
The best way to live daily life, in my humble opinion, is to pay more attention to nature. Nature can certainly be cruel, but it helps me understand the world, humans, and that we’re part of something much bigger. Nature is also beautiful and inspiring, and that gives me solace.
On that note, we have spent some time out in nature a few times this autumn. For the autumn equinox, we drove down to Dauset Trails in Jackson, Ga. One other day, we spent some time wandering around Ft. Yargo State Park, and most recently, we went to Unicoi State Park to walk a lovely little trail around Burton Lake. The last time we walked that trail, my youngest son was in a stroller.
Our outdoor excursions are rarely planned. We usually wake up, realize it’s a good day to go somewhere, and then I frantically gather our things and get ready to go.
We also spend time in our yard, which is a haven itself. It’s fun to inspect what insects hang out around my son’s carnivorous plants, and to see all the leaves change color, which is happening right now in Georgia. And just yesterday, a gorgeous red-tailed hawk landed in the leaf litter right outside my bedroom window, and she stayed there long enough for my boys to come get a good look at her. We think she was trying to get a mouse or a vole, but she finally gave up. The crows and squirrels were sending out frantic warning signals while she was here too. It was quite exciting for us to watch!
I feel like this has been the most academic year we’ve had homeschooling so far. I’m really enjoying it. That part of my brain that likes to organize and plan is getting a good workout! We do our lessons most mornings, and then the day is full of piano playing. My youngest son started taking lessons this fall, and it’s such a joy to hear him remind me that it’s time for him to practice! He takes this very seriously! He also tells me he only wants to learn piano up through “level 2,” and I told him that’s fine. Any music education benefits one’s brain. (I highly recommend following that link to a very cool video that will explain exactly how it benefits the brain.)
My 10-year-old has started taking lessons with a new teacher – his third teacher. It’s been quite a job to find the right teacher for our son who is moving so quickly to a higher level of classical piano. And finding someone who communicates with us well and whose schedule works well with ours is important too. If you are a parent who has no music background, there can be a steep learning curve when it comes to helping your children get the proper tools and teachers for their needs. It all depends on your child’s goals too. We have learned a lot, and I’m very thankful that my husband has been hands-on and so supportive of my son’s musical endeavor. I think we’ve finally got him in the right place, so I’m very excited and looking forward to the future.
One thing we haven’t been this year is social. This was kind of bothering me, but I’ve come to terms with it. Playing piano does not seem very social because my boys aren’t going to a classroom with other kids to take lessons. It’s a one-on-one session with an adult, but though this is different than our past extracurricular activities, I think it’s a great experience too. They are each forming a relationship with their teachers, working toward goals, and getting all those other benefits of learning music. As my husband reminded me, if they stay with music, they will eventually participate in music camps and play in ensembles, which will connect them to other musicians. We’ve already begun to take our eldest son to classical concerts and live music in town, and we’re starting to recognize some of the same faces each time in the crowd. Perhaps if we keep going, we’ll eventually connect with those people who so obviously care about classical music as much as we do. So I feel this is a year of digging into academics and music, and other opportunities will arise in the future, as they always have.
On another note, I’ve been working on a few projects of my own, and this blog has been (and will be) quieter as I continue to work on them. First, I will write my grammar curriculum review for the next issue of home/school/life magazine, which will come out in January. Second, I’ve finished a rough draft of a little book about homeschooling first grade, and I’ll continue to polish it in the coming months. (I will be looking for some discerning writers to read it and give me feedback too. If you’re interested, please e-mail me.) I also have a few other small projects to take care of too.
In addition to this, November is my annual “decluttering month.” Every year I ask the boys to go through their toys and pick out what they don’t want to play with anymore so that we can give it to charity. This year feels like the SUPER PURGE. My boys have finally reached a point when so many of the toys that we have are not interesting anymore. My youngest son mostly plays with dinosaur and animal figures and zoob pieces. Legos are still popular around here too. But so much stuff is GOING, and not only toys, but books and clothes and homeschool supplies too. I am quite in awe at how my boys are growing and changing and becoming more selective about their play and activities. And I’m proud of myself for LETTING GO. 🙂
If you have a question about how we homeschool or about our curriculum or anything else, please just ask. I am happy to chat by e-mail or perhaps write a blog post about it. I can always use ideas for what to write about, and I want to be as helpful to you as possible, so please let me know what you’d like to know. Besides this, your e-mails keep me going. 🙂 Thanks for reading.
If you told me a year ago that my son would be taking piano lessons now, and not only that, but he would be showing talent, dedication and a deep interest in classical music, you could have knocked me over with a feather. This has been the most surprising development in our homeschool for me, and I am not sure when I’ll ever get used to it. As I wrote on the home/school/life blog, I thought music would be one of those gaps in our boys’ education.
(Note: After writing this post, I remembered this post: Music Appreciation with Beethoven. How could I have forgotten the year and a half he was obsessed with Beethoven’s 9th symphony?! I suppose music has always been with him, but it remained quiet for a while.)
I have to hand it to my husband when it comes to fostering my son’s love of music and encouraging him to continue. While my husband doesn’t play an instrument, he loves listening to all kinds of music and has much more knowledge about it than I do.
A while back, I wrote a post titled The Power of Time and Materials, which is my plea to parents that in order to mentor your children and find their deep interests, you must first provide them with the time and the proper tools. I referred to a good space to work in that’s located in the heart of your home, good materials such as quality art supplies, a good stash of recyclables, and time spent creating with these items. I would, of course, extend this to other areas of learning, if it were in the family’s budget.
Little did I know that my husband would naturally go with this line of thinking when it came to my son’s piano practice. When my son expressed interest in taking piano lessons, my husband spent time researching what kind of keyboard my son would need to practice on. (Granted, “research” is my historian-husband’s middle name!) At that point, we bought a digital keyboard with weighted keys, and we found a piano teacher nearby to begin lessons. We told each other that we’d be happy if our son kept taking lessons for a full year because we both agreed that music education is a part of a well-rounded education.
But our son loved taking lessons, and he loved practicing. He also seemed to have a natural talent for knowing where to place his fingers….I mean, I would have to spend a year memorizing the notes, the letters, and where to put each finger! I have never been musically inclined. But my son seemed to get the piano easily, much like my mother did, though she didn’t play piano seriously. I guess the talent skipped a generation!
Meanwhile, my husband continued reading about the piano industry, proper piano playing technique, and what you need to do, if you’re a serious piano student. One of the best resources he has found are the videos created by Robert Estrin on YouTube.
(I should note that in project-based homeschooling, it’s more proper to let the child do the research, if they want to. If they are motivated, then they will continue to learn about what interests them, and they’ll do it at a pace and level appropriate to them. We don’t always go along with this line of thinking. To be a classical pianist, you have to start early and do it the right way, and there is no way that at nine-years-old, our son would even think about these things. In his other projects, it didn’t matter so much, but in this case, we need to be pro-active and guide him. We still, however, give him the option to stop playing piano, if he changes his mind about it. I would never push my child to do something unless he seemed pretty motivated to do it. There is a big difference, in my opinion, about pushing a child through a temporary lag and pushing a child who isn’t interested at all!)
As time went on, my son showed us that he could advance quickly through the material. His teacher told me that in her 20+ years of teaching piano, she never had a student move as quickly as my son.
I’m not saying he’s a genius at piano. Far from it. It doesn’t all come easy to him (of course). There are times when he’s tired and would rather not practice. As with anything a person pursues, there are ups and downs. But he continues to say he wants to play piano, and he’s striving to play the hard stuff. We realize he has the potential to take this very far, if he wants to, so we feel we need to give him the right tools and opportunities.
I think what also motivates him is our support. My husband or I (and many times both) sit with him while he practices twice a day. Each practice has been anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 hour (and now getting longer), so it’s a huge commitment on our part. We love doing it, but it takes a huge chunk of our day. We also help him find music to listen to online, listen with him, read about composers, etc. (Again, I credit my husband with doing most of this.) Basically, we’re as excited about music as he is.
And not only that, but because he progressed much quicker than expected, we advanced to an upright piano, and it wasn’t long after that that we traded it in for a grand piano. When we were shopping for the grand piano, we also met a teacher whose knowledge and focus were in line with the goals my son has, and when this teacher offered to teach our son, we felt we couldn’t pass up the offer. I’m sure plenty of people think we’re crazy, but they don’t know our son like we do.
I told my son that DISCIPLINE is when you have a goal and you work to get that goal even when you don’t feel like it. I told him he has discipline, and I’m very proud of him for that!
Through my husband’s research, we’ve learned that if our son ever decides to pursue a career in music, it’s essential that he starts very young and does it right. He’ll be competing against the best pianists that started playing at much earlier ages. Some of them are already well ahead of him. So, we encourage him to keep going because we see a talent and potential, and because of that, we know he might pick this as his career when he gets older and more mature. We don’t want to think that we didn’t do everything we could to help him, if he does.
Of course, we’re fine if he doesn’t pick music as a career. After all, music is a difficult career path, and most musicians make little money. But there are many ways to use music in one’s life, and there are other careers that a musical training can lead to. If nothing else, it will enrich his life and connect him to other people. This makes me happy.
A big part of project-based homeschooling is observing your child to see where he puts his energy. This is because sometimes actions speak louder than words. So with this in mind, here are some other ways we know music has become a deep interest to our son:
He loves watching classical music on television. He’s watched countless classical music videos on YouTube. With his father, he is slowly watching the entire 2015 Tchaikovsky piano competitionThis is at his request.
He doesn’t seem to mind hearing about the tidbits his father learns in his research on music and piano playing. (Which is quite remarkable, if you ask me!)
Most of all, in the last few months, my husband and I have started taking turns taking him to the free classical concerts at two nearby universities. He’s been to 10 this year! Faculty and student recitals are always free and open to the public, and some of the other concerts put on by the university are very inexpensive. Watching my son’s eyes sparkle with excitement whenever we go to a concert is such a joy, and a great testament to his love of this music. I mean, how many kids would be patient enough to sit through classical concerts?!
This has been a long post, so thank you if you’ve taken the time to read the whole thing! I am always so happy to hear your thoughts and learn about the activities your children are doing. Please leave a comment, if you have a moment.