I firmly believe that music makes the world a better place, and that the joy of making music should be shared. That being said, however, it is important as teachers and parents to reflect on how difficult it can be for our students and children to actually do that! This is especially important as we prepare them for holiday performances and up-coming recitals. In our culture, sadly, music has become something that is “done” by professionals, and it is expected to be flawless. In a recording studio, musical performances of all kinds are auto-tuned and tweaked to the point where it isn’t humanly possible to reproduce the result.
My son works in audio production, and proudly shows me, step by step, all the changes that he makes to a track before it is ready to be released. What goes in can truly be only remotely related to what comes out! Is it any wonder then, that performers will chose to “lip synch” when out on tour. They are severely criticized for that …. but the criticism is even more pronounced if what they perform on stage does not meet the expectations laid out by the perfection on their CDs. Our participation in the experience of music has now become primarily that of listener and critic. The making of music is no longer a social activity.
We do not go to visit friends and family with the expectation that someone will bring out a guitar or a fiddle, or sit down at the piano or the organ, and that we will sit around and clap, tap and sing. Even in some of our best University departments of music, where our brightest young musicians will be practising and rehearsing for up to 8 hours a day, you do not often find students just sitting around with friends and playing for fun. It would be in these informal settings where we would hear the squeak of a bow, the squawk of a clarinet, a harmony played in the wrong spot, or Great Grandma singing joyously at the top of her lungs …. completely out of tune. And it would be here, in the company of family and friends that we could learn to accept that mistakes will happen, because it is not the perfection that matters most, but the enjoyment of sharing. Instead, unfortunately: ? We do not sing for the fear that we may be a little out of tune ? We do not get up and dance for the fear that someone will deem us ungraceful or silly ? We do not play for the fear of making a mistake ? And we do not perform for the fear that we may be judged and found lacking It is in the face of all this pressure to be perfect that we ask our children and students to get up in front of family, friends and strangers and share the things that they have learned. They are nervous … sometimes even downright scared. Because they are not like the computers in the recording studio, mistakes will happen, and as we all know, it is not easy to make mistakes in public. The expectation to present a perfect performance can be quite overwhelming. And yet, in spite of all this, I have the privilege as a music teacher to watch as my students, one after the other, get up and try their best. I see them overcome their fears and fight through to the end, no matter what. I also get to witness the support and encouragement from their families and friends. As an adult and parent, it can be a humbling experience to see our children get up and do something that we know we ourselves could not do. As a teacher, these performances can highlight what a privilege it is to be able to share in the growth and development of the students in our care. As a musician, however, it makes me wish that there were more opportunities for my students to experience the joy of sharing music without the pressure to be perfect.