On a recent trip, we were treated to a Hungarian violinist who explained that she had not developed any skill until she committed to practice. I remembered with shame the three years of piano lessons I endured. Mom wanted her children to be cultured and well-rounded.
I can testify that it takes more than paying a piano teacher to beat some music into a child to produce a cultured human. My mother is an accomplished pianist, but attributed her prowess to the fact that she adored her piano teacher and practiced endlessly to please her. She set out to find a teacher that would invoke similar intimidation, if not admiration.
My interest in the piano quickly waned. Mom blamed my teacher for not being accomplished enough. In her place, she hired a lady who was only 4½ feet tall named “Mrs. Growth.” She smelled of garlic and dust and played the piano with more vigor than love. I cringed when she laid her hands on mine, trying to make me massage the keys into a more skillful “touch.”
I plodded deceptively along, rarely practicing, plunking out the tunes I knew and earning weekly scolding from my teacher.
It’s true that children who have music lessons are more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go to medical school, have higher GPAs and are less likely to get into trouble, according to http://Childrensmusicworkshop.com. More than 90% of high schools in America offer some sort of music program. Our current neighborhood has four or five skilled musicians that give private lessons. Most of their students seem to come and go much more cheerfully than I did. Approximately 32% of Americans participate in some sort of musical training.
Mom didn’t give up her quest against hooliganism. She read classic literature aloud to us. We listened to her read Charles Dickens’ “David Copperfield,” Frances Hodges Burnett’s “The Secret Garden” and other books.
This was a language I understood. If reading novels was culture, then I could be as cultured as any yogurt. The tradition of reading together mutated into storytelling, and then creative writing. Most of my siblings have had or attempted to have books published.
Mom encouraged our dramatic exploits. She praised our feeble efforts so much we developed more confidence than skill. Now, we all enjoy watching skilled performers. Plays, especially musicals, are part of American culture. Broadway, a street in New York City, is synonymous with fabulous musical plays. A play is not a success until it has played on Broadway.
I think Jeff was attracted to me because he knew my football family history. But he turned out to have a bit of culture himself. Though he had openly rebelled when his mother tried to bribe him to play the piano, he has an excellent singing voice and loves a variety of music. He regularly surprises me with tickets to traveling Broadway musicals. Even as I write, “76 Trombones” lilts from our stereo from “The Music Man.”
Mom was always studying Spanish. Growing up in California, we were surrounded with Spanish speakers and Mom wanted to be able to communicate in their language. We children studied a variety of languages in school and most of us are at least somewhat bilingual. I currently use the free Duolingo app to learn Spanish.
We all oohed and awed over Olympic figure skating. Other than that, dance was not part of our cultural training. Dad never danced and Mom was none-too-skillful.
Now, American children have ample access to music lessons, both private and school sponsored. Musicals, plays, audible books and paper books, both classic and modern are available online, on DVD and TV. On PBS, you can learn to paint pictures, learn to build, learn to play an instrument and listen to music of every quality.
My mom, Patricia Armstrong Mitchell Arnold, turned 90 this week. I’m grateful for her efforts to give us a wide variety of enriching experiences. I’m also grateful to be an American where so much culture is readily available.
Only in America, God bless it.