When my oldest child was born fifteen years ago I was in the middle of a doctoral program in music. I spent all of my time practicing opera arias and taking music history classes in which we debated whether the Classical Music Period began in 1723 or 1750, as if man’s existence hinged upon this distinction.
Ben was born and his education began – from that mindset. As soon as he could speak my husband and I began teaching him “facts.” Who was the first president of the United States? How many inches are there in a foot? How does the sun create energy?
We would drill Ben on this essential knowledge in front of our family and friends and he would obediently recite, “George Washington, twelve, fusion.”
I look back on this time and feel a little bit silly. My error was not in loving my son so much that I wanted to set about teaching him immediately, but it was how I went about it. I know now that there is an essential difference between children and adults and it is profound.
Children experience the world through their senses. They are wired for exploration and do this with the help of their five senses: seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. (Think of a toddler who puts every toy he sees into his mouth!)
We adults experience the world through our intellect, taking in everything and processing it based on the knowledge that we have already acquired. As we grow older, we can lose the ability to experience the world through our senses and intuition. Driven by responsibility, our daily to-do lists, work, family, and financial obligations it’s really no wonder.
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON
After World War II, violinist Shinichi Suzuki opened a small music school in Matsumoto in order to provide the Japanese children with something nurturing amidst a nation decimated by war. Suzuki once said, “Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens, and noble human beings. If a child hears fine music from the day of his birth, and learns to play it himself, he develops sensitivity, discipline, and endurance. He gets a beautiful heart.”
The Suzuki Method of music is rooted in the principle that the development of any child – Japanese, British, or Aboriginal – depends on his cultural environment. Using the example of language acquisition, Suzuki pointed out that a child will learn to speak his mother tongue from an early age through listening, repetition, and encouragement. In that way, learning how to play the violin or the piano can be done naturally at first, by hearing good music in a child’s daily environment.
CREATING A BEAUTIFUL ENVIRONMENT
I now have three children and I’m certain that there are countless times when I forget what I’ve learned about the nature of children. However, when I’m most mindful, I try to give the kids experiences that will delight their senses: taking walks with our dog Sandy on a beautiful day or having fresh-cut tulips on the kitchen table from time to time. My husband and I like to cook new foods that the kids have never tasted before. And we like to attend concerts whenever we can so that they are able to hear beautiful music as an aspect of their lives.
On January 17, 2016 at 3 p.m. the Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association will present its 38th Annual Graduation Concert at Spivey Hall. Twenty kids will be performing in their “Sunday best” on a stage where the finest musicians in the world have stood. (If you take a stroll backstage you can see their photos, autographed headshots of Itzhak Perlman, Bryn Terfel, Murray Perahia and so many more.)
Our lives are busy. There’s so much to do and many Suzuki parents like you may have a hard time justifying a trip down Interstate-75 to Spivey Hall on a Sunday afternoon, especially if your own child isn’t performing in this particular concert. While there are many wonderful reasons to take the time for a family excursion like this, here’s a short list – based on our kids’ five senses – that might put a different spin on AASPA’s upcoming concert.
Anyone who has visited Spivey Hall — Clayton State University’s exquisite concert venue — has undoubtedly noticed the 50-foot-high and 37-foot-wide pipe organ, adorned with gold leaf casework that serves as the focal point of the space. Some refer to Spivey Hall as a jewel of Atlanta, noting the 400-seat hall for its intimacy, elegance, and stellar acoustics. Seated in those teal, velvet-upholstered seats will be other bright-eyed kids and their parents to meet.
This graduation concert features the music of Mozart, Mendelssohn and more. Your child will hear a collection of pieces within the Suzuki repertoire and be able to envision himself onstage at the Steinway piano. After intermission world-renowned, professional pianist Robert Henry will play pieces by Chopin and Carl Vine. Henry has garnered world-wide acclaim, winning several international piano competitions. He’s performed solo recitals in the most prestigious concert halls including New York’s Carnegie Hall, Washington D.C. Kennedy Center, and London’s Wigmore Hall.
Playing the piano is a tactile endeavor and develops fine motor skills. Your child won’t be seated at the Steinway at Spivey Hall this time, but will feel the excitement and anticipation of each performer as she approaches the piano bench and begins to play. For just a few hours, you will be able to relax and enjoy the music together with your family.
When you walk into a concert hall, it’s fun to see the rest of the audience all dressed up, the ladies adorned with perfume for a special occasion. You’ll see families holding bouquets of sweet-smelling flowers, ready to bestow upon their young pianists.
Every graduation concert culminates with a lovely reception, prepared by Suzuki mom Layla Vanderslice. Cookies and punch, fruit and cheese plates will be waiting for you after the last bow is taken. The reception is a wonderful time to greet others in your piano studio and chat with other families who love music too.
Take a moment and consider what a fabulous afternoon you’ll have with your family, listening to piano music at Spivey Hall next weekend. The concert will be held at 3 p.m. on January 17 at Spivey Hall on the campus at Clayton State University. Tickets can be purchased online at www.spiveyhall.org or by calling the Spivey Hall box office at 678-466-4200. (Adults $15/Students $7.50)