Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Child Prodigies amd "Music"

In a surprisingly compelling essay in the NYTimes magazine of November 4 Andrew Solomon has written about parenting child prodigies.  Among other pertinent points he notes the similarities between the challenges of  raising a child with physical disability and one of prodigious talent.  I am impressed with his thoughtfulness and recommend the piece.

I do take issue, however, with the way our culture assumes music to be a thing external to the individual, to be mastered as is the alphabet or multiplication tables.  I do not find that to be the case and I base my teaching of children on the notion that music is as powerfully internal as external to every individual child, as it was clearly powerfully internal to me as a young child.*  Thus I continue to learn from an integrated student population that ranges from a severely developmentally-challenged young man to a brilliant teenage girl with many variants, some not readily identifiable, in between.

Accepting that music is at least as real internally as out in the open puts the emphasis on listening rather than on execution.  As each student learns to value his or her individual musical propensity she is learning also to listen to the development of the other individuals in the community.  This enables each to follow paths of their own choosing, whether improvisational music making or fascination with Beethoven sonatas, with no fear of judgment coming from either peers or parents.

The excitement each finds in the motivation of the others nurtures their mutual desire to take part in this extraordinarily direct means of communication.

Two uses of the word "music" come readily to mind:  The first, a song by Leonard Bernstein, one of his several Children's Songs: "I Hate Music!"  the lyric continuing: "...but I love to sing."

The second is Henry Purcell's song: "Music!  Music for a while shall all our cares beguile."    "Music" is set each time on a single sustained pitch. Stationary?  Unmoving?   I don't think so.
*Tonal Refraction arose as an expression of powerful child responses to specific pitches in a Mozart sonata I played as a 12-year-old.