Thursday, September 1, 2016

Parents of young musicians: Finding community and support

We all have seen band parents, moms who shepherd children to countless music lessons, seemingly tough guy dads who tear up shamelessly at their child's solo performance.

But parenting a musically gifted child can be an isolating experience.


Many parents insist that their children try music lessons, given the documented social/emotional and academic benefits of music instruction. Most kids quit at some point, though, unless they truly find their passion in music. Those who stick with it are usually talented; music comes easily and is joyful, challenging, and meaningful. Practicing still might be a drag, but participating in ensembles, bands, orchestras, choirs and other joint ventures adds to the fun. Solo performances and auditions frazzle nerves, but reap a sense of accomplishment and are powerful learning experiences.

What is it like for parents whose children truly excel in music? In addition to navigating their own reactions and personal anxiety about their child's talents, they often become immersed in the musical experience. They know the music. They know when their child is off-key, playing a poorly phrased passage, or forgets a memorized section during a performance. They weather their child's aspirations and rejections. The power of their child's passionate performance swells in their hearts.

And like parents of intellectually gifted children, they often hide their reactions. They don't want to appear to boast or brag. They don't want to complain too much (after all, their child might be the best musician in the school - their concerns about how little their child practices might seem insignificant in comparison). Worries about performances or conservatory auditions seem esoteric when other parents are concerned about SATs or just getting their kids to complete homework. And parents who are not raising musically talented children may hold misconceptions similar to those often projected onto parents of intellectually gifted children.

How can parents of these talented children find a sense of belonging and community?

Parents of musicians thrive when they find other parents who understand their situation. This provides emotional support, a sense of community, but also helps with parenting decisions unique to their situation. Should I push my child to practice more? Should he go to a music camp? How does majoring in music at a liberal arts college compare with attending a conservatory? Should I worry about her ability to support herself as an adult musician? 

It may take some effort, but actively seeking out parents online or within your child's music organizations can be a life changer. While you wait for your child at his lesson, speak with the other parents in the waiting room. When you sit through choir or jazz band rehearsals, reach out to other parents. See if any of these venues offer parent meetings or workshops. For example, Philadelphia Sinfonia, an elite youth orchestra, offers a workshop where parents of Sinfonia alumni provide advice and support regarding applying to conservatories and colleges. Similar options may be available in your community.

Parents of musically gifted children can feel isolated. But when they seek out like-minded parents, they will have found a community where they can share their joys, uncertainty and disappointments with others who will truly understand.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page blog hop on Community. To see more blogs, click on the following link: https://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_community.htm



11 comments:

  1. I love this analogy. It's something that I have never considered before. (Probably because neither my children nor I are musicians.) Thanks for enlightening me so I am able to empathize with musical parents.

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    1. Thanks, Jen. I think that any situation parents have to manage outside the norm brings its share of challenges. I appreciate your feedback.

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  2. Very helpful, Gail. And a refreshingly different topic from what I'm used to. I'm not a parent but I always tear up when I hear kids playing music or singing. So touching. Thanks.

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    1. Thanks, Paula. I appreciate your feedback!

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  3. Hi Gail, I really enjoyed your post! Thank you for the comparison to parenting of academically gifted children, also -- I am glad for your insight on both (sometimes overlapping) worlds. Thank you very much.

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    1. Emily, Thank you for your comments. I think that parenting any child who is exceptional in some way results in feeling separate from other parents. So important to find a sense of community in these situations.

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  4. I'm not religious but wanted my then young daughter to learn piano because I thought it would be good for her soul, something that was hers and perhaps an outlet for a variety of emotions, rather than something taught by school in order to pass exams. Because my daughter has both I can compare the academic side to the music. Because the music side doesn't depend on school there are none of the problems with pace and challenge etc., but I get the impression some people think she is only at her current level because we imposed a strict practice regime and perhaps threatened to burn a few stuffed animals (that notorious Amy Chua anecdote). In reality her practice is largely self-managed and she typically does less in a week than some children undertake per day, but she's still playing which may not have been the case if we had been 'pushier'. The interesting thing is that here in England many people who are very hostile to any kind of academic selection or ability grouping, seem quite content with that for music, dance, sport etc. I have significantly more social freedom to talk about more exceptional musical ability than I do about more exceptional ability in e.g. mathematics.

    Yes, public performances are very difficult to witness. There is very little room for mistakes and I just want her to get through a piece without tripping and falling to pieces. It's lovely when other people appreciate her playing, but unless it's an examiner for a grade examination that's the least of my concerns. "You must be so proud"? No, I'm just so relieved.

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    1. Thank you for your heartfelt comments. Yes, many people don't understand that a child can excel without parents pushing them. You make a good point, though, that it is often easier to discuss musical, athletic, or artistic talent than intellectual or academic abilities.

      I completely know what you mean about performances - parents hang on every note and just want their child to get through it without too much damage! Thanks again for your feedback.

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  5. Wow... Amazing thoughts from caring people. I am lucky to have 4 musically talented children that live and breathe love for all elements of music. Making a melody, learning a new piece, reaching each milestone and the camaraderie of it all! Thanks, Gail, for your thoughts and for having this site.
    Rock on...whether it jazz, classical, drumline, classic rock, or marching band music!!

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    1. Thanks so much, anonymous. It is a joy when your children love (and play) music. It fills the house - and your heart. So appreciate your feedback.

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