In the last few years my husband Robin has been developing our garden and I’ve experienced that amazing delight of vegetables grown in a hothouse. Picking fresh tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and cucumbers as needed is a delight through the summer. Those grown outside the hothouse often don’t do quite as well. The plants are the same but the environment hugely impacts their growth.
What is your musical environment like? Let me tell you a bit about the impact of mine during that growth time.
I was blessed to be raised in a musical family. I had four siblings before me who had all progressed in their music on various instruments, so it was expected that I would do the same.
I can’t say I loved the discipline of practice expected of me. It even annoyed me at times that an earlier sibling’s amazing work ethic was often cited as a shining example. But there were advantages to having music teachers as parents. I enjoyed exploring the different instruments we had in the house. These were periodically hired out. (Hmm – I don’t remember the piano accordion ever leaving the house, though.) I’m grateful too that my parents were happy for me to explore playing by ear through certain “modern” books they had to help with this.
At all different times of the day there was the sound of music from pupils who came to the house for lessons, or from my parents practicing music for the latest show when they were musical directors for the local theatre society. There were recorder and violin classes that I participated in on Saturday morning – again because my parents were teaching them.
I remember the detailed work I had to put in for piano competitions and exams. Along with this came the struggles I had with nerves before performances. I have huge sympathy for my own pupils now, because if it doesn’t come naturally it takes time and perseverance to learn how to perform.
My sister Marilyn and I would catch a rural bus sometimes after school so we could go to whichever small town my parents were teaching in. They would have travelled there earlier in the day with the caravan as a mobile teaching studio. We had a real piano in the back. No getting out of piano practice when our family went on holiday!
As I got older I was eager to play the current songs we sang in church and would spend hours at the piano working out ways to play them. They often did not have full music. I have a strong memory of my Dad coming to join me on the double bass and he would pick out a tenor part too. He loved music and would go to sleep at night listening to the classical concert program.
Back when I was about 10, my Mother was working through her teaching qualifications as an organist, so I often went with her to the local church where she could practice. I ended up doing some practice of my own before completing some organ exams too. It was a strange thing at first to play scales with heels and toes and then learn to play with 2 keyboard manuals and feet as well. There as a lovely Bach fugue she used to play that I enjoyed hearing: the theme coming in at staggered times and registers then blending together with clever counterpoint.
So, like a fugue in counterpoint, all my early experiences layered up, weaving together, to become the foundation for my current experiences as a musician, composer and teacher. My musical environment shaped my whole approach to music. I’m so grateful for all of it – even songs about the garden from big sisters!
How is your musical environment? It may not be the full hothouse experience, but there is a lot you can do as a parent to make your children’s environment a good place for them to learn as a musician, even if you are not one yourself.
Next time I’ll pass on some suggestions to help you.