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Tuesday, February 19, 2002

Teach Your Children Well

As I passed through the Seattle Center, I noticed that there was some sort of piano recital hosted by a Chinese cultural society. The first thing that gave me concern was the table of trophies and ribbons near the stage--this wasn't going to be a concert but a contest. The kids who were to compete were all Chinese-American between 8-13 years old, if I had to guess. Before things started, they were screwing around as kids will do until a grownup announced over the microphone that the games were to begin.

One by one the kids sat down at the piano on stage and ripped through their short pieces with about as much joy as if they were typing "now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country" on an old typewriter. Some of them were good, some quite good but none of them seemed to be having any fun with the music. One young performer returned to her seat after her recital. "I messed up," she admitted. "You messed up," her mother, obviously the supportive type, reassured her. Ouch! That's going to come up in therapy someday.

Only when pairs of kids sat down to play pieces for four hands did any of them seem to loosen up. It was as if they could be released from the burden of living out their parents' dream for them if their failure was shared. Two little boys laughed joyously even through a few mistakes in their rendition of Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. They probably caught hell from their parents for that performance but I enjoyed it. The children made me uncomfortable but the parents were ten times more uptight. I don't think that any of them heard a single note that was played. It was more like they heard every note by itself as if they were looking down a long column of figures waiting for a figure to be out of place. They only heard the mistakes. I heard some pretty lovely music.

Most of these kids already play the piano better now than I probably ever will but I have met the older brothers and sisters of kids like these and most of them have abandoned music all together. As soon as their parents stop forcing them to play, they give it up completely and without further thought. It just kills me that these parents really feel that it is necessary to hand out trophies to these kids like it is some sort of kennel show. It is the same with sports. Kids today can't just go out and play a pick-up game of baseball. They are dragged to the ballpark by their parents and yelled at by a coach and generally organized half to death.

I lament that I started playing an instrument late in life. I will never be much of a musician. I do love music and at least I can talk about music intelligently which is more than I can say for lots of people who probably started out like these talented kids. They have had the love of music flogged out of them. Some of them probably still have the trophies they were awarded on days like today.

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