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In Which Crazy Uncle Meteechart Never Told You What Your Piano Recital Really Sounded Like


Sunday, a vortex created by my own inaction sucked me into a youth piano and choir recital.


Not only do I not have any children who play piano, I don’t have any children at all.  I don’t have any children who sing and I don’t have children who play with children that do and thereby obligate me to appreciate the nascent talents of my friends’ children.

So, I honestly still don’t know how I ended up there.  I know better than to ask my wife, although she could probably explain it all.

We arrived and climbed past a small-ish mob of Japanese children, dressed in their once-a-year finest and cavorting all over the steps, with and without Gameboys, under the unflinching eye of mothers who have let their inordinate admiration convince them that all of this is cute — over the muffled inner voice of their compulsions for social harmony and other watered down Confucianisms.  Because, that’s the crowd I roll with.

It was an appropriate introduction for what would follow.

It still amazes me, after all these years, how something so simple as stopping to remember which notes come next (over and over again) can totally ruin just about any composition.

Who needs rhythm anyway?  I mean, I pressed the keys for every note on the page, and even in same the order they’re written…

Fortunately, after a short time, a young woman in a navy blue dress sat down and it was as if someone finally turned on the music, perhaps to drown out all the noise.  She really was good; her playing had both emotion and sensitivity. After hearing her, you had to wonder how the kids who made the terrible racket just a moment earlier had mustered the courage to go on stage.

It had me pining for a time then there was a bar set at which a person was considered ready to perform.  “Practice your finger spans son, you’re not going out there with those chops.”  You couldn’t resist the thought if you were sitting where I was.

Thus my story came to be written on a blog called Teaching Artist. It’s that that’s just not the way we do it in our culture.  We put our students on stage pretty much whenever they feel like going up there.  And, I don’t see why we shouldn’t.  Really.  Being on stage is a good experience, so why put it off, right?  Practice is good.   Making pictures and playing music is good (note presumptive leap).  Then, every once in a while, especially during holiday seasons, we’ll all gather around you and clap our hands after you have demonstrated your attempt to do these things.  It seems very nice and very positive.

I’ve certainly installed a few exhibitions of notably unimpressive student art works.

Well, here’s an interesting aside:  Unlike music, visual art by children often has its fair share of sincere charm.  That’s why it was subject to the attention of so many 20th century modernists, as were paintings by the clinically insane.  It’s not really until art students hit their teens that some of them become capable of true visual offense.  Welcome to college ART 101…

So what is the best way to develop great artists and musicians?

… should we set standards and keep them off the stage and carry big heavy rulers while we teach?

Ha.  It was a trick question.  The thing to ask is why we teach our kids to paint and to play piano in the first place.

Almost no one enrolls their kids in art classes to that they will become artists.  Almost no one wants their kids to become artists.  “Musician!  Is that an earring, son?” Don’t get sappy.  It’s true.  Shit, if you’re in a Red State, your parents would probably just has soon have taught you Russian Roulette.

The thing is that learning to make art and music is the best way to learn to understand them.  Understanding them gives us access to centuries of thought an insight that very intelligent people have inscribed into images and notes.  Even most people who won’t risk their kids to the art world still perceive some value in art.  Everybody likes some sort of music.  Then, learning creative fields also gives us all sorts of byproduct skills that often have more impact than the art or music itself, like self discipline, self knowledge, critical analysis, and even hand-eye coordination.

So, I suppose that’s why most of us don’t seem bothered one bit by watching our kids just absolutely butcher the core principles of visual and musical composition.  Those aren’t the reasons we put our kids up there in the first place.  My history of unsteady employment is certainly grateful for all the non-majors who have come through my classroom.  (Truth is, at least in the intro classes, non-art majors usually put in a lot more effort than art majors — there’s a bit of “Uh, I’m not good at anything else” that leads kids to temporarily major in art.) I honestly believe that my classes benefited future artists and non future artists alike.

But, if you’ll let me whack kids with a ruler when they misuse the principles of design, I can’t say I’m beyond doing it.

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