Last September, my daughter Cali began recorder lessons at school. We also introduced her to guitar about a month later; she loved it, loved the teacher who gave her private lessons, but she told us she didn’t have quite the passion for it that she did for wind instruments.
In late November, we learned about a great clarinet teacher nearby who also leads the regional youth orchestra. Even though it was several months passed the official beginning of classes, the teacher — known far and wide as one of the most gifted clarinetists in the state — kindly took her in.
Playing clarinet (as anyone who plays clarinet or has attempted it knows) is a far greater challenge than playing the recorder. It’s a challenging instrument to master, period. Just learning properly to blow through the mouthpiece can be an immense challenge; some kids rise to it, others give up. I have videos of Cali’s first spirited, faltering attempts. If she got frustrated at times, she didn’t show it.
Is there a gene for stick-to-it-ive-ness? Because this kid has it. Just a month later, Cali was made an official member of the orchestra. Her teacher told us (spoiler alert: unabashedly bragging parent here) no one had ever advanced this fast. But each and every day, after Cali returned home from formal practice (which is several hours a day, five days a week), she kept practicing.
Well, practicing is not the word. She kept playing. And playing.
Ceci and I have never once had to remind her to practice. She plays and plays and plays — if anything, we have to reluctantly put a stop to it. After all, there’s more to life than this instrument, and there is also bedtime. But no reminders to play have ever been necessary. It’s not just that she’s disciplined, but that playing the clarinet for her is part of her being. I don’t know of any other way to put it.
If we let her, Cali would sleep with her clarinet. Her daddy worries, though, that she might clobber herself in her sleep.
An article I came across this week informed me that the development of children’s brains accelerates considerably faster with musical training.
On the one hand, I’m thinking, if this kid’s brain develops any faster, I’m in hot water. She already outthinks me at every turn. On the other, I’m also thinking, what a boon it is for the world, that music has such capacity to enrich and enhance a child’s flourishing — especially if, as I believe is very evident, it also leads, in tandem, to even more expansive development of a child’s heart.
At first, Cali’s clarinet ability was workmanlike at best. Now it is soulful. I find myself pausing from my work in my office just to absorb her music. It moves me. How is it possible that a nine-year-old can achieve this?
But then I think about kids’ capacity to learn many languages (and more than that, as I make the case in The Philosophy of Childing, kids, not adults, clearly invented human language, and they clearly still can invent new ones when the conditions are ripe).
Music, among many other things, obviously is a language. Little wonder this child who has learned Spanish and English and for a time Greek (and now wants to learn Japanese and Chinese, in some respects, learning the clarinet is child’s play for her — a child’s play that requires immense discipline and concentration and passion, to be sure, but that is effortless in the sense that assuming this discipline of learning the language of music, and the clarinet in particular, is second nature for Cali.
One of the reasons we left Philadelphia’s public school system is that, in their latest draconian budget cuts, music classes were no longer available for kids her age. Language programs also were done away with.
For me, this was cutting the heart out of the ability for a child to ‘child.’ Learning music, learning additional languages, starting at a young age in particular, are at the core of flourishing for one’s entire life.
Private music lessons, and private lessons for learning a language, are only for the well-off in Philadelphia. For the rest of us mere mortals, such pricey pursuits are out of reach. So Ceci and I had to take drastic measures, and find a way to live in circumstances in which our children could learn –absorb, really (that’s what kids do, they absorb; there is no ‘learning middleman’ at their age — except when parents and formal educators foist it upon them) — languages to their hearts’ content. We did that.
Now Cali plays the clarinet while little sister Cybele perches beside her and tries her hand at the recorder and the drums.
I have decided to take up the guitar. If musicality can help with a child’s development, certainly it can do the same for adults at any stage of life, and help us ‘child’ further. Surely studies will demonstrate that learning an instrument can contribute to our malleability of mind and heart no matter at what point in our lives we take the time to enter (or reenter, in my case) the world of music.
Many languages can be heard wafting throughout the Phillips household day and night. Our house is a very very very fine and musical house.