Friday, June 7, 2013

Only stick with something if you like it

There's an interesting post over on Segullah about piano lessons and whether or not to allow your kids to quit taking them.

I play the piano, although not much more than hymns. I was ward organist for a couple years, mostly because no one else could play, not because I was that great. (I used the bass coupler rather than playing with the pedals, although I did take an organ class to try to learn to play with my feet.) I think it's a life skill to play the piano. You tune other instruments to the piano. You accompany people singing and other instruments with the piano. You learn the notes, many styles of music, and possibly more than that - a little bit of discipline.

I do wish I was better at music theory and being able to do things like play jazz or make up songs on the fly or transpose music into another key on the fly. But I'm okay with being able to play most of the hymns and learning a song if I need to. I actually only took lessons for maybe 3 years. I don't remember wanting to quit or asking to quit or how lessons ended. It might have been a financial deal, as we didn't have a lot of money. I'll have to ask my parents. I just didn't take lessons anymore but kept up on my own. The first Sunday I turned 12, I was playing piano in priesthood meeting. Preparing a hymn and prelude for priesthood meeting was something that drove me to practice, because I needed to be able to play. I wasn't just practicing some scale for a piano teacher.

My wife quit when she was young and wishes she could play better. A lot of people feel that same way. I know a lot of people quit and don't feel bad. A lot of people don't quit and do feel bad, because they hate music and their parents for it. Everyone is different.

That said, I wonder about the culture that seems to be growing across the country, within and without the church to just embrace who you are and not try to push yourself to be something you're not. I get it, that we need to love ourselves, although not in a prideful way, and love others and accept them for who they are. That is great. But you can love and accept that you're not musical and still learn to play the piano. Whatever happened to seeking earnestly the best gifts? In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul lists a ton of gifts and points out that not everyone has same gifts, but then finishes up by recommending that we develop the gifts we don't have.

I don't pretend that piano is the be-all and end-all and that everyone really has to play, as my favorite line from Mulan goes, "Well, we can't all be acupuncturists." But back to the culture thing, the comments in the blog post I linked above are as telling as the post itself. One comment in particular says:

Why on earth would you force your children to do anything like that (music lessons, sports, whatever) if they don’t want to do it? Have them try different things and only stick with something if they like it. And you’re wrting about piano lessons as if every child takes piano lessons. That’s a rather odd thing to think.

No, not everyone takes piano lessons. All the more reason to be the person who does. Seek the best gifts. Be the one who steps up where others have been afraid to. On my mission, in one area I was teaching our branch president how to play the piano. My parents bought a little learning how to play kit the church had in the distribution center and sent it to me, including a simplified hymnbook, and I left it with him when I left the area. He played one verse, one hand of a very simple hymn in sacrament meeting and completely slaughtered it, but he was learning. I could have played most hymns much better, but I would be gone in a few months, and who knew if the next elders who came would be able to play.

The more disturbing part, however, is the first thought. Only do something if you like it. What if you don't like reading scriptures? Just stop reading them, I guess. What if you don't like cooking? Hope you marry someone who cooks well or get a good enough job you can afford to eat out all the time, I guess. What if you have a stubborn child who doesn't like doing anything you ask of them? Just stop asking them to do things, I guess.

As much as I disliked the old lesson manuals and rarely taught from them, one thing has stuck with me from one of the lessons. I'd have to search to find which manual and lesson it was, but the idea was that young children may not be experienced enough to be able to understand spiritual promptings. (Sometimes they're more in tune than we are, but that's a different discussion.) But as parents and leaders of youth, our job is to help guide and direct those in our care in the same way the Spirit should be guiding and directing us. That way the youth learn to seek and find answers and follow the guidance they are given from someone they trust, eventually being able to transition away from listening to us and towards listening to the Spirit.

Maybe it's the piano or maybe it's something else. Teach them to sacrifice and do things for others. Teach them to serve. Teach them a foreign language. Teach them to cook and clean up after themselves. Teach them to garden. Teach them to push themselves. Keep in mind, however, that your example is as important as what you're telling them. You practice the piano yourself, whether or not you already know how to play. I have a personal policy to not ask someone to do something that I'm not willing to do myself. Let them see that you're doing hard things, too, so they don't think we're just trying to live out our broken dreams through them or that we're being lazy and making them change a diaper just because we don't want to.

If we don't try to push them to do something that would be good for them, what they'll learn is that they don't have to stick with anything they don't like because that's just how they are. When the Spirit prompts them to do something they don't want to do, they will have learned from us to ignore that prompting, as it will eventually go away like our promptings did. That’s a rather odd thing to teach.

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