When Richard and Jean Ann Buller's oldest son, Peter, was a little boy, he heard the Metropolitan Boys Choir of Minneapolis/St. Paul sing the Minnesota Vikings' fight song and saw one kid put on a hat with pigtails. "He said, ‘Mom, I want to be in that choir,' recalls Jean Ann. His younger brother, Martin, auditioned just as soon as he was old enough, and had the leadership of his older brother to rely on. Today, Peter is a freshman in college and is considering majoring in music. Martin just started high school and will play the bass drum in the marching band.
Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" was the first piece that hooked New Jerseyan James Stith, 14, "so I found more music by Beethoven. Then I figured if I liked Beethoven, I might like Schubert . . . then Schumann . . . then Chopin; it continued like that," he says. "I got into music because I was interested in it. School is something I am forced to do, a bunch of lectures. I have to do things I might not want to do. But with music, if I don't like something I can just find another piece to play. If I'm angry, I can release all that anger by playing a sad song, and afterwards I feel better. You can't do that with a math problem!"
James started playing piano five years ago, and has developed into a top-flight jazz and classical pianist. He also knows how to play the guitar, the accordion, and the clarinet. His teacher was trained at Juilliard. "She really connects with me. She's not as hard on me as other teachers have been, but she encourages me to work to my highest potential. Twice a week we have a one-hour lesson, and I look forward to it. I would like to be a concert pianist or a composer, or even a bar pianist."
Blaire Reinhard took her talents in the arts all the way to a professional career. She recalls being involved in "as many music and drama extracurricular activities as I could fit into my schedule" when she was growing up. "And I was fortunate to have teachers who encouraged me to continue with summer programs and select ensembles," she says. At the University of Virginia, Blaire joined an a cappella group and eventually became their music director. "Being a member of the Virginia Sil'hooettes truly set me up for most of the challenges I have faced as an adult musician. It helped build my confidence performing in front of a large audience as well as my ability to lead a group of my peers. Going through the audition process, sight signing, harmonizing, and improving my vocal strength prepared me for future session singing. Music skills aside, this singing group also taught me a lot about discipline and responsibility. We all learned that if we missed a rehearsal or failed to prepare our part, the group would suffer. With competitions and concerts on the horizon, there was a lot of motivation to improve."
Even for a child who's not interested or talented enough to have professional aspirations, music offers huge benefits. Regular practice promotes helps her learn diligence, conscientiousness, and prioritization. Through the audition and performance cycle, young musicians learn both that hard work has rewards and that sometimes, your best isn't good enough — but you can still enjoy the journey.
To maximize your musician's learning:
- Join the club: If your child plays or sings on his own, encourage him to form a quartet, jazz band, or a musicale with other kids.
- Beat the drum: Start a drumming circle and meet every week. (For real drama, try this outdoors, around a bonfire!)
- Go international: As a family, focus in on a particular country or culture each holiday season, and learn all you can about its music and songs.
Notes for the Non-Musician
If your child doesn't have the interest or talent to perform, remember that music is ideal for plain ol' mood-boosting, whether you're playing an instrument, blasting a CD, or dancing at a club. You can't mold your child into Beethoven or Bon Jovi, but putting her in touch with music acquaints her with a pleasure she can enjoy for a lifetime. To encourage a child who is disinterested in music, try:
- Attend a concert: Let him choose the group. Even drive to an out-of-town venue and spend the night. Invite him to bring a friend.
- Show her that music is fun: Go places where music is presented in an energetic and positive way — in more intimate, familiar settings like coffeehouses and parks. Look for open-mike nights where children can perform, or listen to others perform.
- Make your own music: Keep easy-to-play instruments around the house for fun, no-pressure performances. Yamaha makes a "Real Rhythm" bongo, floor tom, konga, and tambourine that are just right for young people.
- Do it together: Stay with your child while she practices her piano or violin, and join in if you can. This can extend practice time a bit, and demonstrates the full, rich sound of collaboration. Short, more frequent practice sessions are better than long ones, suggests Jean Ann Buller.