As a musician and music teacher, I frequently hear "I'm just not talented." "I'm too old to learn to play music." "I'm tone deaf." This, from people who, in other areas of their lives, are extremely competent. Many people have the idea that talent is something you are either born with or you're not. They get the message that the ability to learn slows as you age or that not knowing how to carry a tune equals tone deafness.
Lets talk about talent and age. My parents grew up in hard circumstances. Music lessons were a luxury that they could not afford. My mother paid for her first lessons on the violin at age 18 even though she'd been pining for lessons since she was a toddler. She vowed that her children would have music lessons and have the opportunity she missed. As a result, I grew up in a home filled to the brim with music. I asked to play the violin and got my first one at age 3. I began taking lessons at a music school in New York called Ithaca Talent Education. Interesting name, right? This is because the owners, Sanford and Joan Reuning, believed that talent is taught, not inborn. I never saw anyone not able to learn what was being taught at that school. My mother asked me to be her violin teacher when I was 14. Imagine the humility that took for her to treat me, her teenage daughter, as her teacher. Because of her, I learned how to teach adults and they are some of my favorite students.
One thing I have learned about adults is they often sell themselves short when it comes to learning new things. The science behind the brain's ability to learn is fairly simple and can happen at any age. Do something that makes you feel out of your depth and uncomfortable and your brain will grow new dendrites to manage this new activity. This applies to anything. By simply doing something new, you grow your brain. I challenge you to try it. Pick something and do it at least until it starts to feel comfortable. Then push the envelope and make yourself uncomfortable again. Every time you do this, you literally become smarter. At any age.
My mother had this attitude of learning throughout her life. She finished her Bachelor's degree in her sixties. She loved learning about anything and everything. She taught me to stay curious. Because of her example, I have continued to push myself to do things that are hard. Like opening a music school. Musicians are not typically great at business. I wasn't born with business sense. So here I am, outside of my comfort zone, growing dendrites in my brain.
Can you learn a musical instrument at age 30, 40, 50 and beyond? You certainly can. There are things you can do to learn the talent of music. Have you always wanted to play the cello or piano? My father finally learned to play piano in his seventies . He never thought it was possible but thanks to my mother, he dared to try. I know if he can, then so can all of us.
My dear father is another story for another blog post. I know I still need to cover tone deafness since I brought it up in the beginning. I promise I will, but it deserves its own story. For today, make yourself a promise to expand your knowledge in some way that makes you feel a little out of your depth. I'd love your comments on how that goes for you.
Kenzie Moore has been learning the piano since September, 2018. She just earned her Apprentice Wristband on the Musical Ladder! Kenzie pushes herself to progress and loves to play. She also is very supportive of her friend, Isabela Rabesa in learning the violin. She sits in on her lessons and cheers her on. She is a team player, for sure!
Soulful singing that brought a tear to the eye was Jesse Christensen’s trademark. He was always ready to share his love for life through song. At his big barn home on 50 acres, he even had a stage in his Great Room and a wagon bed stage on his lawn out by the workshop. He was well known around town for his singing at various well- known social, lodging and eating establishments and events. He often brought others along, including his son, Colter, on cajon and myself on fiddle. My daughter, Christie, said he always made everyone feel important. He brought out the best in people. He made them feel things through music that they were reluctant to face in real life.
Jesse was humble about his self-taught rhythm guitar skills. He confided to his wife, Leslie, that he wanted to study music as a boy but his family was too poor to afford lessons. Instead, he taught himself to sing and play guitar by listening studiously to recordings and learning the music by rote. He never learned to read notes. Leslie said he wished to be able to give other poor kids the chance to study music so they didn’t have to do it the hard way like he did.
He never got that chance in life. He was killed on February 14, 2017 in an avalanche while snow biking the Flattops. His last words were heard by his friend, Sean, while they were trekking through the snow before the avalanche hit: “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Sean barely survived the avalanche but Jessie never had a chance. His passing left a gaping hole in many hearts. It took two memorials to accommodate all who mourned him. It still makes me weep when I think of all the wonderful memories made while playing music with him. No more memories can be made now.
Leslie came to me last February on the first anniversary of his loss to ask my thoughts about putting together a foundation to accomplish Jesse’s dream of making music lessons accessible to all. Together, we talked about what he would want — not an easy pass, but a way to give those who really wanted it a leg up. So Jesse’s Music in the ‘Boat was born. Leslie formed a 501(c)3 non-profit, a foundation to offer grants to deserving music students in Steamboat. Jesse, up there in Heaven, has still found a way to make music on Earth!
Tell them about us and get rewarded!
Many people give instruments as Christmas gifts but don’t know where to get affordable lessons. Sadly those new instruments sit in the corner and gather dust. You can help! If you know of a friend in this predicament, tell them about us. We’ve got handy pass along cards to make it easy for you in our school. If your friend signs up for one month’s worth of lessons, you get a certificate for a free lesson on any instrument you choose! It doesn’t even have to be the one you are learning now. You will also get your name in a drawing for a big prize! Our next prize drawing is February 14, 2019.
So take a few cards home with you when you finish your lesson this week and give them out to friends and neighbors. Tell them how much you enjoy your lessons. They will appreciate it and you will be appreciated by us!
Beauty comes from difficulty, not from ease.
Between Christmas and New Years, our family decided to take a drive to Southern Utah, to see Goblin Valley where a scene was shot from one of my favorite movies, Galaxy Quest. I could see how the producer saw a certain desolateness of a foreign planet in the rock pillars that crop up everywhere. I also saw a raw beauty in the soft red rock. I asked my husband, who loves geology, what happened to form the rocks this way. He said it was constant wind erosion over millions of years. The valley is very distinctive from the surrounding landscape and yet the same soft red sandstone is everywhere in over a hundred mile radius. I wondered why this particular place got eroded in this way and not the rest of the area. I’m sure there is a scientific explanation.
I think sometimes we feel difficulties are unfairly targeting us. “Why me?” we may ask. If the rocks of Goblin Valley had a consciousness, as Galaxy Quest screenwriters fancifully depict, would they ask “Why me?”. Would they look at themselves today and see the reason why? Without adversity, beauty goes unrecognized. Our character goes unmoulded. But with adversity, we learn what real joy and accomplishment is. Our struggle is to our advantage.
Practicing music is one of those struggles that often becomes a fight between parents and children. Parents never win and often students quit. The parents are then relieved because the fight is over. But what if we kept the struggle an inner one? What if you, the parents, step back and let your child find their own reasons to practice? Our Academy gives one big reason: Musical Ladder System wristbands, certificates and trophies are a visual reminder to students that practice is rewarding. When they accomplish a goal, they often want to show you, either in a home performance or in a recital. Invite them to perform for you. Praise them. Brag about them. They will see the beauty in their struggle and work all the harder to feel that feeling of accomplishment. Your relationship with your child is saved. And you, as parents, can just enjoy the view.
Holly Fielding, Director