Look deeper to find the real issue

Music - August 2006


Fred Koch

Q:My son has been playing the trumpet since the fourth grade and seems to have a talent for it. But now he says he would really rather play the clarinet. I'm perfectly willing to have him switch but he won't do it because he doesn't want to start seventh grade with a new instrument and end back in the beginner band while his friends stay in the advanced band. I've even offered to get him private lessons over the summer so he can catch up before school starts, but he won't do it. Instead he's talking about just quitting band after middle school. Any suggestions?

A:First of all, there are no hard and fast rules. Each situation is unique, but let's look at some possibilities. You say your son "seems to have some talent for" the trumpet. Is this your perception and does the band director back it up? Is it because he puts the necessary time into practicing or is it because he has a talent and can get by with less practicing than other kids? If he is one of the better trumpet players the band may need his leadership. This is an issue to consider and might be an angle to use if you want him to stay with the trumpet for another year.

As a parent, I would like to know why "he would really rather play the clarinet." What is his motivation? Not that kids don't switch instruments, but you need to dig a little deeper and find out his rationale. How committed (knowing his placement as a beginner next year but also not being willing to take some catch up lessons over the summer) can he be to the clarinet if he won't accept either option? Sounds like there might be more to this than meets the eye and you need to know as much information (as a sixth-grader will give) as possible.

As you know, peers become more and more important at this age and band can be a positive and significant social activity in addition to an important musical experience. If he has been playing for two years, chances are he has formed some good relationships with his trumpet buddies. So it is vital that you find out why he wants to abandon the trumpet when he could have another good year of music making with his pals. It could be something as simple as cute little Susy, the cheerleader, plays clarinet and he is just trying to find a way to get a little closer to her. Or something could have happened in the trumpet section that has set him off. Whatever the reason, there probably is some motive behind his declaration of affection to the clarinet and you need to know more.

It sounds to me that you have offered some good choices for him, but in the end the decision really has to be his. So be clear you will support him no matter what he decides.

If he is going to quit band after middle school anyhow, what's the point of starting up with the clarinet? Why not stay with trumpet? And how do you feel about him quitting after middle school? Have you talked about it? Remember that having three years of rewarding music making can sometimes be enough to help your child gain some appreciation for music and musicians-which was the point from the beginning. Right?

And if he does stop band, it does not mean he won't pick up something else later. So just make sure you have a good conversation about all the issues at hand and get ready for the possibility that he will walk in one day and say, "I would really rather play the electric guitar."

Fred's CD pick of the month

SNOOZE MUSIC, by Rick Scott, Jester Records, $15, www.rickscott.ca; ages 9 and under.

Even if I knew nothing of the story and background behind "Snooze Music," the sheer beauty of Rick Scott's new recording would be enough for me to recommend it as one of a handful of must-have CDs for quiet times.

But I read the liner notes and I know the story behind this terrific CD. Here is an excerpt: "May I tell you what happened? It was his heart. My son Sebastian was in a coma and for months his life hung in the balance. Our family gathered at his bedside and began to sing: songs from his childhood, musical prayers…. One unexpected morning he opened his eyes and began the long journey back…. In the melodic journey the comforter was comforted and 'Snooze Music' was born."

I am not exaggerating when I say this music is exquisite. Scott's main instrument is the dulcimer and it weaves in and out of lush, beautiful arrangements featuring other acoustic-only instruments including small string sections, fanciful recorder ensembles, even gentle, low-end brass instruments. Everything-the song selection, song placement, songwriting (five with vocals and six instrumentals), musicianship and artwork-is striking. Every note that is played, every word that is sung and even every visual graphic on the CD booklet are perfectly placed.

It bears repeating that the songwriting and musicianship are both exceptional. Scott wrote or co-wrote all the songs (some in collaboration with his producer, Valley Hennell) with the exception of "Slumbering Darling," which was penned by Stephen Foster in 1862.

I could not help but feel the hope, the fear and the love within each song as "Snooze Music" helped me sit up and think deeply about the idea that music is on this earth to soothe and move our spiritual soul. Rick Scott's story and music will make you want to go and hug your children with a new and revived understanding that life is truly a blessing. And don't we all need that reminder sometimes?

Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children's musician and producer. His Web site, www.BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch's past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to fred@bestchildrensmusic.com.

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