Growing up, I never thought of music lessons being something only rich kids get. It was so normal to me. It was just something we did. My parents weren’t rich, but somehow we always took lessons, week after week. I never realized how much my parents really sacrificed to pay for cello and violin lessons all those years for my brother and me. I never realized that my younger siblings never really got lessons because my parents were using the money they had on lessons for the two older ones. I just happened to be the second child (and probably one of the most opinionated), so I got lessons. I never realized how many piano lessons my mom had to teach to pay for just the two of us to continue with the best teachers Sacramento had to offer. I think I get it now and I can’t even begin to imagine what my life would be like now if my parents had not made those sacrifices. Talking with my mom about it now, and being a mother myself, I’m only beginning to see how important it must have been for them to let us play. And because of the sacrifices my parents made for music, the course of my life was changed.
I started violin when I was four. I only started because my brother started a year prior and when he switched to the cello, I decided I was as good as him and could then do violin. My mom tried to discourage me then, but I wouldn’t have it. I wanted to play violin. So she relented and I started. And to this day I maintain that she’s crazy for giving in to little 4-year-old me. But I’m so thankful she did. I always knew that it was a choice I was making, not something my parents pushed on me. I remember a number of times being upset that I had to practice and saying I wanted to quit. My mom would always say, “Okay. Go call your teacher and tell her you won’t be coming back.” I never did. So I never quit (until that one time after high school for about 6 months when I was finally brave enough, but that’s another story for another day).
I’ll never forget the day my brother left his cello behind the van instead of putting it in the van before lessons and it was run over on the way out of the driveway. But that didn’t deter my parents from continuing music lessons. They found a new cello and we were back at lessons soon thereafter. I talked to a woman last week who plays the piano (which has really helped keep her hands flexible as she is now in her 80s) and her house burned down as a little girl. Her parents drove hours away to the big city in a different state the next day so that they could buy her a new piano so she wouldn’t miss a day of practicing. These parents had priorities.
Now I’m a music teacher. I have private students and I also teach for the East County Youth Symphony, which is a fantastic program. It’s free. Free music lessons. Free. Sometimes I have parents ask me what I charge for private lessons. When I tell them, they can’t believe how expensive it is. They don’t want to make that sacrifice. I understand that. I’m a parent. I don’t know how to prioritize what activities my kids do or what I’m willing to spend on any said activity. I don’t know where they will excel until I give them a chance. I can’t throw money into everything. Somehow I have to find what works for my child and point them in that direction. My parents didn’t know that music would work for me when I was four. But they gave me the opportunity to see.
Last week I played in a concert that the students from the youth symphony were required to attend. It wasn’t too long and we gave free tickets to all of the youth symphony students. I know of at least one sixth grade student who sat in the concert alone because his mother and sister didn’t want to pay the $8 a piece for their tickets, so they sat in the lobby and waited for it to end. I had another student who was doing quite well, but his mother, for whatever reason, is not allowing him to continue in my class. There is a bit of a time commitment because the parents are required to put in a few volunteer hours in exchange for their children being in music classes. It’s not a lot of time, and they pay nothing. This particular child still gets to have music at school, but he is quite talented and I can see that with a little bit of encouragement from his parents (and some lessons), he could do quite well. As a music teacher, it is hard for me to watch these students not achieve their full potential because of their parents priorities. Now, I understand that every parent has different priorities. I understand that nobody can do everything. But please, please, fork out $8 for a concert here and there to at least show support to your child. Go watch the concert with him. Show him that you will support him when he has his own concert. Show him that music is something that is worthwhile.
I have come to realize that I was one of the lucky ones. I was one of the ones who had parents who supported me. I have parents who attended all of my concerts (even though I’m pretty sure my dad slept through many of them). They drove me to countless rehearsals and lessons and spent lots and lots and lots of money on lessons. It was a priority. And for that, I’m so thankful.