February 14, 2011 at 4:54 PM
A few weeks ago, I took my 17-year-old daughter, Ariana, an accomplished viola player, to the East Coast to audition at a top-tier music conservatory,
The audition was, of course, important - where you go to college affects your whole life. Waiting for her turn, I asked Ariana if she was nervous. “No, mommy, I’m so excited to play for them!” She was like Cinderella going to the ball.
It felt to me like the end of a long road, and the start of a new one. When Ariana and her brother Zak were little, I suddenly became a single mother. I believed that I would never be able to send them to college without scholarships. So I groomed them in something that, as a symphonic violinist, I knew well: music. I started Zak on violin at 6 and Ariana at 5 (she switched to viola in her teens). During those hard times, I sacrificed paying my utilities bills in order to buy their instruments and pay for their lessons.
The first piece in Ariana’s first college audition was a dramatic Brahms sonata. I practically glued my ear to the door. It seemed to me that she was expressing all the life experiences that had brought her to this point; wonderful experiences like playdates and sleepovers with good friends, horseback riding, and playing in jazz and rock’n’roll bands. And there were echoes of difficult experiences, too, like her parents’ divorce, a cross-country move and teenage school troubles. When she emerged from the room, I could tell from her face that she had nailed it. The teacher, who served as a judge, followed her out the door, congratulated me, and said that he’d love to teach her.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that experience, because so many people have asked me about the ‘tiger mother’ essay. You’ve probably read the article, by law professor Amy Chua, in the (January 8, 2011) Wall Street Journal, titled ‘Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.’ In the article, Chua outlines her approach to childrearing, which she calls the ‘tiger’ way, and compares to the ‘Western’ way. Her children were never allowed sleepovers or play dates. They were required to be the top student in their classes, and to play only piano or the violin, for hours each day.
Hi, wow wonderful blog!!! You seem like a very devoted and skilful teacher. Your school seems wonderful. I have always dreamed (since I started violin) to attend such a school with possibilities for many lessons a week and chamber music. As a teen who started on her own in a non-musical family, I can tell that it's very hard to compete (I hate that word but don't know how to tell it differently?) with such a support system for students. It's the same for having musical parents. Now I'm not studying music at university (for survival reasons in my case... even if music is what I love above all) but when I was a teen, I spend a few years practicing 5 hours a day and more on weekends. I though I could make it that way... But no, not on my own with no more support than a weekly lesson (even with a very good teacher and instrument). When I work and practice with pianists (or my teacher), I am amazed at how much they can guide you exactly towards the issue you're having trouble with and fix it immidiately. It's not for nothing that we often see very successful kids with a coaching musical mom or dad... Or at least, a very good musical environment.
Bravo for all your acheivments and your school seems wonderful!! We need more of such schools...
Although I'm not involved in teaching, the blogs and discussion threads on teaching always draw my attention and hold my interest.
"After ten years of running a music school, we’ve learned that some parents should be separated from the student during lessons."
This reminds me of Buri's and Lisa V's input in the discussion we had last year on the subject of parents and lessons. My parents, thank goodness, weren't the stage mom and stage dad types; and, for me, the free-range approach to lessons was the correct one -- they weren't present during my lessons or practice times.
Thank you for writing and posting this. I enjoyed the whole article and found it highly instructive.
This is really a wonderful and an inspiring blog indeed. This is really the way to nurture and parent children. This way of parenting will produce well adjusted children who will contribute, be team players who will be able to give love others because they were showered with love when they were children. Way to go. Congrats to you and your children.
Regarding Amy Chua's method of rearing children, less said the better. Everyone cannot be always be number one. At somepoint in time in your life, you will meet someone who is better than you in your field. An analogy - everybody cannot be an Alexander the Great.
A child needs to practice daily and practice for a reasonable amount of time say, one hour to get the flow and intonations. After that, he/ she needs to present his work which will be later corrected/ perfected by a teacher. So, if your parent is not musically trained, practicing for three hours seems way too much. What happens if the child has practiced wrong things for 3x7 = 21 hours. What a waste of his/ her time it would be which is sure to lead to frustation. Further, it is very sorry to say that Amy Chua's way of bringing up children will produce highly competitive socially ill-adapted human beings who will be always be trying to out do others. And since hard work can carry you only so much at some point in time in life, they will meet someone who is naturally more gifted and who will overtake them. The consequences of this moment is surely a ticking time bomb.
Your children are blessed to have you for a parent. My hat's off to you for being an exceptional role model and mentor to not only your children but also to your students.
It takes plenty of patience and creativity , as well as a sense of humor to be a really good teacher and I think you must have a full measure. I agree that praise is more productive than anger. The old timers used to say that you attracted more flies with honey than vinegar. :)
To cultivate the desire to learn, results are better if it's FUN. A denigrating, condescending attitude is detrimental to the learning process and I think you eloquently presented this idea in your blog. It's not called " playing your instrument " for nothing!
"BRAVO!!!" :-) .
i think the premise is we do what we can, what we are conditioned to do.
susan did her lion mom way. when a child is excited to go into an audition, that is the testament of successful parenting and teaching!
chua treated her kids the way she was brought up which was not discussed in detail in the wsj article. she tried to make up for her musical training deficiencies with overzealousness and competitiveness. she wrote about it candidly and acknowledged her shortcomings. we lynch her because we can. she asks for it, so it seems.
hopefully more tiger moms and pops start looking within and make sense of their own approaches. perhaps some of susan's colleagues may also need to take notice when they put their students through long term rings of fire. does the classical training culture tend to bring out the tiger moms and pops in people? i wonder!
Thanks for a fascinating blog!
I am neither a music teacher nor a parent, but have thought a lot about music education in connection with my research on violin playing in Japan. I posted my own response to the 'tiger mother' phenomenon - which is not particularly Chinese at all - on my own blog, although I hope readers will note that it is somewhat tongue in cheek. Still, I stand by my point that one does not have to reach professional level to have fun with the violin and that the best thing parents can give their children is the recognition that learning to play an instrument, although it can be hard and frustrating at times, is a lot of fun. Of course, if they also manage to produce professional-level players that is great.
al ku raises an interesting point about the classical training culture though. I've often wondered whether there isn't too much focus on the demands of a professional career in music education. Much music education seems to have the effect of convincing people that they are 'not musical' and depriving them of the joyful experience of making music themselves at whatever level. Or people agonizing over the fact that they are 'not good enough'. The classical tradition tells us that the violin is 'difficult', that starting in your teens or as an adult is 'too late' etc
Does it really have to be like that? When I lived in Edinburgh I went to the yearly Scots fiddle festival there a few times. Of course, there were the highly proficient (and probably classically trained as often as not) professional performers, but there were also a whole lot of less proficient participants who were obviously having the time of their lives playing relatively simple tunes together in unison, and creating an atmosphere of exhiliaration I've rarely come across in classical circles.
but margaret, if we look around it is quite easy to appreciate that what you are describing goes beyond music into everything around us.
once we "organize" things, we don't do it for fun anymore, or for the heck of it in the name of a light spirit. we start doing it with a purpose, with a goal, with a plan, with a regimen, from day 1 to day x.
want to be a serious musician? ok, here is what juilliard and curtis require you to accomplish for the audition. start now with that in mind.
want to study music in lib art school? get your resume ready starting high school with this testing and that orchestra experience.
all the trains around you are moving. pick one and hop on. no, no, don't ask questions and try to reinvent the wheel. just do it. do it if you understand and do it even if you don't understand.
no, don't walk on your own feet in your chosen direction. no, in the modern world we don't do that. do what we tell you and you shall have a chance!
i am not the one who ever complained that the modern day violinists sound alike--'cause i like good playingl:). this complaint comes from within the ranks!
Margaret raises a delicate point. I think it all has to do with the professionalisation of playing music, something that started around Beethoven. Before that, composers were well aware that they had to write music that could be played by amateurs, of course, amateurs who are willing to put in practice, but still, amateurs. Composers were craftsmen first, artists second. Beethoven was one of the first composers who wanted to express his artistic ideas no matter how difficult it would be to perform. This gave rise to music requiring professional, virtuoso skills. Like Al Ku notices, music is no different from other aspects of our society. If you want to be really participating in the upper level of some human endeavor, you almost have to do it professionally from day one, otherwise you won't make it. It is the price of progress. Being an amateur myself, I can live with it. There is enough music I can still play and that I enjoy. I will never be able to play the Sibelius concerto. (Actually I can play the notes of any couple of measures if I practice on it, but that is like saying that I can ride the Tour de France because I can ride from home to the bakery shop and back.) But I enjoy listening to people who can perform such professional-only music, and appreciate and am grateful that they have devoted their life being able to.
Margaret is right about a mindset problem. Perhaps it over-infects certain instruments? However, orchestral playing is now the flea on the elephant's back. The elephant is "hip-hop" (not real hip-hop but the record label version), "pop" (aka Katy Perry), country, and rock, in that order. Somewhere a couple orders of magnitude lower in visibility but arguably as large or larger in participation than "classical" is bluegrass, old-time etc etc where having fun is what it is all about...
But the world would be a very poor place without professionalism in music--in "classical" music. Professional musicians make it shine, make it ring, make it sooooo beautiful. Sure, it is fun to have community orchestras. But wowo, what the thousands, yes, thousands, of hard-working professional orchestral players can and do every week is worth listening to--worth aspiring to if it interests you.
I got stuck in the first paragraph wondering what top-tier conservatory on the East Coast auditions strings in late January. Although I think the author has many valid points, the point by point comparison of two women's child-rearing methods (when we are naming names) makes me cringe a little. Not that Amy Chua has been shy about hanging herself out for critique.
One of the most interesting things about Amy Chua, to me, is not what she writes about her ideas on raising children (old news), but how (not that, but how) she exposes her own children in the media.
It does take a kind of fierce cluelessness, to hold your children up the way A.C. has. Could they be so isolated that they won't feel the burn from that fierce public glare? I doubt it. She seems to show a complete lack of empathy in all realms.
Susan, I'm glad you are pointing out that learning music on a high level need not include cruelty and that it's also a social endeavor.
What a great article! Good job and those kids are so lucky to have you. I wish there were more out there like you. Great story.
Clearly, Chua is a nut case and an extremist, but I think it is presumptuous for any of us to draw conclusions about her children without actually knowing them. Will they do well in life? We can only wait and see.
One thing is for sure, Chua has cast a dark cloud on an entire population of otherwise successful and high achieving people. Her biggest mistake is to characterize herself as a "typical" Chinese mother. She is not typical by any means, and that is why she has drummed up so much controversy. I will give her credit though, she knows how to sell books.
I didn't notice that, but now that you mention it, it is curious -- about the audition dates for strings. Perhaps it was an "advice" lesson or something.
"She seems to show a complete lack of empathy in all realms."
that line reminds me of one of my cousins.:) self centered is probably a fair assessment and according to a colleague of hers that i know, also brilliant, my cousin has an "imperialistic" personality:) i never quite figured that one out,,,perhaps to intellectually bossing people around because her brain works better? :)
keeping to herself and her own interests in medical science, she studied in harvard and mit where she got both md and phd in 4 years. now, being the chair of the department in a major med center, she leads pioneering researches in brain diseases/senile dementia. her patents bring in over one hundred million dollars per year, through royalty from pharm cos, into the med school which help other researches and education.
but she is adament: I AM NOT A GOOD MOTHER. it just seems that she does not know how. something as trivial as playing with kids is not natural to her. focusing in academics at the highest level is. her kids are normal kids, attending stanford and yale.
if one day she writes about her experience as a mother, some may point fingers at her for not paying enough attention to being a mother. how can she be so neglectful?
before we write her off as a mother, we ourselves need to have some empathy on her contribution to humanity through her own approach, in a format that she is comfortable with and conditioned to.
when we look at what chua did, before we label ourselves as superior beings, take note that there are lessons on self improvement on many levels.
I think the author of this v.com blog has a number of great points. I especially like the idea that mistakes are for laughing at and then moving on from, and I love her view of music as a social and collaborative, rather than isolated, activity.
But I still winced when I read about sacrificing paying utility bills for instruments and lessons. It bothers me that we have a society in which parents consider (and actually make) choices like that.
The most interesting take I have seen on the "Tiger Mother" phenomenon is in this blog, linked here: "Mother Tiger Trope Masks Class Privilege"
"But it’s alarming that the issue of money and privilege is being obscured in this debate, and the focus in the media is solely on the efforts of one person–the mother–as though it doesn’t take a village (or an incredibly wealthy community) to raise a child.
This refusal to acknowledge privilege and the greater role of community in helping to raise successful children reminds me of The Atlantic‘s cover story, The Rise of the New Global Elite, about the new wealthy who relate to each other around the world but feel little to no obligations to the societies in which they grew up. (See especially pp. 6-7.) According to the article, the new elite believe that solely through their own hard work and merit did they rise to the top. They don’t recognize the privileges of growing up in a largely middle-class society without crime to worry about, with good schools, and with access to jobs. They do not acknowledge the role of luck in their own success or being in the right place at the right time in history. For example, most of the American elites featured grew up in an era that did not have a universal draft, which would otherwise have required them to serve in America’s two ongoing wars, rather than continue their educations uninterrupted and to travel freely to make money for themselves and their companies. The fact that others–generally poorer and less educated– make these sacrifices of going to war for the nation, and thus for them, does not apparently translate to gratitude."
but karen, although i agree with that blogger's take on the class over ethnicity stand, her thesis that money and privileges may amount to greater achievements actually did not apply to the chua situation.
chua's strong academic background did not lead to successful parenting understanding and skills.
chua's supposedly private music lessons for the violin kid did not lead to a success story.
in fact, perhaps the take home message is that when money and influence are applied in a misguided fashion, not necessarily the money part, but the misguided part, can lead to bad things. that higher socioeconomic class does not necessarily lend to good parenting skills. that nothing really stops folks in the lower socioeconomic class from becoming great parents.
in fact, a lot of great parents i admire do not have money at all. but they do what they can, with their heart and effort. more often than not, that is more than good enough because their kids learn good life lessons that rich kids are deprived of.
every year many outstanding young men and women end up going to the most selective colleges on full scholarships, which is a reflection that families without much resources can produce great kids and the society in a way recognizes and rewards that effort.
Al, I think it applies in a broad sense, in that Chua and her extended family are very wealthy, and that wealth is what really enabled the extreme Tiger Mother parenting style. They are not "typical" Chinese, they are actually part of the American cultural elite (or the global cultural elite, according to the blogger's terms). It just disturbed me that someone such as the author of this v.com blog would have to sacrifice making utility payments in order to keep up with that musical/cultural elite.
well karen, you are one of the most sensible persons on this forum but i still want to offer something to the contrary.:)
from the people i know, asians let's say, the more serious ones tend to be from families where resources are limited. the parents feel that their kids must do better than they did for a better life so they take whatever they do much more seriously. they feel they cannot afford to lose the opportunities. they tend to be the meaner ones:) like, what do you mean you get a A -? :)
on the other hand, once life gets easier, those i know of tend to be more relaxed in regimenting their kids. they tend to go shopping after dropping off their kids for the music lessons:)
that is why there is a chinese saying: fortune usually does not last 3 generations.
i don't know enough about op's case. if i have to pay utility bill late but to pay some education bills on time, i would probably do it. but i would definitely pay up before they cut my cable! haha
I completely agree with and personally resonate with this post. At 3 years old, I picked up the violin at my mother's chiding. I endured the private lessons, the group lessons, music retreats and grueling practice hours, all with the backing of my mother throughout my childhood.
Fast forward seventeen years and I am still playing the violin, not because my mother wants me to, but because I want to. I can recall countless times when I was little at a going on 3-hour practice session exclaiming that I didn't want to play anymore and my mother simply responding, "You'll thank me later." Of course mothers are always right in the end.
I've thus been inspired to write my own blog about violin and teaching the basics on christinaksilvestri.wordpress.com.
Susan, Thank you for a truly wonderful essay! It is one of the wisest discussions I've read about raising musical children. I know I'm going to return to it plenty of times.
And thank you, Karen, for your comment and the link to that great blog... I couldn't agree with your point more. I noticed sadly how little discussion surrounding the Chua controversy mentioned class and privilege. My first thought right from the start was that her daughters' accomplishments are attributable in large part to the opportunities wealth provides, perhaps more than her (questionable) parenting practices. In fact, she relates that her tactics eventually backfired on her with her youngest daughter.
I am not a musician; I am the mother of a violinist. I enjoyed this Blog a great deal. Two things in particular struck me.
The first is practice. I was envious ( Though not enough to leave our home in a beautiful mountain valley Southern Oregon! ) of the opportunities her daughter had to "practice". My daughter practices somewhere between one and two hours a day by herself. When she has the opportunity to play with other musicians, at summer institute, in a chamber ensemble or youth symphony, she can play for four, five hours or more and is incredibly excited. Its always a big let down when the institute ends or the season for youth symphony ends. I can't imagine demanding that my daughter practice by herself for four or five hours a day; but I know that if she had the opportunity to play in a variety of musical situtations for hours on end she would flourish. I wish there was a good way to get in touch with other musical kids who were interested in playing more in ensembles. The other problem we have is that she is much younger than most of the kids at her playing level.
The other thing I found interesting is the reaction to Amy Chua. I haven't read the article in the Wall Street Journal, but I did read her response in the New York Times and I have listened to her in interviews on a few National Public Radio shows. She said that at the end of the book, which is a memoir, not a parenting guide, she was losing her daughter and had to make changes. She did say that she believes learning to persevere and strive to do your best leads to doing well and enjoyment. Too many parents expect too little of their kids. I agree with that. We need to teach our children to appreciate hard work and perserverance. That doesn't mean that every child should win the violin concerto competion, be on the competitive soccer team and win the Science Fair. But I am a firm believer that your best is good enough.
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