Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: November 8, 2013 at 10:07 PM [UTC]
But how to view these people in the context of your musical life?
V.com member and writer Karen Rile has been writing a series of blogs aimed at helping parents of music students. Over the last two weeks she's looked at both side of the coin when it comes to ambitious parents: parents as something scary, and parents as your best resource.
We'd all like to take the positive view, and perhaps that should be our aim. But how do you feel at the moment, when you run the tiger parents: scared, or like you are about to have a conversation with someone who will help you greatly?
When my own first violin teacher told me that her three year old, who at the time wasn't actually playing the instrument yet, was 'exceptionally talented', I questioned her powers of discernment and quickly found myself another teacher.
My current teacher has kids who actually are 'exceptionally talented', but he seems so much more balanced on the rare occasions he talks about them.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I feel there are healthy and unhealthy ways to be very involved in your kids' talents. I enjoy contact with the 'healthy' parents and tend to just ignore/avoid the rest.
I used to be at the Royal Academy [pre-college] every Saturday for about 4 years [the years before my teenager joined a choir school & then music specialist boarding school] & it has a wonderful supportive atmosphere. The director was an amazing maternal lady with much experience in music education & blessedly wise. Every week going to primary academy was a "highlight" for the us: she as a young musician enjoying herself, playing & making friends & myself as a volunteer at the pre-college café on reprieve from being the carer of a demanding & mute special needs child. There was a great sense of camaraderie amongst the parents who are all in one way or another ambitious. Whenever I finish serving some days I would have coffee alone in my favourite corner with a book. On other days it was good to talk & share ideas, views & news. The enthusiasm for life & all sorts of challenges [musical or not including with regard to parenting in general] was always present in some proportion. We learnt a lot from one another. There were both ambitious mums & dads & sometimes I like to think we helped one another to try to chill & not be too stressed or controlling as parents. We even shared information on teachers, siblings, special needs, senior school admissions, how to watch for music scholarships & other fun opportunities.
In those years we have met just three parents [out of over a hundred we came across] who were unhappy & felt that the pre-college director was not doing her best for their talented girls. Not giving them enough orchestral promotion or performing opportunities. One mum in particular shared with me her concern that her daughter seemed to be, doing better than the rest of the pack & very much ready to re-audition [you had to re-audition some 3 or 4 years down the line even after successful auditions at the outset] before the required age & was feeling stressed-out that the director was not helping her child by not allowing the audition just 1 year earlier to fast forward progress already made [as she had requested]. The director it was said, had thought it was "too much [ambitious] too soon" on the basis that she felt the child was not ready to re-audition for the next higher & more demanding level. A year later, her teenager did re-audition and to my great surprise, she failed. That sort of unhappiness [that my kid is not sufficiently stretched or not given what recognition or opportunity she deserves] is probably due to the parents' own ignorance or insecurities. Admittedly, these three parents can be a bit of a nuisance at times. However, they were not scary at all. I do not feel sorry for them other than initially as on later reflection, I felt pre-college/music training would have strengthened their children's character & cv whether they proceed to be musicians or not. They must have acquired some valuable soft skills which will stand them in good stead for any future plan, journey or career in their lives whatever they may make of their music. My view is: It's not ok for parents to seek to control their teenagers; it's ok for them to be heavily involved in their music. As long as their own children/teens are content & comfortable with that level of involvement [which varies with age, stage & maturity] & one teen didn't beg me personally as a close friend to get his parent off his back, what other parents do, is none of my business, and no, I'm not afraid of seemingly, over-ambitious parents. Parents sometimes ask me questions or for help & vice versa. As a matter of fact, we are in this together like it or not & we could & did learn much from one another notwithstanding: A wise man can learn from a foolish question. [Was it Bruce Lee who said this?] We can learn from a fool's mistakes as well as from our own past folly. If I become afraid of an insecure or over-ambitious "fool" then, I have to press the pause button, search within & ask myself: What of?
Any violin teacher who finds that "scary" needs to find different work.
As for being on the teaching side of it, in 20 years of teaching I've met wonderful and supportive parents, and yes, that's a good thing. I'd say most of the parents I've met have been wonderful and supportive!
But I wouldn't be so quick to judge teachers who are a little wary when they detect a high level of parental ambition. Even teachers as kind, generous and effective as Josef Gingold have been wary of "stage parents"; I understand that he interviewed Josh Bell's parents very thoroughly to make sure the then-young boy was leading a "normal" life, before he would teach him. (BTW he determined that he was, and he took him on as a student.)
And that's because scary stage parents exist. They just do. I once had a parent (not of my own student) tell me she was spanking her three-year-old to get her to practice. That's ambition gone awry. It happens. If I get a whiff that what's going on is child abuse, disguised as violin lessons, I want nothing to do with it.
A professor who teaches prodigies once rejected a very technically advanced Russian boy. Earlier he had told me that he doesn't just teach prodigies; he will accept [if he has a vacancy] any child who is highly self-motivated [not those whose parents are far more so than the kids].
A friend expressed that she was very scared of Japanese parents for being aggressive. Wait, they are not aggressive? It's in her own imagination that they are scary parents. Her perception or [self-generated] fear is by her own confession because she was stressed that some wealthy Japanese children have, far more performing & other [master class] opportunities due to parental connections. She discovered that these parents have children who are not like our "normal" children: horrors, they have 3 hours' lessons weekly [1.5 hours twice a week]. This may mean they can do better than her very musical daughter who has [the usual] 1 hour a week and is not as diligent in practice as she wished. Further, being liberal-minded [or a Westerner], she added that she was not inclined to force her daughter to practise. She needs to chill. After all, it's her own sense of insecurity, her own self-produced anxiety or fear that seemed to gnaw into her being and sadly, this mental state/judgment probably arose from her mind dwelling too much on negative comparisons. Quite apart from the valid concern that by mixing with them regularly, one can be "infected" by either (line of thought), how can a thinking person [parent/teacher] be genuinely scared of either the "scary" insecurity-driven tiger parent or an ever-moaning/boasting one?
However, if an ambitious parent confides that having sacrificed so much for music, he is so stressed out or scared his child is left behind that he has had to beat his lazy child to make the latter practice, he is not a scary parent. He is mental. I would suggest that he considers some counselling. If I hear this repeats itself a second time, I would have a moral duty to report the alleged child abuse promptly to the social service authorities for investigation. The toughest parent I have come across was a father who told some of us, rather smugly, that he successfully locked his young daughter, not a few times for 2 hours to make her practise her piano. "It works" in his own words. The girl, now 20, has quit. *sigh*
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