Welcome to the KingZoo and Funny Farm, where we learn to live, laugh, and love together. Here you'll find snippets of life in our zoo, parenting tips we've learned along the way, reflections on shining God's light in this world, passions in the realm of orphan care, and our journey as parents of a visually impaired child with sensory processing disorder. Have fun!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Making a musical genius

Dear Laura Sybil,

Just a quick question...at what age did you start the kids on violin? Did they have interest in it when they started or did you just start them? I am thinking about starting my 3 year old but I am not sure he will want to. Do you have any advice?

Am I Raising the Next Isaac Stern or Itzhak Perlman?

Dear Am I Raising the Next Isaac Stern or Itzhak Perlman?

Thank you so much for writing because questions of this theme come up quite frequently. King's Strings concerts are a common breeding ground for these questions but every other month or so we will get an email or Facebook message with similar queries. So, here is my humble opinion, from someone who has no musical degree and little musical ability but who has parented seven very adorable and talented musicians (it's a God thing).

First, the King family facts. When Andrew was about 3 years old, I dusted off my violin and played the prelude for church. On the way home, he said, "I want to do that." We waited to see if he continued to show interest or if it was a fleeting fascination. He continued to ask so when he was nearing kindergarten, we found a teacher and the rest, as they say, is history.

You knew I couldn't be finished that fast, didn't you? Okay, Jesse was next in line and of course, wanted to do what his older brother was doing so he was next at age 4 1/2. 19 months later Mariana joined the band, also at age 4 1/2. And then there was Isaac. He was 2 1/2 when we moved to Mechanicsburg and the older three children were being auditioned by their (hopefully) new teacher. Ms. Pam agreed to add them to her studio, then turned to Isaac and said, "But I also want this one." I kindly explained that we did not want to start our 2 1/2 year old but she was a very persuasive person and after offering us a tuition break, we figured, why not? We're traveling here, anyway. Bad logic. We learned our lesson. Eden was 4 when she started, and HopeAnne 4 1/2.

Unless the 2 1/2 year old is showing signs of being on the fast-track to Carnegie Hall, don't let anyone convince you that you should start him with lessons. (At this point you can hear all the musicians yelling out their protest. Plug your ears.) Do you want to know how long it takes a 2 1/2 year old Suzuki violinist to learn his Twinkles? ("Twinkles" being the Suzuki way of describing the first five Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star variations that were designed to send mothers of 2 1/2 year olds to the Funny Farm. Hence, the name of this blog.) Two very long years later Isaac was frustrated, I was frustrated, and there are years in there that I don't even remember because of this period of insanity.

Now, if anyone is still listening after I just made my musical opinion known, let me add that I do think early music instruction is essential to later musical success. (Oh, you're back, are you?) I just don't think that early music instruction has to equal early lessons. If at least one parent has at least some musical ability (Can you tap two blocks together or turn on the radio? Then you have at least an ounce of musical ability.), then you can very easily introduce your child to music, and likely already have. Play rhythm games, dance around the room with streamers while listening to music (yes, I did say that), sing songs together, make instruments out of toys and household objects, observe people playing different instruments, etc. If you play an instrument (or used to), haul it out and let your child touch it and make noise with it, with your guidance, of course. Those are the kinds of things that a teacher would be doing with your child in lessons, anyway. Why pay for it?

You also ask if you should start your child, not knowing if he will want to. I wouldn't. At least not yet. Yes, there are some things we choose for our children because we know best. On the other hand, we live in a culture that encourages sending our children into every opportunity out there. My advice to you is to keep introducing different hobbies, skills, sports, future vocations, etc. to your child, but don't translate that to mean signing him up for every team, group, and lesson out there. What are his interests and skills? Where do you see God leading him? Where is he best going to shine? That's where you want him to be.

And one more thing, there is absolutely no one who has to have a family of string players to follow God's will. Except the King family, of course, because that is the mission God has given to us. Your goal, beyond finding the direction your child is to go, is to find the direction your family is to go. How can your family best shine God's light to a dying world? I don't know but I do know that it won't look like anyone else you know. God has uniquely placed each one of you in your family to maximize your ability to reflect His light. Find out what that is and put everything you've got into it. There you'll find joy. Great joy.

Laura Sybil

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