The Music Within Us

Yesterday I received an advance copy of a book entitled, “Talk About Music”. The art was created by my students, ages 4 through 10, to commemorate the past year of growth and learning in The Music Within Us program. I flipped through the pages of individually created drawings, paintings, and words describing my students’ experiences with music – what it means to them, or what they like about it – and I was overcome with awe. I have always felt that children are the truth, embodied for us adults to see and nurture and encounter, as a window to our own souls. What I see in the souls of each of my students is their wholeness, their uniqueness, and their infinite capacity to do, to know, and to feel.

Listening to music feels nice. I really like the violin. I don’t know why I just really like it. – Noah, age 7 (3rd year playing violin)

My violin is a dancing butterfly. – Soria, age 8 (5th year playing violin)

Music is important because it makes people happy. – Audrey, age 7 (3rd year playing violin)

Playing music means to me I know how to make a person happy or sad depending what the music feels like or how the person who is playing feels. – Sinead, age 9 (4th year playing violin)

Violin is love and beautiful. – Milan, age 4 (1st two months playing violin)

I wish I could share all of the quotes, the artwork, and the faces of the children here. But these quotes capture the essence of what is true and pure in the hearts of children.

A group of my students and their parents are about to depart on an annual trip to Chicago, to perform as guests in the 34th annual spring concert of the Betty Haag Academy of Music. This was an annual tradition that was part of my own childhood training, and it has been especially poignant for me to bring my own students back for the past five years to represent the “next generation” to benefit from this remarkable institution.

Each year is different, even though we tend to tally things and refer to them as the “nth” time we do something (perhaps a sign that some of it has become habit!). Only those who experience it can truly know and feel what it is like. We are in the midst of a week of daily rehearsals, where we gather as a “performing team” and drill ourselves on the skills of performance. Knowing what to do, testing our abilities, practicing our ability to integrate memory and adaptation, flexibility and strength, focus and reactivity – these are all the final stages of preparation before each performance.

What I realize this year is that the concert itself is not the reward. The concert is a moment to share our joy. But it is just one moment. The reward is experienced in BOTH the concert AND the quality of the work that went into preparing for the concert. We pour ourselves into the work of preparation, so that when we step onstage we can just let go and enjoy that moment. Only when taken together can a person begin to experience the reward of performing. The truth is that most of our time is spent putting in the work. The moments to share our joy from that work are special gifts – earned opportunities for those who commit themselves to the work. We use those moments as motivation to do the work, but we also must face the truth that the work we do involves not only joy and love, but also frustration and pain. If we want the truth of love and beauty, we must be willing to face all of it – the praise, the criticism, the success, and the failure. They all add up to the full experience of joy.

Without the struggle there can be no joy. Without joy, we would not put ourselves through the struggle.

Life is our dance through the joys, and the struggles, and back again. We work, we struggle, and we rejoice as we craft our own experience in search of harmony between what we do, what we know, and what we feel. This is the music within us.

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