NOTE: I’m sharing this letter, originally addressed to the parents in The Music Within Us program, publicly here, because it represents my deepest commitment to the service I hope to offer in this life. May you all find the courage to ask life’s most important questions: WHO are you? And HOW do you choose to be?
I’m writing as I begin to invite each of you to join me for the sixth year of our co-creation of The Music Within Us program. I have known some of you for all of the past five years, when you were just several “important strangers” who have now become something like family to me – people I feel a certain responsibility towards, people I long to do right by. Others I have just begun to know, through your first steps on this path of discovery with your children. Each of you – through your expression of who you are and how you interact with your children – has a creative role in the emergence of The Music Within Us.
I feel it necessary to share some thoughts with you before the start of the new school year in just a few weeks. I also want to give you the opportunity to reflect on my words, and the meaning behind my words, before we enter into this mutual commitment together again.
When I first started The Music Within Us in 2004, I hoped to share the parts of myself that had been cultivated through the unique experience of my time with Mrs. Betty Haag-Kuhnke, in the suburbs of Chicago. I began a process of revisiting and rediscovering, through the practice of teaching, the art form that had been so central to my early childhood development. I relished the process of remembering all the details of how music is made, step by step, on the violin. Then I watched the magic of bringing just two young violinists together, making the sounds of a song in unison. I’ve witnessed the expansion of the numbers of students and of their combined sound. I’ve marveled at the tenderness of the fingers and hands that can draw out these sounds from such a foreign, unwieldy instrument as this wooden curved box with a long neck, and a horsehair bow.
What I didn’t expect was the feeling of community among parents and the friendships that you have all developed with one another. I honestly feel that I have been a wide-eyed observer of these relationships among you, and I am pleasantly surprised by what you have created for yourselves. To feel supported and accompanied as adults on this journey is as important as the camaraderie that must develop among the musicians.
What you don’t see, from your places in this community, is the private interaction during each lesson I have with a student and their parent. You can only know your own experience, and the intricacies of your own child’s development. You face your own struggles, and overcome them or not, but your frame of reference can and should be only your own. I may do what I can to illuminate the shared lessons of our process together, but ultimately the conclusions we draw are ours alone. There is little value to comparison or competition in a real learning environment such as the one I aim to support. What we can do for each other is to be aware of ourselves, to improve ourselves constantly, and in this way serve as examples from wherever we stand in the room. It is up to each of us to make the conscious choice of how we show up each time we enter the room, and if we will learn anything on a given day.
I now have enough experience to see some of the effects of these different choices, made by adults, on the “outcomes” of the children. I put “outcomes” in quotes because we set up so many false finish lines and milestones and goalposts up in our lives, when in reality we should just be focusing on our full presence in each moment. When we become preoccupied with outcomes, by asking, “Where is this all going?” or “When are we going to get there?” or “Why is this happening to me?” or “Can you just tell me the answer?”, we unknowingly put up barricades to our children’s learning. The same doors close when we immediately defend ourselves, instead of first being open to the feedback, feeling it, examining its origin, and asking how it might serve us or our child. When we deny the validity of someone else’s observations, without question, we deny an opportunity to grow stronger or wiser. We can err on the side of being too harsh and too critical, or on the side of being too timid and too afraid. Neither of these extremes serves us or our children. It’s in the constant search for balance that we ultimately find it. We discover that it’s not a static state, it’s not something to be “achieved” and put behind us as another thing “accomplished.” But it is found in a constant state of awareness, and a commitment to finding the balance within each moment.
My job, I used to believe, was to nurture this community, and to do everything in my power to keep it going and intact. But I now know that my job is to remain true to myself, to keep discovering what is true, and to continue sharing the best of myself with you and with the world. I cannot compromise what I hold to be true for me, in this moment, for the sake of an imaginary expectation that I can make everything all right. Everything is all right, everything will be all right, and I believe most of us are just a few deep breaths away from knowing what is real and true for us, if we would allow it to be.
My deepest, truest intention at this moment is to serve you only to the extent that your time with me wakes you up to the kind of parent you want to be. You will have the great gift of seeing your child learn something, and participating in that learning with them. Maybe you will even see your child fall in love, or get angry, or become stressed, or be praised, or suffer humiliation. You have the responsibility of being the guide, the witness, the observer, and the source of unwavering support throughout all of this. I hope that you ask deep, perhaps dark, questions of yourselves, as you encounter the inevitable challenges of this path. But as you look at those challenges, I remind you to keep the bigger picture of your life, and your child’s life, in mind too. What are the lessons you wish to teach, and how will you teach those lessons? What kind of parent will you choose to be? I cannot, and it is not my intention to, provide answers to these questions for you. However, I will have served a great purpose with my work and my time if I have stimulated any of you to ask this of yourselves. I am unattached to what your answer may be. I will feel the same lightness of heart whether your answer includes an affirmation of violin or not, with me or not, if your answer is true for you. I can imagine no greater joy than to know that I have been part of awakening another person’s heart, in their lifetime, to the most important questions there are: Who do you choose to be? And how do you choose to be?
I am excited to offer you this package of information describing a significantly redesigned calendar for 2009-2010. I will be hosting two question-and-answer sessions at my studio for any parents interested in learning more before the start of the fall trimester.
While there are many structural changes outlined in the pages attached, I look forward to speaking with you in person to further convey the meaning and intention behind these changes, and what I commit to offering you in the coming year.
Lisa S. Chu, M.D.
Founder & Executive Director