Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Eyre Family Orchestra (or lack thereof)

Last weekend, when my mom and I were waiting to meet up with the rest of my sisters and sisters-in-law for our MFME Retreat, we saw a bunch of teenagers carrying cased violins and other instruments - a traveling orchestra. My mom smiled at them. And I think that deep inside, a little spark of one of her long-ago unrealized dreams perked up for a melancholy moment. I see this same sort of slightly nostalgic smile on my mom's face when she talks about great young musicians or families of great musicians like the Five Browns.

My mom dreamed of raising a bunch of amazing musicians and having a family orchestra. But it didn't exactly work out the way she dreamed.

My mom's mom came from a very musical family. She and her parents and many siblings played in church and at all the dances in their town. Grandma went on to conduct the yearly "operettas" at the elementary school and teach piano lessons to pretty much everyone who was remotely interested in music in the small town where they lived. She made sure that her two daughters devoted hours every day to honing their own musical talents. My mom sometimes hated having to practice so much but music became one of the great joys of her life as she became a fabulous violist and learned to play the piano well also. Her sister became a fabulous pianist and a pretty good violinist. The two sisters played at just about every wedding and funeral throughout Bear Lake Valley when they were young and their musical talents (along with their charm and good looks) helped them each be crowned "Miss Bear Lake", my mom one year, then my aunt the next, then carried them on to great things in college. Music gave them identity and purpose and joy and opportunities.

My mom dreamed of having a large family. Naturally, music would be a big part of the lives of the ten children she planned to have. With such a large family, there could be a whole family orchestra, not just a little duo like she had with her sister. Her family could be sort of like the family in the Sound of Music - singing together, playing instruments together. It would be heavenly. 

When I was six, my parents gave me a half-size violin for my birthday and I was excited to learn to play the violin like my mom. It seemed I had some talent and things came somewhat easily to me. I didn't like practicing but it was just a necessary part of life that I didn't really question and it was great to master a beautiful piece and get a "superior" rating when I'd do juries.

My mom was great about helping all of us practice our instruments. I really don't know how she managed to keep up with our lessons and practicing with so many kids! Sometimes, when we couldn't find a great teacher, mom was our teacher. But that didn't work so well - too many power struggles. So she worked hard to find us good teachers and invested a lot of time and money into our musical educations.



Every day when we got home from school, mom made sure classical music was playing. She taught us to identify the great classical composers and took us to symphonies. She did music flashcards with all of us from a very young age so we could learn the notes and clap out rhythms and all that. And she kept up with her own violin playing, practicing and performing with her own string quartet regularly while we were growing up and performing violin solos here and there. Plus she always accompanied us on the piano when we were playing our instruments or singing.

Thanks to our mom (and our dad's total support and encouragement), we could see the beauty and joy and importance of music.

When I was in 5th, 6th, and 7th, grades (or so), every morning at about 6:30am, Shawni, Mom, Dad and I met in the living room for "Ensemble" (I thought it was "ansambo" until I finally saw it written out one day). We had our own little string quartet. I played 1st violin, Shawni played 2nd violin, mom played viola, and Dad did a pretty darn good job with the cello as long as there were only about 8 notes involved in his part. Over time, our little string quartet got pretty good. We even performed sometimes.

As music was a big part of our lives, when a magazine was doing a feature on my parents (thanks to one of their book tours), a lot of the photos they took involved us playing instruments (some that we really played, some that just came off my parents' prized "instrument wall" where they kept beautiful and interesting instruments from all their travels - everything from Peruvian goat toenail percussion rattles to crocodile-skin banjos to Chinese violins to an African harp).





When I was 12, mom got me in with a really great violin teacher who helped me find the joy in music more fully. I had the opportunity to be in a first-rate orchestra in junior high school and I loved that feeling of mastering a lovely, difficult piece and performing with an orchestra  - hearing all the instruments come together to create something big and beautiful. I was overjoyed when I made first chair in that orchestra. Then in high school, I was able to be part of a selective violin sextet and we performed all over. I made some good friends and experienced the joy of working hard and seeing great results.

But I didn't love the violin. My back always ached so much when I was practicing. And the violin seemed so common - EVERYONE I knew played the violin, it seemed. I encouraged my younger sister, Saydi, to go for the cello instead - it seemed so much more unusual and interesting. And I looked longingly at violas - that deeper lovely sound . . . But I'd already invested so much in the violin - it made sense to stick with it. When I was a junior in high school, I started playing the harp and loved that - but it was a little late in the game to go very far on the harp before I was off to college and busy with other things. I decided that when I was a mom, I'd introduce my kids to all the different instruments and then let them decide what they wanted to play.

Singing required less practice and offered more immediate rewards for me and I was a pretty decent singer. In elementary school and junior high, I sang with a performing group with my sisters and we practiced for hours every week and had a whole lot of performances. It was really fun. Then in high school, I sang in some audition-only small groups and was in a top-tier 12-member a-cappella group in college that performed at concerts almost every weekend and involved lots of travel and fun.

Shawni was way better than me at getting up early and practicing hard without complaining. But piano and violin didn't come very easily to her. And while she was a good singer and seemed to enjoy being in the singing group we were in, she didn't really love singing and never felt like she was particularly good at it.

Josh had talent but hated praticing. He tried violin and piano and trumpet (wow, that was loud!) but ultimately, my mom realized that building a good relationship with her son was more important than making him into a musician.

Saydi was the best musician of all of us. She played the piano beautifully and sang really well (she starred in the musical "Annie," sang the national anthem at an NBA game one time, and made her own CD). She also learned to play the cello well. She was a natural at every musical thing she tried. She praticed hard and all that she touched in music seemed to turn to gold. We joked that Saydi was mom's favorite because she was such a great musician.

Jonah didn't go far on piano or violin but had a fun time playing the drums. He had the bedroom next to mine and I woke up at 6:30am every day to him banging out "Danger Zone" from Top Gun on his drums. I'm not sure if he ever learned any other songs. Jonah was a good singer - sang in a couple small groups in high school.

I think Talmadge, Noah, Eli and Charity took piano lessons for a while. Tal, Noah and Eli sang in the choir in high school and maybe in small groups as well. Charity ended up becoming a great flutist and a beautiful singer. But music sort of fizzled out a bit with the younger kids as sports became a huge focus for that string of four brothers born in a row.

So mom never quite got her orchestra. But she did get a fairly decent string quartet for a while there and saw a few of her children achieve some nice things in their musical pursuits. More importantly, perhaps, she helped all nine children develop a life-long passion for music. Every one of us loves, loves, loves music. We all have different tastes and we're always introducing new musicians and favorite songs to each other. A high point of our family reunion every year is the unveiling of the "Eyrealm CD" of the year - everyone submits their favorite song from the past year and the reunion organizers create a CD with all the adults' picks and a CD with the kids' picks - 40+ great songs from many different genres that we listen to all year and that remind us of the people who submitted each song.

So my mom did get a family full of serious music-appreciators. And a bunch of kids who learned a lot about hard work and discipline and success through music lessons and performances. And a posterity that values and cherishes music.

And some of us have taken off on music later in life. Josh has bought himself a keyboard and taught himself to play the piano quite well and loves teaching the kids in his class about music (he teaches elementary school). And Shawni has done a great job ensuring that her children take music lessons and progress nicely in music - she's even been able to accompany some of them on the piano and teach some of them piano lessons herself.

I don't play the violin much anymore or sing with any groups. It just hasn't worked out for me. I never found myself a string quartet group like my mom had and opportunities to sing in groups sort of fizzled out over time. On occasion, I get out my beautiful old violin and play for the kids. They love it. I should do that more. I did buy myself a ukelele the other day when I saw a lovely one that came with a nice little instruction book at Costco. I've taught myself a few songs and it's been fun to get that feeling of achievement from learning something new again. But it's been hard to find time to really get into it.

With my own children, I haven't done a whole lot with music. I've made sure they can all read music and have given them some piano lessons here and there. Ashton can play a couple hymns on the piano. I've asked around about good teachers but haven't actually signed any of them up for lessons. I've made sure that we listen to classical music and we've learned a bit about the great composers plus we've been to great musical performances. The kids can identify all the instruments and can usually pick out what instrument is playing what when they listen to music. Jared's taught Ashton some chords on the guitar and he's gone on to teach himself a lot of songs. He saved up his money to buy an electric guitar. He's really quite talented and one of these days, I'm really going to find him a great teacher. Eliza mentions wanting to try violin once in a while and maybe I should help her pursue that. All the kids get to take music at school so that's nice.

There are just SO many wonderful things to spend time on. The kids love writing and reading and playing outside. We hike a lot and bike a lot. The kids have a lot more homework than I remember having. Scouts and dance and sports take a lot of time. And I feel like we've all got plenty on our plate. For years, we really couldn't afford music lessons and now I'm just not sure how music fits in and whether I should be making a bigger effort in that area. I think music is so wonderful and important and that practicing and passing off pieces is great for kids. But so are a lot of other things.

I'm so grateful for the wonderful musical education my parents - especially my mom - provided for me. I just don't think I've got the passion and diligence and conviction it takes to be a musician-mom like my mom. But writing this out has made me realize that I do want and need to do more with music with my kids. So I'd better get Ashton that guitar teacher, take the time to work with the kids on piano more and get them to the point that they can each play at least a hymn or two, and maybe give Eliza a chance on the violin.

How important do YOU think it is for kids to take music lessons?



12 comments:

Rima Family said...

This is such a great post! I enjoy reading your blog so much. As far as music goes, I think it is so wise to pass along a love of music to our children and help them to see how powerful music can be to our spirits (both the good and the not so good :0), and to teach them to really have an appreciation for it. I also think it's so wise that you are letting your children develop their own talents and interests that they really enjoy. Don't get me wrong, as a parent I really believe in giving our children those "character building" experiences that they sometimes don't like or appreciate at the time, but it's so neat to see them develop a passion about something that they really love and want to do. And, interests change over time and can develop really fast. When I was in high school, there was a girl who had only played the cello for a couple of years and she was amazing! Also, if you have a child that expresses some interest in playing an instrument, I say give it a try! We've experienced this very thing with our 11-year-old son who has developed a great love for learning to play the piano. He often tells me how much he enjoys it and one day he even told me how much he loves the "challenge" he gets from learning to play.

Heidi said...

Saren, I enjoy your writing. I play the piano and have had my kids in piano lessons with good teachers, but now I'm the piano "teacher" for my kids and it is working for us. I think it's okay for kids to be in music lessons if they and their parents want them to be, but I think it is also good for music lessons to not ruin relationships between parents and kids. I hope all kids are exposed to lots of good music and to chances to do things that bring them joy, whether that is music lessons or not.

Eyrealm said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post Saren! It puts things into perspective and I'm so glad that even though there was a "lack therof" of a serious family orchestra, there are lots of good memories of playing together on those early mornings and at Bear Lake...especially playing the Bach double with you! In the end, I'm so glad you're doing what you're doing and not a concert violinist! But thanks for loving music!

Heather said...

Hi Saren! I've been a big fan of your family for a long time. I'm young mom (28) with 2 small kids (ages 4 and 2) and a resident of Ogden also. I've been feeling lonely lately because I seem to lack good female friends in the same stage of life that I'm in...other young moms trying to instill great values in their kids and keep up with everything going on. Do you know any young moms in our area like this who would be up for friendship and playdates, etc.? My e-mail is heather.irvine22@gmail.com. I would sure love to hear anything you could offer me! Thanks for all the amazing things you do. You're awesome!

Cheryl said...

My two oldest are in piano (my 3rd will start this summer)and have been taking on and off for several years. It's been on and off because of financial problems and piano has to go sometimes unfortunately. They will never be concert pianist, but hopefully they can learn to play the hymns and serve in the church because of that skill. I think music lessons are so vitally important and help make a well rounded person. I have told them they need to take until high school and then it's their choice. My oldest goes to high school next year! Yikes!

Lola said...
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brittanimae said...

Saren, thank you for sharing your experiences in this post. It gives me an opportunity to mention something I've been meaning to! I've started a piano studio for very young children (ages 4 and up) over the past couple of years, and I feel like I've sort of stumbled onto some ways of teaching that are SO DIFFERENT and SO EASY compared to how most of us learned music--it's like the Dr. Seuss of piano. I was thinking just a couple of weeks ago that I would really love to get together with anyone from your family that might be interested some time this summer (we're planning to be in the west for most of July).

I teach children piano in groups of 6, and they generally spend about 15 minutes at the piano each day enjoying music--I'd call it practicing, but really they're learning to read and speak music the way they learn to read and speak language. It has changed so much of what I think about music education and I'm eager to share it with more people.

Anyway, if you could file this away in your brain and let me know if any in your family are interested, I'd love to share some of my thoughts with you! As always, I'm awed by all you do. xo

Felicity said...
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Felicity said...

Loved this post Saren as I share a love for music and the growth it gives both our spirits and our minds!

I've always said that music and swimming are the essentials for our kids and everything else is optional :) (when we had to choose between the two for financial reasons, we stuck with piano, and dropped swimming :)!!

My oldest son who is 11 has been playing the piano for 6 years and he loves it, which absolutely thrills me :) My second son who is 8, practices, but definitely doesn't love it as much as his brother!

I've told my children that they 'get to' start music lessons on the piano, but after a certain amount of time, they can change instruments if they want to. I don't think my boys will, but my husband loves the violin and wants our daughters to play that :) we will see!!!

I think it's wonderful if we can give our children musical opportunities, but it is NOT easy :) haha! I don't know how your mum did it with all those children practicing!! I remind my kids if/when they complain, that all they have to do is 30 minutes practice a day! 30 minutes out of 24 hours is not a long time to develop a wonderful talent (I know some people practice for hours a day, but I don't think we're raising concert pianist - I just want music to be a part of their lives!

Music brings such joy into the home and I love seeing my children explore and enjoy it as they grow!

Thanks for the great post! xo

SupaFlowaPowa said...

I think it's really important to have music classes - mostly because of my own experiences. I hated the piano, but I'm still glad I got the chance to play it, the deal was to pass my certificate of merit advanced level and then I could be done. I haven't looked back since I got my advanced certificate when I was 17.... but at least I learned a lot from those classes. A lot about discipline, about doing something that you might not always enjoy (like how working or even household chores or not so fun motherhood stuff) but making the most of it and being good at it. I also think of all the kids who never got to play, never got forced, or who's parents gave up, and there isn't one who says - yeah, I'm glad it happened that way. Everyone wishes their parents had pushed 'em harder, so that they could have that skill - even if they don't care for it like me. HAHAHA. My husband also played the piano his whole life, but he loved it and is so good at it and taught himself other instruments as well.. and I just think - you know what - even if our kids get my blasted non-talented music hating genes, at least I know it won't matter - they can still learn and be good at it... I dunno, give 'em the wings and then see if they want to fly. I have sunk - my husband has flied - but I'm glad we both had the experience because even the kids who love playing - don't always necessarily love those one hour daily practices, but hey - you learn to make time for priorities - and that's what life is about now. So .. I'm all for it!!

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Stephanie Gurnsey Higgins said...

Saren - We were in the same class in 6th grade and I remember your family came to play for us. It was lovely.

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