So this time of year, I throw around these admonitions to parents “Give a Gift that Lasts a Lifetime” and so forth. But I never really stop to think about the gift my own parents gave me when they gave me the gift of music.
First of all, I know there must have been a lot of singing going on before I was even born. My brother, John, 4 years my elder, is also naturally musical and our parents sang a little, my mom talked (talks) a lot, and my dad played drums in high school. Nothing spectacular but the first gift they gave me was an environment rich in sounds.
Besides lots of talking and singing, they frequently took us to the Symphony, a very small town experience, but a musical experience nonetheless. Usually it was on a Saturday night and having played soccer earlier, I mostly remember sleeping across my parents’ laps through entire evenings.
Another gift they gave me was piano lessons. I was fortunate enough to live in Japan (my dad is retired USAF) when I was 4-7 and that’s when my parents bought a piano. It was what everyone was supposed to do so we started a few lessons and I didn’t think much of it.
I continued lessons when we settled in California, all the way through high school. It was never an option or a question, it was just the way it was: John and Lisa will take piano and that’s that.
It was interesting how different John and I were. John could play classically perfectly (he’s now an engineer). I could also play well but I had an ear that he didn’t. So he would be playing his classical assignments and I would improvise on top. Or I would hear a song at school or at church and come home and figure out how to play it myself.
Another musical gift: My parents enrolled us in other musical experiences like community choir, school choir, and we always sang along at church. We weren’t inundated with music, but the gift to us was that it was always part of our lives.
Piano lessons were a gift in so many ways, but perhaps a greater gift was that we had to develop self-discipline to practice. Our teacher was tough and her standards were rigorous. Now as an adult and an educator, I’d say if there’s one reason alone for children to take music lessons, it’s for the self-discipline. There is nothing else like it! Something about sitting down with a kitchen timer and setting it to 30 minutes or 60 minutes and focusing on nothing else—that’ll teach every child how to work hard. (An aside—I was recently speaking with someone concerned about sending his high school senior away to college. My question: “Is she still taking piano lessons?” He thought that was a strange question, but nodded yes. My response was that if she has had the discipline to continue lessons this long, she will have the skills to buckle down and study in college.)
My parents also made certain that we used our talents for good so John and I learned the gift of serving others. We “entertained” at family events and regularly at nursing homes. Ok, I use the word “entertain” loosely because not only did our performances included piano pieces, but we’d spice it up with me on the flute and John on the accordion, throwing in an occasional number on kazoos! I’m sure it was entertaining to someone…
Another musical gift: self-confidence. About the time I entered high school, I could play piano—classically and by ear–and sing quite well, but wasn’t enjoying it really. It wasn’t practical. Then I was recruited for a youth choir at church. After singing a couple times and really enjoying the fact that I could read music and teach others, the guitarist left and I took over the choir. For my entire high school career, I led the choir and the music for one service per week at my church. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that many people thought it was the best service because of my leadership (remember, I was in 9th grade!)
At this point, I began to realize that I was the one with the gift and those around me, adults and children, were looking to me to share it. That’s when I found the joy of sharing music with others.
I soon took on the job as organist of another church choir and for that one, I got paid. Aaahh, the gift of a paycheck. I became the pianist for most of the weddings at our church and at 3 weddings per weekend, I was making better money than any 15 year old around! I remember saving it all to buy a Citizen watch. I was so proud. My college roommate worked minimum wage in the mailroom all week long. I, on the other hand, worked 3 hours a week accompanying voice lessons and made as much as she did!
I found a tiny college (Azusa Pacific University outside LA) with a phenomenal music program and immersed myself in choirs, performances, tours and long, long days in the practice rooms. And it was at college that I found another gift as I performed all over the world: opportunities. In the 4 years at APU, I had the privilege of being part of multiple recordings, including singing with the London Symphony and the Cincinnati Pops. With the Cincinnati Pops, we also performed live onstage with Cab Calloway (Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-hi!). I spent 2 summers touring, singing and playing all over Europe, sometimes for audiences of 5,000 or more! I also performed and led groups in the US. The opportunities that were given to me before age 22 were greater than many would get in a lifetime.
But the best gift of music is that of making music every day! There’s nothing that clears my mind or brings me more joy than making music, except to share that joy of music with precious children. If I can give them even one bit of the joy that music has brought to me, then I will have received the best gift of all.
Brought to you by Miss Lisa, whose parents read this blog–thanks Mom and Dad!