Ready for lessons? (1. Developmental Factors)

I frequently receive phone calls from parents of young children (2-6 years old) who sing all the time and may have asked to take lessons. Often, a parent will go on to confide that he/she wants to find out if the child "has something."

What the child has is a love of singing and a natural curiosity about his or her voice. This, in itself, is precious.

For several reasons, formal individual voice instruction is usually not the best choice for a very young child.

It is important to recognize that the structure required for singing in lessons, the need for physical and intellectual self-awareness, and the kind of practicing necessary for a student to benefit from lessons may run counter to a very young child's natural developmental stages. Pushing a child beyond that which he or she is developmentally ready to do will only result in frustration for parent and child.

For a young child who sings, that singing is play. By experimenting with her voice the child is learning and practicing in a way that is developmentally appropriate, using a process similar in many ways to the natural trial-and-error pre-toddlers employ as they learn to talk and walk.

Because a singer IS the musical instrument, formal vocal instruction requires a level of self-awareness not developmentally accessible in early childhood. Learning to sing in lessons requires body awareness, the ability to reflect upon what one has done and would like to do, and a willingness to accept and retain complex instructions.

To benefit from formal lessons a student needs to be mature enough to practice teacher specified material independently at home while maintaining the joy that originally motivated the desire to take lessons. Practicing requires self-discipline. If the student is not able to tolerate the repetition and sometimes frustration involved in practicing, then it is advisable to wait until he/she is older. While parental praise and positive guidance go a long way toward developing good practice habits, forcing discipline on a child will not encourage a love of music.

While it is best if a child is able to read and memorize lyrics, it is possible to work around reading difficulties if the child has a strong auditory memory and the self-motivation needed to work through challenges.

Music programs designed for young children who are not yet reading are often taught in parent/child groups, with songs integrating repetition and movement. Many important musical concepts can be taught in such contexts. They are also a wonderful opportunity for parent/child bonding.

I feel it is important for a parent to avoid focusing on the young child's love of singing as a possible ticket to fame. When the time comes for the child to test will, skill and ability in pursuit of competitive musical opportunities, it will be the playful joy of singing that sustains such efforts and provides lasting satisfaction. Public recognition is a pale shadow by comparison.

When I receive a call from a parent, as described above, I usually recommend that the parent continue to nurture the child's natural curiosity and developing voice by providing:

  • group and family singing experiences, such as Kindermusik or Music Together classes available in many areas;
  • sing-along recordings that feature other children's voices as models;
  • participation in a children's choir, if one is available at a local church or school.

I accept students 10 years of age or older for private vocal instruction.

©2007 Kay Pere ~ Effusive Muse Publishing

Turandot & Humanity

I went to see an Eastern European touring production of Turandot last night at a local theater, an opera I'd not seen before. I waited until the last minute to decide whether to go, knowing that it wouldn't be difficult to get a seat on a Thursday night.

At this theater, a ticket for an orchestra seat may mean you'll be sitting *with* the orchestra. My seat was off to one side, only a few rows back from the front and less than 6 feet from the double basses. They had been exiled (ex-aisled?) from the rest of the orchestra to sit along a side wall. I could almost read their music, could have helped to turn pages if they'd asked. My sight-lines allowed me a view back stage where I could see the actors and chorus during the opera as they prepared to come on. This is a stage where I also have performed.

Some of the voices in the lead roles were very good. The lyric soprano who played Liu was stirringly artful, technically brilliant. Visually and dramatically, however, the rest of the performance was lacking. They offered scuffed sets, tired costumes, uneasy movement by the opera chorus, and side conversations on stage during solos. There were some in the chorus who seemed not to know their words. I pictured the passionless romantic tenor lead, Calaf, back-stage growling, "I make opera for you", then flashing the same forced, perfunctorily toothy grin he bestowed upon the audience at the end of a recitative.

During the first intermission, as the orchestra began to return, one double bassists sat down to relax at the end of my row, just a few seats away, exuding an odor stale cigarettes. He and the other bassist chatted for a while in clipped, guttural syllables, glancing around disdainfully.

Thankfully, the aria, "Nessun dorma" (listen / buy) in Act III, Scene 1, has one of the most beautiful melodies ever written by Puccini. What a contrast between that glorious soaring theme of transcendent love and the road-weary humanity on display last night! Experiencing that one unexpected moment of juxtaposition was, for me, worth the cost of my orchestra seat.

:-), Kay

©2007 ~ Effusive Music Publishing