Eric Maring is a local music educator and performer, and author of Two Little Blackbirds. For more on Eric and his work, visit maringmusic.com.
By Eric Maring
Everyone I know, and certainly every parent I talk with, says that time passes too quickly. I can barely grasp the fact that my two-year-old Leo is now 17. What!? When!? How!? I can’t believe I’m reflecting so many years back to when my son, now a young man, was only a young boy. When we look back, we may all see things we wish we had done differently. That said, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I’m certain of one thing I’ve done right as a parent, and that is that I’ve grown musical children. True, I’ve spent my professional life encouraging young children and their families to engage in music, so I may have an advantage here. But I’ve also watched many parents who are not musicians nurture their children in this way, too, and they’ve done it at least as well as I could. How do we succeed in this?
Reflecting on how my family became a musical one, what were the variables? Two things spring to mind and form my equation: time and love.
Musical awareness is similar to language awareness. And much like learning a language, becoming musically aware takes time — even a lot of it.
I sang to my children every day. A study I read stated that adults remember if their parents sang to them, but not if a parent sang badly or well. Likewise, playing music — recorded or live — in your home can make a tremendous difference in your whole family’s musical fluency. We all delight in our children enjoying music that we adults love, but I’m a big fan of playing music made especially for children, too. My heroes of children’s music are Raffi, Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger.
And like so many things in life, raising children to be musically aware takes a village. My family’s particular village, our musical community, includes wonderful music teachers and businesses near our home. Having watched the ways in which this community has nurtured both of my sons’ string experiences, I’m certain that Gailes Violin shop has a direct line to musical heaven. Atomic Music, which trades used musical equipment, also has that divine line, as does Chuck Levin’s, in Wheaton, and the House of Musical Traditions in Takoma Park. These businesses have the community’s needs as their guiding principle and take care of growing musical children.
My equation also calls for love.
What do I mean by that? For me, music is a deeply meaningful activity and a blessing that my family and I engage in every day. As I wrote this, my 11-year-old settled in the next room and began playing “Dear Theodosia” (from “Hamilton”) on the piano, singing along to his own music. This is musical love.
Shepherding him to this moment was not all lovey-dovey, though, I can assure you. Music learning is hard work — hard. But my son understands that music is meaningful and that it fosters love, that his community appreciates his musical capability. To him, it feels not just good, but revelatory to hear adults say, “Yes, child! Go, go, go!” when he sings and plays. I’m remembering how, when my son was just 4 years old, we cheered him on as he played Woody Guthrie’s “Take Me Ridin’ in the Car” on his violin in a neighborhood concert.
This is love; finding paths to share music with the people we care about. Love is also spending time with other musically infused families, finding connections to folks who know the power of the great human experience that is music. I’ve seen this love happen in many, many family music classes: A parent arrives at the first class with a baby, and we watch with wonder, over time, as that child becomes musically strong and connected to others who also appreciate music. That child experiences being surrounded by a special kind of love and connects that feeling to music. A beautiful feedback loop, one that strengthens and expands a child’s musical experiences as they grow.
We all have to find our own equations in life. If you’d like to share thoughts about the one I’ve described here, or your own, please be in touch. You’ll find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.