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Friday, July 19, 2013

Bach and Perseverance


For as long as I have know them, my children have shown no interest whatsoever in me playing the piano.  When they were very little they would wail ‘stop mummy’ or ‘let me play, mummy’, so I quickly gave up on my romanticised view of musical motherhood where I would play Bach as they played on the floor beside me.  But recently something has changed.  The last two evenings after homework is done, they have actually ASKED me to play for them.  ‘Play the Waltz’, ‘Play the fast one’, ‘Play the one you played when you were a little girl.’  This last request was the reason I climbed up to the attic today to seek out my box full of old piano music and find my copy of The Children’s Bach.  This particular collection of piano pieces has an almost mythical status among those of us who learnt the piano as children.  Helen Garner chose to use the title for her 1984 Novella.  I remember being particularly moved when, at a musical soirée, Anna Goldsworthy played a piece, probably a Minuet, from The Children’s Bach and read extracts from her memoir Piano Lessons because it took me straight back to my early years learning the piano.  When I found my copy of The Children’s Bach today I was similarly transported back to early piano lessons.  My copy is dog-eared, faded, sellotaped, with my name on the front cover in my piano teacher’s familiar handwriting.  I was filled with love for this music and fond memories of my piano teacher, Mrs Spratt, who was in many ways my musical mother, someone who understood me very well.  The reason I went up into the attic to extract this particular book was an ongoing ‘discussion’ (argument) I am having with my older daughter about the importance of perseverance.  She is learning the piano, and like every 7 year old, is not overly interested in practising, and being a clever 7 year old who often finds things easy, she is struggling with the realisation that learning a new piece is DIFFICULT.  Having tried the Robert the Bruce and the spider story (“if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”) without much traction, I told her how I had struggled with a particular piano piece when I was little bit older than her; ‘A Little Air’, from The Children’s Bach.  I clearly remember how frustrated I was, how the piece tripped me up and just didn’t make sense and that it nearly made me give up the whole endeavour.  But after a stern word from my piano teacher and probably my mother too, I knuckled down and played it over and over and over again until I got it.  I also remember the fantastic sense of satisfaction and pride in my achievement when I could finally play the piece from beginning to end.  I told my daughter all of this.  And then she wanted to hear the piece.  I will play it for her and her sister tonight, along with a waltz and a fast piece and maybe a Bach Prelude.  And I hope my story of the ‘tricky piano piece’ will stay with her every time she starts a new piece and meets that wall of frustration.  Perseverance, along with resilience, are perhaps some of the most important lessons I hope to teach our children.

2 comments:

  1. Hi Christine - what a lovely post - and very topical. I'm currently touring Queensland with my stage adaptation of 'Piano Lessons' and performing from the Children's Bach each night (carting my own dog-eared copy around for reference but using a prop copy on the stage). Like you, I struggle to get my eldest son excited about the piano, but couldn't agree more that resilience is one of the most important things to pass on to our children (far more than faux 'self-esteem'). Have you read 'The Optimistic Child'? 'I did well because I kept on trying' has become such a catchphrase around our house that it rings of propaganda - but this surely is one of the most important lessons of music for today's children.

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  2. Thanks Anna - I haven't read 'The Optimistic Child' but I shall seek it out. And I agree, Optimism is certainly another of those really important things to instill in our children.

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