Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Paradox of Music Lessons

Since Dave and I both graduated from college with Bachelor of Music degrees, we always assumed that, of course, our children would have music lessons from an early age. In my pre-child mind's eye, each child would begin piano lessons at age six or seven and progress onward from there. In reality, this just hasn't happened. I feel mildly guilty about this state of affairs. Of course, it helps that only one child is really old enough for individual instrument lessons.

The crux of the issue is the cost of the lessons. The sad fact is we could probably scrimp and afford to have one child in lessons. Two children in lessons is out of the question. We will eventually have four children in need of lessons. There is a local studio that offers lessons for $94 a month. It adds up quick.

So for awhile, I had the thought that I would give them beginning piano lessons myself. Piano is not my major instrument and, the piano proficiency required to graduate aside, I am not a piano player. I am a hack at best. When I say hack, I don't mean what people say when they can basically play but it isn't performance level. I mean slowly, badly, painfully while looking at my fingers hack. Tempo: Largo. But I do know enough for beginning piano.

There isn't enough room in our house for a piano so we bought a keyboard and put it in the only place it would fit, the corner of my bedroom. In front of the keyboard is a pile of the girls' work from school and actually accessing the keyboard is difficult. Cleaning up the pile has been on a low priority for a long time. Over a year. Possibly two. Until that pile is cleaned, I don't really see a way for me to either give a lesson or for them to take a lesson. Logistics are troublesome.

The interesting paradox with the music lessons is that same studio approached me looking for a clarinet teacher. They were willing to pay me $12 a lesson. I have a college degree in clarinet; my expertise is worth more than $12. I am not willing to work for that amount. I find it mildly insulting. High school kids can command $10 a lesson. I declined the offer. It is not worth the trouble for such a piddling amount of money.

The irony is I cannot afford to pay what would be necessary for me to be willing to give lessons. I cannot afford myself. I want my children to have music lessons and I also want music professionals to be given the financial consideration they deserve in light of their qualifications. These ideas are mutually exclusive at my house. Maybe I'll get that pile cleaned up soon.


Melanie Bettinelli said...

What a Catch 22!

I'd love for my kids to have music lessons, but likewise can't afford them. And it's a pity for they all know what instruments they want to play. Just last night Ben was telling me he wants to be a daddy and play piano. (And a fireman and race car driver and a construction worker too.)

If we lived elsewhere I know people who'd do it for trade, but all the musically inclined people I know are far away. At least on the other side of Boston.

I think we need to all go form a Catholic commune with a homeschooling co-op. Between us we all have the necessary skills to cover everything. And we'd have so much fun. Sigh.

Jenny said...

I could probably find cheaper lessons if I took the time to look, but there still is the problem of the buried keyboard. I am just a little surprised I have not been more proactive with it, but I haven't.

I also could not believe the differential in how much the studio charges and how much they pay. They take half the money! I know there is overhead, but given that they share space with a dance studio, taking half is ridiculous.

Melanie Bettinelli said...

When I was tutoring post grad school I signed up with an agency and they took half of what I made. For what? For linking me with the client? Basically they were a referral service, but for that they got half my income? I was so frustrated. Especially since I told them I preferred to work with high school kids and they kept sending me second graders. I had no experience teaching reading and writing to second graders. I dropped them pretty quickly.

But maybe taking half the money is standard in that sort of business?

Jenny said...

Maybe, but this isn't a referral; it is a full blown studio. I was annoyed that they make a big to do about having music professionals as instructors which would justify the sky high cost and then discovering they are pocketing half the money. I'll bet the parents of the music students don't realize their kids' teacher is only getting half.

Kori said...

We are in a similar situation. I also, could teach my young'ens but as a homeschooler I'd like to have *something* that I'm not directly responsible for, you know?? We are lucky because their grandparents are (fortunately!) footing the bill for piano right now BUT the piano teacher we contracted with has yet to actually show up at the studio. Pfft. We found a small upright piano (a spinit I think?) at a secondhand store for very little money.

Literacy-chic said...

We are fortunate that the schools here have orchestra. I am upset that it's not a FULL orchestra, just strings--so no woodwinds, and the brasses take band. But the strings are nice. I would have liked to have had that opportunity myself. So my girls just assume that they will be in orchestra like their brother. I guess part of me sort of wondered what people who want to play other instruments *do.* Private lessons. Yes. That makes sense. My son made Varsity orchestra with no private lessons, which is highly unusual--and I'm very proud. But I don't come from a world in which private lessons were even considered, and that's a bit hard to overcome, even though I do understand the value of music! (So much so that I'm supporting him in wanting to major in Music!!!--don't say it...) Skills like teaching music--or anything deemed "impractical"--are highly undervalued, I know. There is a very expensive private school here that pays its teachers close to $20K/year, even with advanced degrees. So I have seen that side, too.

The other thing that this makes me think of is our resolve when the kids were young (or mostly the oldest) to teach him Spanish at home, since my husband is fluent. This devolved pretty quickly into buying a few bilingual books and my husband throwing in silly Spanish phrases. So they know how to say "little rat" in Spanish. Wow. ;) Making the sustained effort to teach kids something "extra" is just.... HARD. Good luck with the dilemma!

Jenny said...

There is actually a sound pedagogical reason for there not to be a full orchestra until high school or even college. Wind players develop fluency and tone much more quickly than string players. It takes a string player a long, long time to learn how to touch the string while wind players can produce a passable sound much sooner. When you combine them too early, there is a significant problem in choosing music because the pieces that work the winds at their appropriate level are much too hard for the strings.

About majoring in music, I wouldn't discourage it, necessarily. I love my degree. But I would ask him to reevaluate his goals regularly in college. At least at my school, there was a strong stigma to changing majors. (I mean specifically in the music department) People who switched were teased and called slackers. It was generally light-hearted, but the general thought was anyone who changed did so because they couldn't hack the schedule. And the schedule was insane. Taking 14 classes for 16 credit hours is not unusual. The truth of majoring in music is that no matter how much hot air they blow at you, the most likely outcome is that you will be teaching music in a public school. Is that what he wants? If so, that's great! If he can't live with that, there are two choices: 1) work his rear off to become the BEST at his instrument. This takes hours and hours and hours, and he has to be honest and not kid himself. I know people who have done it and love it. 2) Change his major. He can always play his instrument. No one can take it away, but living with the schedule and salary of a high school band director (not that he wants to be a high school band director, necessarily) is a hard road when you feel kinda meh about the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

This is great advice and I appreciate your candor. I always felt guilty for not giving my kids piano lessons like I had. Then my oldest picked up euphonium in middle school and made it into the wind ensemble his second year (now he's dragging both the euphonium and a trombone home on the city bus!) We split private lessons with another student ($14/week) during the school day. All this to say, so much wasted worry on my part! It is the joy of playing together and being part of the whole that attracts him in a way that solitary piano lessons never would have.


Jenny said...

I hope you find a piano teacher soon!