Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Love Them and They'll Shine

When he was 3, I took Jackson to the library to hear a string quartet. It was a fun afternoon, and I drove home feeling that "good mother" feeling that I get when I turn off the TV and do something enriching with my kids. I didn't think any more of it.

Days later, Jackson asked me what "the big one" was called. I had no idea what he was talking about. "The big one at the library?" he prodded. "Oh, the cello?" I asked. Yes, that was it. I inquired about what brought about his question. "I want to play it," he told me. I smiled. So cute. 3 is a fun age.

But it wasn't just a 3 year old's whim. Days turned into weeks turned into months of asking--begging--for a cello. And so, while his friends asked for bikes and video games, he asked for a cello for his 4th birthday.
But that was the easy part. For days after the birthday party, he asked me to help him play. I, having played the violin as a kid, had some idea as to how to put the strings on, rosin the bow, and make a sound. But that was about the extent of my knowledge of the cello. So I started researching teachers. I started by calling an old friend of mine who teaches cello. He was willing to take Jackson as a student, but his schedule meant it would be the end of the summer before we could start. He was eager to get started, so I decided to keep looking. I called a local string shop, and they gave me the names of several cello teachers in the area. I started calling. Each person told me the same thing: 4 is just too young to play the cello. I tried to explain that he was no ordinary 4 year old, but it was no use. They had it in their heads that I was a crazy whip-cracking mother who was pushing her child to be a musical prodigy for my own benefit. One teacher agreed to "give it a try," but her negative attitude about the whole thing put me on the defensive. It didn't feel right. I kept looking.

Finally I Googled "Suzuki cello teacher" and landed at SuzukiAssociation.org. I searched for a teacher in my area and found three that I hadn't previously called. I left messages for all three of them. One didn't call me back. One did call back but gave me the same song and dance I'd already heard about 4 being too young. But one called and was brilliant.

I talked to Kathleen Bowman for over half an hour. I described my situation, and she got excited. 4 is the perfect age to start, she assured me. I felt really good about her. So we set up a trial lesson.

My sweet Jackson talked about his upcoming lesson non-stop in the days leading up to our first lesson. He asked a million questions and wondered out loud about what it would be like. Then, finally, the day arrived. A surprisingly young woman opened the door and invited us in. And Jackson stopped talking.

He loved her. I know he did because he told me later--she was nice, funny, smart, pretty. He was full of compliments at home. But while we were there, he didn't speak. He didn't even look at her. Week after week we sat in her living room while she provided patient instruction, and week after week he sucked in his cheeks and stared at his toes. He did hear her though. Whether or not she knew it, he heard her. We went home and he repeated verbatim all that she had told him. And slowly, but surely, he started looking up. One day he looked right at her and answered with a "yes" instead of a half nod of the head. I could have kissed her then. She brought my little boy out of his shell.

Fast forward a couple of months. The end of his first semester of lessons was approaching, and with it came the Christmas recital. I could have predicted his reaction. I mentioned the idea of playing in a recital and tears formed in his tiny eyes. No, he didn't want to do it. Yes, he loved playing the cello. No, he didn't want to play in a recital. But this lady is brilliant. She asked him for a favor. Would he mind going with her to play his cello in a nursing home for some grandmas and grandpas? It would mean so much to them, and they wouldn't know or care if he messed up. Yes, he would. No, he wouldn't play in a recital. Yes, he would do mission work in a nursing home. It wasn't until we got home that evening that we told him he had successfully completed his first cello recital. We celebrated with a sundae. He beamed. And, the following week, he played in the Christmas recital--his second public performance--without any tears. He was proud. I never cared if my boy became a musician. I just wanted him to believe in himself.

And that's why I sing Ms. Kathleen's praises to anyone who will listen. She's an excellent cellist. She's a brilliant teacher. But most importantly, she's a compassionate Christian who loves her students. And they love her in return.

Those two handsome boys in vests on the front row? They're mine. They just had their spring recital. I asked Ei how he thought he did, and he replied, "I played like a 10 year old!" I asked Jackson if he was nervous, and he replied, "Yeah, maybe a little, I guess." That's the difference 2 years with a brilliant teacher makes. (She's the one right in the middle with the pink shirt, black jacket, and kind smile.)

Oh, by the way, if you want to learn more about Kathleen Bowman's studio, go to her website: http://www.bowmancello.com/. No, I'm not on the payroll--she's just a good friend and has been wonderful to my family. I owe her a lot more than a link on a blog, but it's a start.