Freedom to learn on one’s own

I think about the whole “tiger mother” thing, and I’m endlessly relieved that I was not raised by one. I think about it now, and it would have been nice to have been raised with more resources where by “resources” I mean money, sure. A piano at age four would have been fantastic, as would have been the educational networking that might have come had my parents been white-collar types instead of blue as blue could be. I was one of those kids who was a bit overachieving, and I would probably have enjoyed being pushed more than I was.

But that much? To take something that I loved, and turn it into something that I hated and that was associated with punishment? How hideous. It’s like performing a psychological experiment on an animal where you associate a pleasant stimulus with something painful. Like religions and cultures that associate sex with shame and evil, and end up turning out people who are far, far more screwed up than any sexual deviation could ever be. I’m thinking of the Catholic church and their priests’ propensity for molesting kids here, but they are far from the only ones who pull this garbage and refuse to admit the foul harvest of raising people who fear punishment for their own natural appetites. (Not, not pedophilia, just sex in general. You castigate an entire body appetite and tell half of the people in a given population that they are inherently superior to the other half because of sexual reasons, and things will get sick and twisted very quickly.)

How awful it would have been to love music, and have had it associated with pain and punishment, being berated. How much of an emotional struggle it would have been to have bought a piano again as an adult, and to discover that I can write music with that sort of baggage? Yes, I had some annoyances with my clockwork mechanistic lessons and how they went — how much worse would it have been? If instead of a mild sense of philosophical irritation at how I was taught to play, I had had a full-blown neurosis about it? Would I ever have gotten back?

And would the tiger mother have appreciated that that parenting “technique” would have been to blame for my not having written music? For a lack of something the existence of which would never have been hinted at and hence not mourned for its absence?

Instead of that, I was able to buy the piano without enormous parenting angst but simply curiosity and a pretty baggage-free desire to just get music-making back in my life again. Now, I can do this with self-discipline and enjoyment instead of therapy.

I keep thinking of “tiger mother” survivor David Kim, the Philadelphia Orchestra’s concertmaster. He’s very open about having had what he called “not a happy childhood,” and being mercilessly driven to be a classical violinist by his relentless mother. Yes, he’s a great violinist, but what was lost? Listen to him talk for five minutes, and it’s obvious what he really loves.

In another universe where he was raised by someone who appreciated his own tastes and who bothered to find out what they were, he would probably have had a handful of World Series rings to his name by now, and be headed for the Hall of Fame as a shortstop or first baseman.

Does this not count? Is music so important — and the only important thing on Earth — that we are ready to get a fairly good violinist at the price of a shit-hot three-point shooter or a brilliant graphic artist, or just a seriously accomplished and well-adjusted accountant or glassblower? (A lot of music teachers do feel that way, and you hear it when they whine about kids stopping piano lessons because of some “stupid nonsense” like soccer practice. Legions of other piano teachers commiserate. Meanwhile, the soccer coach is probably on another website someplace complaining about losing a kid to goddamned piano lessons, while his or her comrades pat their back in sympathy and wax eloquent about the importance of addressing the obesity epidemic.)

Follow your kids’ own inclinations. Chances are if they know what they love, they’ll run you down if you try to get in their way, and the pushing will be accompanied by joy and not twisted self-recrimination and neuroses. Push them if you like, but in the direction they want to go.

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