Friday, December 11, 2009


A few weeks ago, at the end of my group violin class, one of the mothers turned to the women next to her and asked, “Where are you hoping this will all lead?” It was a perfectly respectable question, and asked in all sincerity, as she and her child were trying to make some decisions about their busy schedule and their priorities.

Parents can spend a large amount of time, energy and money on extra-curricular activities. Educators have to balance required “core” subjects with “electives”. It’s a no-brainer that children should learn to read, write, and do arithmetic, as well as have a good grasp on science, history, and geography. Religious training is vital for many families. Critical thinking is way up there on many peoples’ lists, too. And then, kids need to learn basic life skills. They should be physically active. Foreign languages are good. Don’t forget computer skills. Oh yeah, and maybe we should fit the arts in there, somewhere, too.

There are a lot of things that have to come “first” when we are figuring out how to use valuable resources like time, money and energy. So how do you fit in the arts? And when we are struggling to make everything fit, the final question can end up being why?

I am not a fan of the idea that kids should take music lessons for the sole purpose of making them smarter. I did not play music for my pregnant belly or show my infants flashcards of famous composers, although my husband and I have made an effort to music an integral part of our children’s lives. The arguments about how studying music enhances concentration/teaches teamwork/provides discipline/improves test scores are fantastic and serve an important purpose, but I believe you can make a similar argument for sports. So why study music? Why study any of the arts?

I think there are a lot of good reasons. But one of my favorite reasons has a lot to do with this quote:

Can we live without art, without literature, without music? I cannot answer this question for all of mankind, for it seems to me that some men do. But for myself the answer is emphatically no! Religion, philosophy, or science might solve all the problems that I could phrase as questions. But I cannot bend my fears and sorrows into question marks, nor my joys. All the melancholy, all the sweet sadness, that I have felt would be locked in my chest forever if a piano concerto by Mozart did not have the key to it. And the loneliness of my walk on earth would be unbearable. But art in all its forms appeals to our feelings with feelings; a note is struck, and we are the sounding board. The artist, the poet, and the composer attempt to express emotional truth and make the unreasonable reasonable. Pity, fear, love—all the words which are so vague, so indefinable—through art suddenly become so clear, so real that they eclipse the world around them. The moment of truth, of awareness, is brief—the curtain falls, the audience applauds, and it is gone. But because we have felt it, because we have experienced this inexplicable miracle, we are happy and at peace with ourselves. We have partaken in an act of creation, for the notes of the music, the lines of the poem, could only reach us if the emotions were there inside ourselves. That melancholy which Mozart touched was ours as well as his.
-Erik Christian Haugaard, “Portrait of a Poet: Hans Christian Andersen and His Fairy Tales”; The Openhearted Audience: Ten Authors Talk About Writing for Children

Would you really want an education to leave this out?


  1. Interesting thoughts, "my son's violin teacher"! :) Why do we do it? Over the years he has learned so much discipline, diligence, and time management. He has learned that hard work pays off. He has learned self-confidence that he can do something if he applies himself. I'm hoping someday he will learn to appreciate the moods of the music. . . :) Sometimes it is fun for him, other times not so much. I've harbored a secret hope that all this time and money will prepare him for a career someday, but right now (he's 12!!!!) he doesn't think he will do it professionally but 'for fun'. And that's good enough for me. I would love for him to pick up piano too, but he is resistant right now, and I don't care *that* much. . .

  2. I just found your blog and love it. The Haugaard quote hit right to my heart. I was raised playing music and it has been the constant in my life; always there to whisk me away from thought, conciseness, myself. I find such a comfort in having that place in my life and couldn't imagine not knowing such peace and happiness! I am thrilled to share this with my son.

    I play cello (not amazingly well, self-taught with a myriad of bad habits) and piano - I'd love for my son to start up with the violin (it has always been a challenge for me) - at what age do you recommend started the little guys out?

  3. You can really start children at a variety of ages--it depends a lot on the teacher. The earliest I like to take students is about 4, but I've started students at all ages. I would recommend finding a good teacher in your area and ask them what they recommend and prefer.

  4. "smellwhatimcookin" is the neighbor from whom we picked up our CSA half share all last summer. i'm not sure i met her--her husband was always home when we stopped by. small world?

  5. Smellwhatimcookin--I hope you got my response about lessons. I need to figure out how to get notified every time someone posts a comment. I check regularly for comments but I'm liable to miss some here and there. Fiddlewitch pointed out you two are neighbors, which means you live in the city I grew up in--if you are still looking for teachers I may have some recommendations for you, depending on the instrument. If you want to email me at I'd be happy to give you some specifics.


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