Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Would You Smash a Steinway?

I wish when we first became parents, there had been some pamphlet made available that would let us in on just how much it might hurt to be a parent.  Don't get me wrong being a parent is a wonderful experience and I have two absolutely amazing daughters to prove the fact.  But I'm afraid as a Dad, I was not prepared for the gut-wrenching pain that comes along with the joy.

We just had daughter, number one, home for a week from university.  It was a bittersweet week.  First of all, everyone but her, was away from dawn till dusk each day.  So I'm afraid she sat at home, lonely and bored for a lot of the time.  She wasn't really feeling up to visiting old friends either.

To be quite frank, she's had a miserable couple of semesters and in the process so have her parents.  A year ago, we took a bright, confident girl  to two different universities (the choices had been narrowed down) to audition for musical performance in voice.  Both universities quickly accepted her - there was no doubt she displayed a lot of musical potential.  In the end, she chose Western in London, as her home for the next four years.

The last weekend of the summer, we loaded up the van, headed across the province and deposited her at the front gates - well no actually we moved her into her dorm (imagine two mother hens, nesting for one little chick!) and departed.  During frosh week, we got an excited call, that she had been chosen as one of six to sing a solo in front of the six thousand new students.

So we hadn't been that far off in our perception of her talent and abilities.  My feeling was we had delivered a fairly fine little Steinway, to the music department and they would fine tune and perfect her over the course of the next four years, and turn out something unique for the world to enjoy.

How wrong I was.  Solo done, reality began to settle in.  The faculty didn't want something unique.  The thrust of classical vocal music education seems to be opera and only opera, in Canada.  What about all the other venues, venues that seem to be luring in the entertainment dollars, far more so than I see in the opera world. I know there is a perception, that if you are classically trained, you can sing anything, any style.

Thus began the drubbing, the attempt to hammer a cookie-cutter opera sound from a voice so uniquely rich, vibrant and full of colour.  

The dire warning, that "only the best of the best here at Western will make it in the music world" (translate to opera) was their cheerless pep talk in the first week of studies.  

Her voice teacher's query "had she ever had a voice teacher before, and did she teach you anything?" really helped to shore up the already bruised ego.  Daily comments about the 'darkness' of her voice, the incorrect placements, the poor tonal reproduction, on and on ............ to the final "I'm not sure how to help you." 

I know a Steinway is a piano!

My feeling was initially that "all this too shall pass.  It's just a way to put the freshmen in their place."  

At Thanksgiving we feared we would be bringing her home prematurely.  But the decision to drop one course from the load, seemed to postpone that potential minefield.

At Christmas, a decision was made to finish out the year, but not return, once the year was done.  

However, in the last few weeks, the thoughts are now to stay, but to switch majors completely.  At least this option means the past year will not be lost, but count as electives.

Yesterday we took her to the train to head back for the final kick at the cat, for this year.  In six short weeks she will be done and back home for the summer, to heal and regroup .  But as she sat on the train bench, awaiting her car, tears silently sliding down her cheeks, I realized six weeks is an eternity, when you feel so beaten down.  
I know I'm a biased parent, but I really wanted to hit someone.  I hate what a few unthinking people have done to my amazing little instrument, especially when I realize how dearly this experiment has cost all of us.

And that is about all I have to say for today.

Musings and meanderings from the Musical Gardener.


  1. That is such a bummer. There are some who ought not teach at all if they can not along with instruction bring encouragement. :-( Have you guys ever investigated Greenville U, sister to Azusa and Spring Arbor? That's where Jars of Clay started. They have a degree in contemporary music. Regardless, this can be a growing time for G, figuring out what she wants and doesn't want in education and music. And I pray in alll the wringing, God shows her where she belongs. She has amazing talent. And yes, parenting hurts!


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