Each year my husband and I challenge our kids to come up with a personal project they’d like to complete – or some kind of goal they’d like to meet – by the end of their summer vacation. We used to try to give the extrinsic motivation to it by tagging a reward like going to Valleyfair (our local outdoor amusement park) upon achievement or completion, but to be honest, that only sort of worked once. So now that has sort of fallen away and we rely primarily on intrinsic motivation instead – which is really the best way, obviously, but you know how parenting goes.
Often it’s been thematic. Build something. Ride a certain number of miles. (< — This one was a collective one as a family. We aimed for 1,000 miles. Success!) This year, the theme is music. We’ve acquired a fair number of instruments, and my husband, especially, has been working at learning them all. My oldest (the marching band kiddo) has aspirations of music in his future – probably music education – so he sees the value in learning more. My middle child has a lot of natural musical talent like his dad and enjoys just picking up an instrument and trying stuff out. My youngest likes the idea of it all more than the actual implementation… but he’s getting there.
And so, the kids said, what if we had a contest to see who could play the most instruments by the end of the summer?
Naturally that wasn’t going to fly, and so we helped tweak it. What if we determined, individually, what our music goals were that we thought we could achieve by the end of summer? The key is that we are all still working at a common goal of musical accomplishment, but it’s personalized to what we want to do. I mean, I have to admit that I do not care at all about learning to play the saxophone or violin. I also know that I have other things on my mind (ahem, writing is supposed to be one of them) and I need to make time for that. But I am absolutely game to be a part of it. I love the idea of pulling my flute out again because I really enjoyed it when I was younger. I love the idea of learning the piano (sort of re-learning, as I did do an independent study in high school to teach myself how to play) because I’ve always imagined being able to play beautiful music, with that effortless look. (Imagined being the key word there.)
Spring Break is when the kids created their musical goals posters and two of them jumped right on it. What impressed me most was the thoughtfulness behind the process. My older two kiddos, who are already musicians, really honed in on where they wanted to go and how to get there. One of their things is that they wanted to work on new instruments. (Oldest Child already plays tuba and Middle Child plays cello). Youngest Child’s first attempt was pretty vague and probably over-ambitious, but it wasn’t until this summer, when he decided he would take up the baritone for school, that he re-did it and I think it is much closer to what he is likely to attempt. Check out below to see all of our musical goal posters. (Click on any individual one to embiggen.)
Interest and dedication has flagged a bit for some members of the family as summer has progressed, but regardless of the specific goals, we have music in this house during many parts of the day and hearing myself do basic songs on the piano that sound like real songs is exciting. Even though my novels have not been sent out into the world, yet, the joy of writing – of creating art – is highly rewarding. And no, I’m not creating music – but I am making it happen and I feel so accomplished as I start internalizing things like the bass clef, seconds, thirds, etc.
And then there’s the flute – I loved playing the flute when I was younger. (BTW, did you know that there are personalities associated with what instrument you play? Somehow, only playing up through grade 9, I missed this. I totally see it now, though…) I wish I had continued in band through high school, but I did manage to keep playing on my own for fun, at least, throughout those high school years. And then I didn’t play much at all for a long long time. And now – it’s taking me a bit to re-train the embouchure and there are several fingerings and scales I can’t quite remember – but what a joy to relax into it again! While I am not playing stuff that I used to be able to play (yet), it’s not like the piano, which takes a lot of extra concentration in these early stages. Instead, it’s like catching up with an old friend.
I’ve written before of the importance of music and its connection not only to memories and experiences, but also to my writing – and thus far, all of my adult novels have incorporated it in some way. One character is a piano player. Another is a drum player in a jazz band. Another sings. I have playlists to accompany each manuscript and when I haven’t written for a while, I play those songs to help me slip back into things.
Thus it is for finding grace – it is like slipping back into music and letting myself float into the beauty of making it happen. This music goal is good for me and definitely good for my family.
How does music play a role in your life?
Below is a video of a stretch goal for me. It’s not one I’ll accomplish this summer – I don’t remember that I ever even “mastered” this piece way back in my lesson days. I figure it’s a decent thing to aim for, though (on the flute, not the piano).
Handel’s Sonata 5 for flute