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Singing a New Song

By Mary Biever
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #69, 2006.

Practice makes perfect, but it doesn't help you love the music.

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Mary Biever

Crash went the hymnals in the pew in front of me as I kicked them. I was a preschooler, sitting with a lady in the church where my dad directed choir and my mother played the organ. I kicked and banged my way through the sermon. Family stories say I crashed so loudly I roused a sleeping man in the choir. After Mom finished playing the postlude, she spanked me in front of the congregation. I never kicked a pew again!

Children of musicians have a wide range of experiences. There were lessons, choirs, concerts, and more. I remember crawling army style underneath pews during my parents' rehearsals. Don't ask what we did with collection plates!

We had a piano and an organ in our home. For years, I woke up every morning to my mother's organ practice. Once, I crept behind her and hid underneath the organ bench. As she practiced her pedals, I pushed the pedal beside the one she played. She kept practicing the same section, trying to get it right. I tormented her for 30 minutes before I was caught.

Another time, my youngest brother and sister found a dead, frozen muskrat outside in the middle of winter. Mom practiced when suddenly the keys crashed, and I heard her scream. My siblings had smuggled the stiff muskrat into the house and shoved it into Mom's face somewhere between toccata and fugue. They both wailed in a D minor after she finished with them!

Those were exceptions to routines of bands, musicals, orchestras, choirs, and more. When I left home and turned prodigal, I left music performance behind.

My husband's music background is different. Richard played in bands for years and still has five guitars. An acoustic guitar rests by his computer in his office so he can play during breaks. Our music styles and tastes are completely different. I love classical, medieval chant, and gospel; he's a rocker who loves swing, jazz, and blues.

Things changed when we became parents and then homeschoolers. Our children needed music and I pushed a formal approach. The kids started Suzuki at age 3, and then did violin for 5 years. My son did Kindermusik. Later, we started piano and then choir. Sometimes, I helped organize singing opportunities for them.

Richard often told me love of music is caught instead of taught, and I ignored him.

This year, I realized Richard is right. Is it worth our paying for decades of music lessons if the kids quit doing anything with music when they leave home? Practice makes perfect, but passion makes a musician.

This fall, my daughter told me she wants to sing in church, but wants me to sing with her. Pause for a moment while my heart tumbled to the floor. Sing in public? After a 20 year self-imposed exile? Me? She made me think about music's role in my own life.

If we lead by example, what musical example had I set? I resolved to do better. Over Christmas, I began singing Christmas carols with the kids. The more we sang together, the more fun we had.

Then Miss Clark, a babysitter/surrogate grandmother died the day after Christmas. She weaned me on God, Gaither, and gospel music. Her funeral was full of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, all singing with their hearts and souls. She had ten kids, and only one of the youngest had music lessons. However, she loved to sing and play the piano. All her kids became musicians. Her music has passed to the fifth generation, begun with a mother gathering her children around the piano in the evening. They sang everywhere together. Even after she was 80, she continued to sing whenever she could.

Her example bore more fruit than the music lesson schedules. I resolved to honor her and follow her example.

Maybe I could try - just once - singing in a choir myself. Richard pushed me to go: "You love to sing and need to do things you love more often." Happier moms make better homeschool teachers. I made the leap.

Walking into that first rehearsal was a killer. Twenty-two years had passed since I sang in a choir. Change after age 40 doesn't come easily!

The rehearsal was low key. I didn't stumble. The earth didn't quake, the building didn't shake, and no one laughed upon hearing my rusty vocal cords try this for the first time in decades.

One thing got me. A father and son sang together. They enjoyed each other's company, the music, and more.

Isn't that what the gift of music is supposed to be?

Places at music contests are great, and formal lessons can nurture talent. Those teachers give the kids something I can't.

However, we are our children's first and most important teachers. My next goal is to find a common ground somewhere among our diverse musical tastes, where we can sing, my son can play piano, and Richard can play the guitar. We may sound like the Family von Flat, but the first word of that ensemble is the most important: the Family.

Our children aren't the only homeschoolers in our family. I learn as many new lessons as they do. When we make and enjoy music ourselves, we teach music lessons as important as any key signature or harmony.

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