As a professional musician one would think I would be sharing my love of music with my children and encouraging them to learn as soon as they showed any preference for a particular instrument.
However, I am embarrassed to say I avoid discussing music with them at almost any cost.
My son: ’Mum please can I play a trumpet?’
Me: Oh look darling, a huge box of Lego!
You get the idea. Shame on me. This reluctance to let them learn something is deep seated in me. As a child my parents were incredibly supportive of my learning violin and piano (they taught me themselves) but I was an easily distracted child who, after the initial thrill of having my own violin wore off, would rather go out and play in the street with my friends than work on my music. They helped me through the difficult times and encouraged me endlessly especially having to get up at 6.30am to practice before school.
I have to admit I hated practice. I don’t think ever in my life have I bounded to the practice room and eagerly got my violin out to learn something new with a smile in my heart…
My parents always said I could give up if I liked but I had to have something else I wanted to do instead. Luckily for me there was nothing else I particularly wanted to do and so I kept at the violin and then after a few years of learning and sweating through it, it became worth it.
I went on a music course.
It was at Emscote Lawn School in Warwickshire and I was 8. ‘She’s far too young’ everyone told my parents but they knew me better than that and knew the enormous benefits of playing music with your peers. I still remember those holidays at Emscote Lawn as being the most magical times. Run by charismatic and energetic brass teacher at King Edward VI school Paul Russell, there was the most wonderfully nurturing, inclusive and fun atmosphere. I didn’t feel homesick for one minute as it felt like a family.
No audition was necessary to come on this course, children from grade 1 to grade 8 came along simply to enjoy making music and gain confidence. We played in orchestra all day and everyone played a solo on one of the evening concerts during the week. The tutors gave helpful but always kind pointers to work on and I never felt nervous standing up and playing in front of everyone.
From the little dormitories and the tuck shop to the games of rounders at playtime and the day trip out mid week it was the most brilliant fun.
But the proudest moment for me was the concert at the end of the week for our parents. The noise must have been horrific with 40 or so kids flailing their way through the great classics of the orchestral repertoire but by the end of the concert I was almost exploding with pride and was so overcome with emotion that I burst into tears when my mum came over to me at the end to hug me. She was devastated. She thought I’d hated it and was crying because I was relieved it was over but through the tears I managed to explain to her that it was just that it was the highlight of my little life so far.
Galvanised by my experience at Emscote Lawn, I subsequently went on to have many more incredible moments on music courses, the highlight musically being the National Youth Orchestra. The friends I have made on these courses are still my friends today and whenever I see them, I feel like a kid again and am reminded of the empowering feeling music can give to you. As a professional musician sometimes I forget how awe-inspiring the orchestral repertoire can be. There’s nothing like the first time you play a piece. Even if it sounds rough as old boots, you’re discovering it for the first time and it’s yours.
To this day holiday music courses remain my happiest memories and they would never have been possible if my parents hadn’t made me persevere with my practice every single day.
So maybe I should stop being mean to my kids, let them learn an instrument and then help them through the tough times. I should be the unpopular parent who says ‘no playtime until you’ve done your practice’ but also be the one who sits with them, especially when they’re beginning, to help them understand how to work at something. Because as children, we don’t realise that the most enormous rewards will come our way when we’ve persevered at something difficult. And the reward will be that much sweeter.