Free to Fail

My younger son is a musician. He’s played trumpet for six years and picked up the tuba a year ago. As a high school sophomore, he registered for two music classes: Jazz and Symphonic Bands. Music is his happy place, the band room his safety zone.

His private instructor also works at the school; he asked to chat. Apparently, my kiddo did not do well on his jazz audition. But his instructor wanted me to know all the ways I could encourage him:

He did better on the harder of two pieces.
He persevered when he lost his place.
When he finished, the whole room broke out in applause rather than their normal toe tapping, understanding the struggle and the grit.
He did not have the worst audition in the group.
This was the hardest piece of music he will encounter all year,
and now auditions are over until next year.

No accident that I’ve been reading about creative risks and failure and how to go on when you feel discouraged.

Thing is, he knew the audition had been a mess, but he didn’t let it flatten him; he let it go. I reminded him that everyone will blow it from time to time, everyone fails, but that creates an opportunity for growth. And that artists may fail even more so because artists have to take risks, the nature of the creative game. I told him that anything worth doing is worth doing poorly so that you can get better. That everyone is a beginner, and even with experience, we face many, many, many beginnings (like, every new piece of music).

Yes, he agreed. Wise kid. How does he know all this when I’m still learning?

Madeleine L’Engle writes in A Circle of Quiet about receiving a rejection letter on her fortieth birthday. She put the cover on her typewriter in a dramatic gesture to mark the end of her writing career; she walked circles around her writing room, sobbing, until she realized that already in her head she was writing a story about failure. She uncovered her typewriter and got back to work.

Failure requires a response of swift, gracious action. Instead of asking the pityingly poor question, “Why me?” we ask, “What next?” For my son, next meant more music, Symphonic Band, followed by geometry. He kept his head up and kept moving. For Madeleine, it was making the decision to keep pecking away at her typewriter. We do the next right thing, however small and seemingly insignificant.

The creative road can be scary, but we keep walking, step by step. We speak kindly to ourselves, not berating ourselves for failure but commending ourselves for the courage to risk. We may feel sore, like sore muscles after a hard workout, but we persist, assuring ourselves that as we keep at it those creative muscles will also grow stronger.

The next morning as I dropped my son off at the band room, I asked how he was feeling; I knew that morning’s class involved sight reading, not his strength. He said he felt fine, and he was. Having gotten through one difficult scene in the band room, he knew he could do it again. And this time, it was even easier. Next time will be easier still. He’s getting stronger.

 

Image by Bruno Glätsch from Pixabay

Thankful Thursday – Middle School Music

bandWhen my kids were in elementary school, I’m not sure I could have predicted how much I would enjoy middle school band concerts. Teen skipped school music altogether, but Tween got bit by the band bug, particularly the trumpet. He loves it, he seems to have aptitude for it, and he’s got two pretty incredible teachers: one at school for five instructional hours plus after-school jazz band; and another, a professional jazz musician and a funny, generous guy who musically hangs out with Tween a few times a month.

This week I attended the spring band concert. Due to a work commitment I got there late, just as the 6th grade band (Tween’s group) began their final piece. Still, I smiled ear-to-ear through the 7th & 8th grade band performance.

There’s a big jump between elementary music (one hour a week) and middle school music (5+ hours a week). Whereas before we strained to hear music between squeaks, now we hear melody and harmony. And the similar jump between 6th grade band and 7th/8th grade band sounds tremendous.

I love watching kids develop creativity. Seeing pimply, gorgeous, awkward kids count furiously and focus ferociously. Wiggle just a little because the rhythm moves more than their instruments. Kids learning about art and together creating beautiful music; learning to express their thoughts, heart, soul, drama through a productive medium. Music has created a safe place for the one kid in a sea of white shirts who forgot and wore blue instead; for the darling who wears a tiara because she is royalty; for the hipster who wears a fedora because: jazz.

Tween is exceptionally bright but not yet easily suited to classroom achievements. He’ll get there, but he’s only in 6th grade. For now, I am thrilled he gets excited to go to school because he has Band 1st period. For at least one hour of every school day, he works cooperatively with teacher and classmates to create something bigger than each individual contribution. No tests, no pressure, just FUN. Well, maybe some pressure, as he has to do his part, and sometime his part is a solo. Still, making music is mostly just fun. He’s learning so many valuable life skills beyond music while simultaneously learning to appreciate, enjoy and play fantastic music. It makes the other, harder, less fun parts of a middle school day bearable.

Because: music.

And I am so thankful!